Category Archives: Ethnobotany

Using traditional ecological knowledge to understand and adapt to climate and biodiversity change on the Pacific Coast of North America

2019. Victoria Rawn Wyllie de Echeverria , Thomas F. Thornton  Ambio https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01218-6

2019. Wyllie de Echeverria, Thornton

The authors tackle one of the most complex issues in climate change science and ecology – how to include a human element in identifying change including traditional knowledge of plants and animals. How can human experiences, languages and traditions be used to verify change, and how can the importance of these traditions be included in ecological studies of climate change.  One main goal, of course,  is to identify ways indigenous people can maintain customary uses of their region, in this case, coastal areas in Southeast Alaska, while adapting to broader ecological changes that occur in an ecosystem.  Participants in a survey noted weather pattern shifts in their lifetime such as more snow, more rainfall, as well as shifts in the seasons. The researchers also examined language patterns to learn about traditional words used for weather or activities related to weather such as “foods being dried in the sun”. They indicated that changes in plant use in the region was most likely because of land use changes (logging, land development) rather than specific climate change.

One case study examined changes to salmonberry and blueberry species that are considered keystone species because they are used heavily by locals and have a long tradition of use. The authors tried to make connections between people’s recollections, historical knowledge and current practices compared to ecological knowledge of berry picking sites, yields, berry quality and more. I think back to some of the experiments in ecology I have been involved with over the years. They are so complex, it is difficult to isolate a single or even a handful of biological causes for a particular observation. For instance, there are so many reasons why berries might not appear in a season (frost during spring, drought, too much rain, poor soil nutrition, predation, and on and on. Recollections might be due to any or a combination of these factors. Attributing them to climate change is tricky and challenging. Human knowledge might just add to the evidence, but as climate scientists will agree, it takes many, many years and a lot of data points to begin to draw conclusions.

 

Ethnobotany of the Naukan speakers, Chukotka District, Russian Far East and Western Alaska

Ethnobotany

The attached link is an article written by Kevin Jernigan, Olga S. BelichenkoValeria B. Kolosova and Darlene J. Orr that compares uses of plants including berries from the past through elder recollections compared to present uses.  They also compared usage with communities in Nome and Kotzebue. Edible plant use has dropped overall from previous years (13%) but the awareness of medicinal uses has skyrocketed (+225%) no doubt because of the interest in antioxidants and other bioactive components. I completed a similar project in the mid 1990s in Ft. Yukon, Alaska and found about a 20% drop in native plant uses, but my project was before all the interest in antioxidants. 

Some of the plants whose use had actually increased include: wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum), tilsey sage (Artemisia tilesii), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), river beauty (Epilobium (Camerion) latifolium, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), sour dock, (Rumex arcticus), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). The plant locally called stinkweed or tilsey sage is interesting because I found it mentioned in nearly every ethnobotanical reference written in Alaska. It has extensive medicinal uses throughout the state and now the Russian Far East. All the berries mentioned are also the most popular berries harvested in northern Alaska. The berry with the greatest increase in uses from the past is mesutaq better known as masru, lingonberry or low bush cranberry. No surprise there!

 

Documenting Change in Nunavut

Here is a thesis that explores climate change through berries near Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada. The program is part citizen science as well as documenting the ethnobotany of the region. It includes great summaries of the most important berries and even some recipes!

ubc_2017_may_desrosiers_sarah

Soapberries!

Soapberries are a berry I was not familiar with, but I found that these berries were smoked. I had never heard of smoking a berry before, it then is pressed into cakes and other sweet desserts. An example article about soap berries is referenced bellow. Vierek,E.Soapberry. Available online: Soapberry. Accessed 19 Oct, 2016.   BE Fairbanks

Nagoonberry Harvest Glacier Bay

Berry picking is a large part of most Alaskan cultures and heritages. This is a video produced in cooperation with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the Hoonah Indian Association. In this ten minute video there are 21 lucky berry pickers that were invited to the Glacier Bay National Park to pick Nagoon berries. In this video you get to see and hear introductions of those invited berry picking including some information on the individuals cultural background and their thoughts and feelings on being able to go berry nagoon berry picking. I like this video because you get a since of the feeling of pride and happiness that berry picking can bring not only an individual but also a community. I really liked that many of these pickers were first time nagoon berry pickers. What a great program the National Park Service has created by helping Alaskan cultures get back to some of their roots. LH Fairbanks

Grant, K. 2011. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Berry Pickers 2011. Available online: https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=C3F041A5-1DD8-B71C-0774CC1129C90E5A . Accessed: 10 Oct. 2016.

Wile Berries in Alaska and their uses

“How are your berries? Perspectives of Alaska’s environmental managers on trends in wild berry abundance” is an article that I found that has a lot of information on wild berries in Alaska, perfect! The article is about a study done on berries, which berries people are eating and the abundance of berries and how it has been changing through the years. The researchers received information back from 73 communities in Alaska. It was so interesting to see which regions favored which berries the most! In the interior their research says that the lowbush blueberry is the most popular, which is my favorite. I’ll attach the link below if anyone wants to see the information on wild berries in Alaska!

Hupp, J., Brubaker, M., Wilkinson, K., & Williamson, J. 2015.  How are your berries? Perspectives of Alaska’s environmental managers on trends in wild berry abundance. Available online: Berries. Accessed on 5 Oct, 2016.

Berries” Inupiat Traditions

Good video from the UA Museum Ethnobotany collection on berries as food and medicine. Ethnobotany