Plants

Over thousands of years, the Gwich’in have used a variety of trees, shrubs and berries for food, medicine, shelter and tools. Knowledge of this plant use has seriously declined in recent years.

In 1997, GSCI began work with Gwich’in elders on an ethnobotany project to record the use of this traditional knowledge in partnership with the Aurora Research Institute (ARI). The results of this research are available in a joint publication called “Gwich’in Ethnobotany: Plants Used by the Gwich’in for Food, Medicine, Shelter and Tools” by Alestine Andre and Alan Fehr.

The book highlights the use of 32 plants and 3 types of rocks and minerals. Information includes the Gwich'in names for these plants (in both the Gwichya Gwich'in and Teetł’it Gwich'in dialects), where they are found, and how they can be used. Several recipes for making medicine and preparing food are also included. Black and white and colour photographs illustrate the text.

Information from this book and a Master’s thesis by Alestine Andre (2006) called, Nan t’aih nakwits'inahtsìh (The Land Gives Us Strength) have been used to create our Gwich’in ethnobotany database. This database contains cultural knowledge about 43 plants traditionally used by the Gwich’in and is searchable by plant types and uses. You can click on any of the categories to the left to filter the records, or click on “By Type” or “By Uses” above to bring up all categories.

Please note that the plant information provided in this website is NOT a medical guide and must not be used for medical advice or self-medication. DO NOT USE any parts of a plant if you are not certain about the plant’s identity or its medicinal use. Please seek the advice of a local medicine plant specialist for plant information.

Plant database credits

Gwich’in Plant Specialists – Ruth Welsh & Alestine Andre biographies


Dave Jones
Categories: By Uses, Food, Medicine, By Type, Berries
For food
The white flowers come out in June and the berries which resemble orange raspberries, are ready to pick in late July when they are soft and plump. Along...
Jacquie Bastick
Categories: By Uses, Cleaner, Food, Medicine, By Type, Ferns
As medicine
The leaves and stems can be steamed for nasal congestion, colds and stomach ailments.
As food
...
Christian Bucher
Categories: By Uses, Food, By Type, Flowering Plants
As food
The best time to dig up bear roots is in June after the river ice breaks up and from mid-August to September before freeze up. The roots are juicy and...
Alestine Andre
Categories: By Uses, Food, Medicine, By Type, Flowering Plants
As food
The pink flowers of the fireweed plant are edible and can be mixed in with jello and salads. In the spring, the new shoots can be cooked like asparagus...
Alestine Andre, GSCI
Categories: By Uses, Food, Medicine, By Type, Flowering Plants

As food

The picking time for this plant lasts only about two weeks. The rhubarb plant is ready to eat in mid-June when it is about 20 to 25 centimeters tall (eight...

Jacquie Bastick
Categories: Cleaner, Food, Medicine, By Type, Mosses and Lichens

This lichen grows in large mats in spruce forests, where it is often eaten by caribou. According to Alfred Semple, Lazarus Sittichinli said it takes a long time to grow. He also told Alfred...

J. Derek Johnson
Categories: Food, By Type, Other Plants
As food
In spring the flower stalk is generally longer than the leaves and is topped with a pink or purple flower. The leaves and bulb are both edible. Laura...
Alestine Andre
Categories: Food, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As food
The leaves and stems can be picked year round and boiled into a tea. In the spring, the white flowers can also be collected and used to make tea....
Alestine Andre, GSCI
Categories: By Uses, Dye, Food, Fuel, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As food
Annie Benoit of Aklavik says that scraping off the dark outer covering of the bark is an option before eating or boiling it. Medicine from red willow...
Alestine Andre
Categories: By Uses, Food, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As food
After the showy pink flowers bloom in June and July, the fruit develop into red berries called rose hips. The red berries are best picked and...

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