Blog: Medicine Teachings with our Oshkwazin Youth Ambassadors


14 Aug

As part of their Summer, our Oshkwazin Youth Ambassadors, Geordan, Gabe, Kaden and Joe, were given the opportunity to learned from knowledge holders about various different types of traditional and modern medicinal plants. They each wrote a short blog post about what they learned about these plants!


Mullein Plant

By Geordan Oliver

Mullein Plant/Verbascum Thapsus/Great Mullein is commonly misconcepted to be a non-native species to Canada, when in actuality Indigenous peoples had been using it before colonization for many things against sickness

Verbascum Thapsus can be described as a green, tall, thick-stalked, fuzzy-leafed plant with small, yellow flowers.

Great Mullein is a multi-use medicinal plant used for asthma, broncitis, and ear infections. People Indigenous to Ontario used the leaves for asthma by drying them, removing the hairs, and then smoking it. Due to the leaves containing properties that soother irritations. Mullein leaves were also chewed, and the oils would be rubbed on wounds, rashes, and bug bites. While being used for asthma, Indigenous people also knew that it was beneficial against lunch infections such as bronchitis. Indigenous people knew it opened up the lungs and bronchioles, making it easier to breath and cough up the infection, before Western Science. Using this knowledge, the used Mullein leaves and flowers for tea to fight chest colds, the leaves being bitter and the flower being sweeter.

Flowers of the Great Mullein were also used by Indigenous people for ear infections. Taking the flower, they would put it in their ears, and the flower would suck out the infection, leaving the ear clean. Modern uses of the flower include swimmer’s ear and any ear wax build up will be softened for easy removal.

Mullein is a very useful plant. It’s uses go back to roman time when it was used for hair rinse and dye for clothes. It is used by Indigenous peoples for infections and by Western Science as a part of vitamins, soap, shampoo, bug-spray and as an insecticide. As our knowledge grows about Mullein it will be used in more medicines.

So, if you are camping and there is Mullein, use what you’ve learned to help make the right choices to help with sore throats and ear infections, just make sure you don’t use it as toilet paper!


Tamarak

By Gabe Dimock

Throughout my time working as a TRACKS youth ambassador, I have had the privilege of learning many important foundational teachings ranging from learning about the pipe all the way to traditional medicine teachings. One of the teaching that intrigued me to do further research was that of the Tamarack tree and the comparison between Western science and traditional Indigenous teachings.

The latin origin for the word Tamarack is “larix laricina” with other names such as the American Larch. The Tamarack originates from Northern Canada but is found all throughout Ontario and in every other province/territory. The Tamarack tree grows in locations of high acidity, thus being found in places such as sphagnum bogs and muskeig .

As my traditional knowledge is currently very limited, I sought out traditional knowledge holders Jazzmin Foster and Beedahbin Peltier, offering tobacco for their teachings. While speaking with them I learn many stance altering details that changed my view on a tree that I passed off as just another tree. Beedahbin taught me many things about the Mashkegwa-mikig, Anishinaabemowin meaning swamp tree. A Tamarack is the “black sheep” of conifers as it grows in a manner called Beemskoh meaning it grows in a circular spiraling motion. There is a multitude of teachings about the growth touching on things such as the circle of life and a holistic way of being (the continuous interconnectedness of a circle of life).

I also came to learn that the Tamarak, if looked at from a birds eye view, resembles the cell in our nervous systems, which our ancestors knew before Western scientists had microscopes. In addition, I learned from Jazzmin that our ancestors used the needles of the tree to determine points for hunting. For example, when the needles turned a goldish yellow it was the perfect time to go fishing, and when the needles dropped it was time to harvest shellfish.

As a result of these teachings, I will be putting much more attention into every plant as they all carry their own teachings. With a near infinite amount of teachings available, I will keep seeking to know more of what my ancestors have always known.


Blueberries

By Kaden Mackenzie

Blueberries were one of the most sought out berries in North America by the Indigenous people because they have so many uses. Blueberries could be dried and put into stew, or pounded into meat to add flavor and help preserve it.

A favourite dish made by Southern Indigenous nations was sautauthig. It was a pudding made with blueberries, cracked corn and water. Later, the settlers added milk, butter and sugar when they were available.

The anishinaabemowin name for blueberry is miin and the Dene name is jiewa.

Blueberries are extraordinarily health for you, they are the king of antioxidant foods. Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage your cells and contribute to aging and diseases such as cancer. Blueberries protect cholesterol in your blood from becoming damaging as well as lowering your blood pressure. The juice of the blueberries were used as cough medicine and the leaves and roots were ground and dried into powder to treat a number of ailments. One of the ailments were diabetes and blueberries were used to balance our insulin levels.

In the end, blueberries are one of the most healthy and nutritious fruits there are.


Serviceberries

By Joe Lavalley

Serviceberries, scientifically known as Amelanchier have as many as fifteen different forms and reside in the rose family, related to hawthorns, crabapples, cherries, plums and peaches. They have white flowers that begin to bloom even before the leaves are fully developed. These flowers grow in clusters maintaining their fullness all the way from March to June with perfect weather. Serviceberry trees or bushes range from four feet tall all the way to a gigantic sixty feet tall. The berry itself starts at a green colour, going into a red and then a purple at the end of its cycle. Serviceberries have a sugar content twenty percent higher than blueberries and raspberries and are extremely high in iron and copper. This makes them especially useful to make pies, jams, juice, and syrup as they are very sweet.

In southern Ontario, serviceberries can be ready for picking in May, but this year our picking season started in July due to effects of global warming. Even with this late season they are still a staple source of nutrition for birds, mammals, pollinators and insects.

As serviceberries grow all over Turtle Island, many Indigenous nations have their own teachings and uses for them. One of the most common uses across multiple nations was its use as an ingredient in pemmican. Pemmican was a dehydrated cake with berries, vegetables, and animal meats and fats. A unique tradition with the Blackfoot of Okanagan Valley was the use of serviceberries mixed with elk meat which was then turned into a sausage. Serviceberry tree leaves, flowers, fruit and bark have medicinal properties to make a variety of teas, tonics, tinctures, poultices and washes. It was mainly used as eye or ear medicine. Younger serviceberry trees were also used to make rope, baskets, tools and weapons.