Learn to identify the plants in our Indigenous Plant Garden, and discover their uses. Names are listed in SENĆOŦEN, English, and Latin.
P-Z Plant ID Information
Pacific Crabapple Malus fusca
The fruit of this tree is an important food source for many coastal people. In late summer and early autumn, clusters of the green, tart fruit are harvested. Due to its high acidity, the fruit easily stores for the winter without any processing, although the fruit is often made into jam. The hard wood of the tree has been used to make tools, such as axe handles, halibut hooks, bows, and fishing floats. The bark is has been used medicinally to treat kidney problems, colds and tuberculosis. The bark is also thought to be good for the appetite and is used to increase the appetite of someone who is ill. However, the bark contains cyanide-producing compounds, so one must use caution when ingesting it. Always consult with an expert before using it for medicinal purposes.
Pacific Dogwood Cornus nuttallii
This deciduous, flowering tree has been used for many purposes by indigenous communities from the west coast of British Columbia to California. The wood was used to make harpoons, bow, arrows, combs, and needle hooks. The Cowichan people on Vancouver Island made knitting needles from the Pacific Dogwood. The Straits Salish used the bark to make dark brown or red dye. The bark was also used medicinally to treat skin infections, fevers, digestive issues, to purify the blood to strengthen the lungs, and as an antiseptic. In 1956 the Pacific Dogwood was adopted as British Columbia’s floral emblem.
Bush: ȾIWEK, IȽĆ
Red Elderberry Sambucus racemosa
This plant is very rich in Vitamin C. Although any part of this plant can be eaten, it is recommended to cook the berries first before ingestion and to use caution, since all parts of this plant (including uncooked berries) contain poisonous glycosides that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. When prepared and administered properly, the bark and leaves can be used to treat many different illnesses like: toothaches, colds, sore throat, fever, cuts, sores, sprains, bruises, and arthritis. The blossoms are known to be used for treatment of measles, and are also edible. The fruit, stems and bark can all be processed to make a dye.
Bush: DAḴE IȽĆ
Salal Gaultheria shallon
Salal is a perennial evergreen shrub native to the Pacific Northwest. Salal is full of vitamins and antioxidants that prevent degeneration and promote good health. Traditionally, Indigenous people the length of the Northwest coast ate the berries fresh or dried them in cakes for later consumption. The plant’s leaves can be prepared in a tea or tincture to treat coughs, heartburn, bladder inflammation, stomach or duodenal ulcers, and menstrual cramps. The leaves have astringent properties, making them useful to treat wounds. The Quileute people chewed the leaves and applied them to burns and sores to soothe the skin.
Bush: ELILE IȽĆ
Edible sprouts: ŦÁ,ŦKI
Salmonberry Rubus spectabilis
The Salmonberry can be found anywhere from Southern Alaska to California, scattered throughout areas of the Coast and Cascade mountains. The berries are the only edible part of the plant, as the leaves and roots are mildly toxic if ingested. Eaten fresh or fried, the berries are a good source of Vitamin C and fibre. The leaves were used for a variety of medicinal purposes. Boiled into a tea, they were used to treat diarrhea and dysentery and to stimulate appetite, while a poultice made from chewed leaves was applied to burns. Infusions were also used to treat anemia and long menstrual pain. Indigenous groups on the central BC coast pounded the bark from salmonberry trigs into a pulp that was used to dull toothaches and treat skin infections.
Bush: PEPKIYOS IȽĆ
Snowberry Symphoricarpos albus
The snowberry has many medicinal uses such as relieving muscle and stomach pain (however the isoquinoline alkaloid chelidonine found in the berries induces vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness if ingested in large quantities). Depending on how it was prepared, the snowberry was used to remove warts, soothe eyesores, heal cuts and burns and treat tuberculosis. The roots and stems were used as a cure for urinary infections and venereal diseases. The saponin in the berries makes them useful as a soap to wash ones hair. Various southern Vancouver Island elders indicate that the plant can be used to brush off after being near a grave yard by putting the leaves or the berries into water and washing your face in it.
Sundew Drosera rotundifolia
The roots, flowers and fruit-like capsules of the sundew are prepared as a tea and used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. The plant’s antispasmodic properties make it effective medicine for cough relief, and cross culturally it has been used for dry coughs, whooping coughs, bronchitis, bronchial cramps, and asthma. When prepared as a poultice it can also be applied to sunburns and toothaches.
Sword Fern Polystichum munitum
The fronds and the rhizomes of Sword Fern have been used for a wide variety of purposes. Both can be cooked or steamed, peeled and eaten, although the rhizomes were considered a starvation food because of their undesirable taste. The fronds are used to line earth ovens, as bedding, and as mats on house floors. Medicinally, the Nuu-chah-nulth people used the fern to cure diarrhea. Lummi women used it to hasten childbirth. Various groups used it to ease a sore throat and tonsillitis.
