Weeds are my medicine

It’s Gooym (spring) and everything around is waking from their winter nap. This is the time of year the tree frogs start singing, the days start to get longer and the nettle is one of the first plants that stretches up.

Everything has been early this year because of global warming. I don’t know if we have a word in our language for global warming? If we don’t, I’m sure we will need one very soon.

Spring in these parts usually has people talking about cherry and plum blossoms. There’s even a cherry blossom festival.

Yellow Plum Blossom by Jessica Wood
Yellow Plum Blossoms

In the coastal rainforest it is definetly Gooym and this is my favorite time to harvest. Suunt (summer) often gets the glory, with is luscious fruit and the abundant vegetables and while important to me – it’s spring when the sdeti (stinging nettles) start to pop up and tempt me, even when I’m not wearing gloves, that I enjoy harvesting the most.

Sdeti is one of my first plant allies. I didn’t always believe in such things as plant allies, but I’ve come to agree that a plant is a living being and can be your ally, or on occasion, your opponent. Symbiotic relationships exist with plants, there is communication and interdependence. Sdeti once gave me such painful hives the plant actually scared me for many years. Now that I know how to use Sdeti, how to tend it, my reactions to stings are minimal and it’s effectiveness as medicine increased. If that’s not an ally, I don’t know what is.

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle
Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle

Sma’lgyax: Sdeti or steti
Gitxsan name: sdatxs or sdetxs
Nisga’a name: Sdatx
Latin name: Urtica dioica
Common Name: Stinging Nettle

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle Top
Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle Top
Poorly harvested Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle
Poorly harvested Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle – notice the tiny prickles

I believe working with our territory is one of the most powerful acts of self love and self respect we as Indigenous people can do. To learn the landscape, the language, the cycles, and be a part of them is an act of both resistance and love. Whether it be harvesting herring, tending nettle, tapping trees or using our medicines instead of commercial ones.

This is our greatest inheritance, this is what define us more than blood quantum or band membership – eating our foods, using our medicines, being part of our territory – land, sea and river. Without using this knowledge, we are three generations away at any time from loosing this ability altogether.

I’m currently working on an Indigenous Materia Medica.

Materia Medica is a Latin medical term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing (i.e., medicines). I’ve been resistant to this part of plant work and herbal medicine because it has felt like it relied on using the wrong words. It relied on a body of knowledge that has often been stolen from our people and then used against us.

iimg̱a̱n/ Usnea
iimg̱a̱n/ Usnea – never harvest from a tree, only from windfall.

Recently I started trying to learn the right words for these plants and will base my Materia Medica on my own languages. I will record the Latin Names for the usefulness to distinguish the specific species of plants across a vaster geography, but I will call them by the names in my languages, their true names,  so that we may continue to ally ourselves together.


Cleaver – still trying to learn the word for it in our languages

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