Workshop teaches uses of traditional plants

Cordova women share their knowledge of using plants as food and medicine

Two Cordova women who attended the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s 5th Annual Plant Symposium in Anchorage came home to share what they learned in a Traditional Plants and Indigenous Knowledge Workshop at the Masonic Hall in Cordova.

Just over a dozen people attended the Oct. 3 workshop led by Kanisha Tiedeman, who said she is a student of nature, and Raven Madison, an undergraduate student in Rural Development and Alaska Native Studies.

The Native Village of Eyak had provided sponsorships for Madison and Tiedeman to attend the ANTHC event Sept. 11-13, in Anchorage.

“The symposium was based on a gathering of people who came from all parts of the Earth to talk about plants and food as medicine, and preserving our natural bounty,” Tiedeman said.

Janice Schofield, author of “Discovering Wild Plants,” and Anore Jones, author of “Plants That We Eat,” were keynote speakers.

The symposium’s agenda was packed with numerous one-hour classes.


“In Tend, Gather and Grow,” Tiedeman said, “We opened our hearts to plant relations. We studied about vinegars, pickles and oxymels, practical uses for willow and alder, our friend the wild rose, the beautiful bounty of the sea, tree medicine, Chaga, nettles, old medicine, new uses, and about our three guardians – yarrow, devils club and wormwood, which are drinks that nourish body, mind and spirit, and much more.”

Madison said she and Tiedeman split up at the symposium, so that they could attend as many classes as possible.

“I chose classes I was more interested in, thing that I could relate too,” said Madison. “I studied topics that I have had knowledge about. It was so amazing coming out of each class feeling like I gained so much knowledge and respect for the plants I was taught about. I even learned about sea vegetables and the wild rose, two topics I knew little about.”

NVE asked Tiedeman and Madison to teach a workshop in Cordova upon their return, to share what they learned with local subsistence harvesters and gatherers.

Instructor Raven Madison prepares Kombucha starters (SCOBYS) to give away at the Traditional Plants and Indigenous Knowledge Workshop Oct. 3, in Cordova.  Photo courtesy Kanisha Tiedeman/For The Cordova Times
Instructor Raven Madison prepares Kombucha starters (SCOBYS) to give away at the Traditional Plants and Indigenous Knowledge Workshop Oct. 3, in Cordova.
Photo courtesy Kanisha Tiedeman/For The Cordova Times

The workshop “was a great way to reach the community and give back to the tribe as members of the Native Village of Eyak,” Tiedeman said.

Madison and Tiedeman had Kombucha starters ready for participants to take home in jars, along with Chaga to take home for brewing natural teas.

Kombucha is a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly intended as functional beverages for their health benefits. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY.

Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as the Chaga mushroom, is a fungus in the family Hymenochaetaceae. It is a parasite on birch and other trees, and is purported to have medicinal uses and health benefits.

“The workshop here was good for me,” Tiedeman said, “It can be shared with all ages. Some of the topics we went over, like Young Humans Relationships with Plants, Our Lifestyle as Consumers/Subsistence Users, Preserving Our Plants, and Culture and the Planet, are all topics that can be explored and experienced on all levels of understanding. With a little creativity, a story can be brought to life by a child with encouragement from an elder, teacher, parent, child or grandparent.”

Tiedeman uses plants as medicine daily.

She likes to drink turmeric tea with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. She cuts onions for breakfast omelets, makes infused waters for taking saunas and for drinking, and hauls firewood to dry and then burn.

“I use plants as medicine in my day to day life!” she said. “I like to walk outside and smell the lovely cottonwood trees as they shift from summer to fall. These are all good form of medicine for me.”

Madison’s main objective in the workshop was to teach people the respectful way of harvesting from the earth.

“Gathering is one of the most basic human acts, and is so widely forgotten in this modern world,” Madison said. “The knowledge that’s been passed on from generation to generation needs to be revitalized. As I’ve been on this journey of Alaska Native plants for food and medicine, I have been taught the correct, traditional ways of harvesting.”

The number one rule in traditional harvesting is to respect the plants.

“These plants have a very fragile ecosystem,” Madison said. “They must be properly taken care of. Harvest with good intentions. Keep in mind happy thoughts and prayers for the people you are harvesting for. Give back to the plants too – leave a hair or buy a bag of tobacco and leave some in the area you are harvesting. Plants have spirits too; they are alive and deserve the respect you would give to anything else. By doing this you will grow a stronger connection with the plants.”

Guidelines for harvesting plants in the traditional way include being sure to have permission to harvest where you’ll be gathering plants; only gather 25-percent or less of what is seen, as you may not be the only person harvesting an area; be mindful and show good judgment.

Next, know how to harvest the plant.

“If you don’t know how,” Madison explained, “ask someone or look it up, because you could damage the plant. I’ve learned from elders that there are ways of harvesting plants that can improve the health of the plants. Only harvest what you need. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with excitement when wandering upon a large amount of a harvestable plant. You must spend time processing the plant you harvest; don’t take so much that you end up having to throw it away. Try to disturb the area as little as possible. We must honor the plants and the places they grow.”

“I came out feeling must more in-tune with the plants,” Madison said. “I have not only a greater respect for, and connection with the plants, but I was able to make connections with people too. Everyone who went to this symposium is so in-tune with the natural world. I have so much respect for what they do. There were traditional healers, botanists, ethnobotanists and people who whole-heartedly just love plants. I think my biggest highlight was getting to meet so many amazing people and form relationships that will last a life-time.”

Madison plans on offering another workshop in the spring that will incorporate identifying plants in the wild and time in the classroom.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson
Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.