The Sword Fern also has recreational uses. Some coastal peoples such as the Squamish and Ditidaht used the fern to play a game called “Pala Pala”. This game was played by pulling off the leaflets of the fern one by one while saying “Pala” meaning “One” while holding their breath. This game could be played by children but was also used to as a training tool for young men so they could dive down in the ocean to harvest bull kelp.
Bush: DEḰEN IȽĆ
Edible sprouts: ŦȺ,ŦKI
Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus
Thimbleberries are commonly found throughout the province. A wide variety of indigenous groups processed the berries into cakes to store for the winter months. Thimbleberry is a potent source of vitamin C, which helps ward off intestinal problems like dysentery. The sprouts were peeled and eaten raw in the spring before they became woody. The leaves were used medicinally in a number of ways. They could be rubbed on the skin to help with acne or irritation; the Cowlitz of Washington would crush the leaves to soothe burns. In Wsanec territory, the dried leaves were ingested or made into a tea to alleviate diarrhea; elsewhere they were reportedly ingested to treat nausea and vomiting.
Trembling Aspen Populus tremuloides
Twinflower Linnaea borealis
Twinflower has been used as a food source by the Carrier Indians of British Columbia’s interior. Indigenous tribes including the Montagnais, Tanana, Algonquin, Iroquois and Snohomish Indians have all used twinflower for a variety of medicinal purposes. It has been used as a tonic during pregnancy as well as a treatment for painful menstruation. When mashed up, the plant can be used as a poultice for inflamed limbs and as a remedy to relieve painful headaches. A decoction of leaves can treat colds, while a decoction of the twigs can be given to children to relieve fever, cramps and crying.
Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla
Western Hemlock wood was used for a wide variety of tools, from spoons and harpoon shafts, to dip net poles and fire tongs. The bark has a very high tannin content, and was used for as a tanning agent, pigment, and cleaning solution. Many indigenous communities pounded and boiled bark in fresh water to make dyes for Mountain goat wool and basket materials. The strong smelling, sticky pitch was used as a cement to patch canoes and water containers. It was also used as a salve for healing wounds, to prevent chapping and to remove vermin from hair. The bark can be used as a laxative, a wash for sore eyes or skin sores, to stop hemorrhages and bleeding, to treat syphilis and tuberculosis, and to soothe a sore throat. The inner bark was also eaten fresh, or processed into cakes and sometimes mixed with berries.
Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata
Northwest coast indigenous communities used giant cedar trunks for their canoes, housing materials, tools, and totem poles. The bark was used for everything from rope and basketry to clothing and baby diapers. The low smoke, aromatic fire from red cedar was favored for smoking salmon.
Wild Celery Lomatium nudicaule
The dried seeds of the plant can be boiled into a tea to assist with sore throats, coughs and other bronchial ailments. The seeds may also be chewed, plant fibre discarded, to achieve the same effect. The inhaled smoke of the burning seeds as medicine is said to treat headaches, as is the inhaled aroma of compressed seeds or seeds added to a poultice and placed on the forehead.
When burned as medicine, KEXMIN seeds provide both a cleansing and protection from negativity, and harmful spirits.
The Washoe people of Nevada use the root of this plant to make tea to treat bronchial ailments. It is of note that not one Washoe person who had access to this plant died during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, while other tribes in Nevada suffered losses.
Bush: ḴÁMQ IȽĆ
Wild Gooseberry Ribes divaricatum
The berries, roots and leaves of this plant are all edible. The berries were often mixed with salal berries and boiled down to make cakes that could be stored for winter. The roots can be boiled and used to help relief cramps by rubbing onto the affected area. Newborn babies were bathed in boiled leaves by their grandparents so that they would grow up to be intelligent and obedient. The roots were also boiled with cedar rose roots and woven into rope and fishing weirs. On Haida Gwaii the sharp thorns were used for tattooing. Tattooing was a rite of passage, and in Haida society children were tattooed by their maternal aunties.
Woolly Sunflower Eriophyllum lanatum
The woolly sunflower is found along coastal regions from British Columbia to California. The Chehalis people of British Columbia and Washington were said to mix the dried flowers with grease to make a strong love potion. In traditional Miwok tribes of California, the leaves of woolly sunflower were made into a poultice and put on parts of the body to relieve pain and heal wounds. In Washington, the Skagit people were known to rub the leaves on themselves to prevent dry skin.
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Yarrow is one of the most widely used medicinal plants, both locally and worldwide. In BC, this plant has been used by many indigenous nations, including the Thompson River Salish, Ulkatcho First Nation, Nuxalk Nation, and the Tsimshian people. It is used to treat many ailments, from colds, venereal diseases, and bladder ailments to infusions for bathing arthritic limbs, and poultices for sciatica, sore muscles, and breast abscesses. Chewed leaves can be applied to burns and boils, and made into a chest rub for bronchial infections. Vancouver Island ingenious peoples reportedly used yarrow to stop bleeding and was often taken on hunting trips for this reason. Yarrow was also used during child birth to help with the birthing of the placenta and any hemorrhaging. Other traditional uses include treating fever, deep cuts, and as a digestive aid.