Every year, for the past four years and around the same time, Tsimshian elder John W. Pahl and daughter and Northwest Community College First Nations access coordinator Kaarlene Lindsay go grocery shopping.
But they don’t go to any Save-On-Foods or Safeway.
This grocery trip doesn’t involve shopping carts, debit cards or checkout candy bars, but resembles more of a survival kit — hedge shears, a sharp knife, plastic bags, gumboots, a backpack and heavy duty gloves. It also involves a drive outside town, a jump over a babbling brook, and a trek into the brush off Highway 16 toward Terrace.
There are only three items on the grocery list, and they can be found together only within a few weeks out of the entire year. Mix them, and you have one of the oldest and most natural medicines that can be concocted on the North Coast.
Pahl and Lindsay are undertaking their fourth annual Elders in Residence Walk — a chance to offer the community traditional knowledge on Tsimshian medicine and culture, though surely they’ve made the walk without others countless times before on their own.
Previous iterations of the walk has garnered entire college classes involving students from all over the world taking part, and in the 2017 edition, the walk attracts one curious community member, Brent, and an intrigued newspaper reporter.
“The Elder in Residence program, we do the traditional medicine walk every year and my dad, he’s the elder in residence, he goes, and we all go with him and we experience looking for roots, bark and Devil’s Club for medicine,” said Lindsay on the day of the walk, April 19.
“It’s about sharing and that’s what my dad does on his walk, he shares what information he has learned from his mom and others. It’s all about longevity and good health.”
The Devil’s Club (green, inner bark), Licorice Fern root and Alder Tree bark ingredients together make a medicine that can be stored and last a long time after boiling them in a kettle, and help with such things as high blood sugar levels, tuberculosis, eczema, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, said Pahl and Lindsay.
After letting the Devil’s Club pieces sit in a brown paper bag somewhere high and warm, it’s mixed with Alder bark (only a six inch by eight inch piece to avoid hurting the tree), with anything unused stored in a freezer, and it keeps all winter. The bark can also be applied to irritated skin to stop any redness or swelling.
The bark and inner bark are joined with the root in boiling water. The first sip should not be taken until the next morning after the medicine sits on its own overnight.
“It’s still kind of weak, but then after the morning, you take that and put it in the fridge. You keep taking it every morning. It takes awhile first off all. It’s a little bit bitter and then the fern root sweetens it and then as it goes along, it tastes better and it usually takes about a month for it to help anything,” said Pahl. “My mother showed me all about that and she was taking it for her ulcers and it healed her ulcers.”
“It’s about experiential learning,” added Lindsay. “Participants have tried the medicine and they don’t mind the taste at all, it’s not a bad taste — it’s pretty good.”