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

Alestine Andre, GSCI
Categories: By Uses, Fire Starter, Insect Repellent, Medicine, Moth Ball, Tobacco, By Type, Fungi
Birch fungus is a general term for a type of bracket fungus that grows on birch trees, willow and red willow (alder) shrubs.
As medicine ...
Ingrid Kritsch, GSCI
Categories: By Uses, Medicine, By Type, Fungi

As medicine

The brown powder inside the puffballs fungi is used to treat weeping sores when there are no bandages to cover the area. The powder is also used on burns...

Dave Jones
Categories: By Uses, Cleaner, Diapers, Fuel, Shelter, Trail Markers, By Type, Mosses and Lichens
As diapers
Gwich’in women used to hang wet moss in branches of willows to dry and get rid of bugs. (The bugs crawl out or drop from the drying moss.) The dry...
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...

Leslie Main Johnson
Categories: By Uses, Medicine, Pipe, By Type, Other Plants
As medicine 
The white core at the base of the plant is ground into a powder or chewed as a medicine. Alfred Semple’s great-grandmother used to mix the...
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: By Uses, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As medicine
The leaves of the dogwood plant, also known as red osier dogwood, are crushed and used to treat burns, bee stings and insect bites. The white and...
Alestine Andre
Categories: Flooring, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As flooring
Dwarf birch is widespread in the Gwich’in Settlement Region and is commonly found growing among cranberries and alders (red willow) on muskeg. It...
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....
Leslie Main Johnson
Categories: By Uses, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As medicine
All of the above ground parts of the Labrador (muskeg) tea plant are used to make a relaxant tea. The dwarf labrador plant, with its smaller leaves, is...