Indigenous Plants & Foods: Honoring Cultural Property Rights
GRuB recognizes that part of building a just and sustainable food system includes working to protect, preserve, and revitalize native plants and foods. As a predominately settler organization, we acknowledge that we are on the traditional territories of the Chehalis, Squaxin Island, Nisqually, and Cowlitz communities.
We give thanks to Salish tribes who for thousands of years have stewarded this land, practicing management techniques including: burning and weeding camas prairies and mountain huckleberry meadows, building clam gardens on saltwater beaches, enhancing wetlands habitats, and harvesting sustainably so that plant and animal communities can continue to thrive. These practices create an abundance and diversity of foods, medicines, and other culturally significant plants. European colonization and modern agricultural practices have greatly diminished native plants, and we give thanks to tribal communities that are leading the way in land preservation and restoration.
The teaching of reciprocity (building reciprocal relationships) is a foundational part of our work. Reciprocity is a form of stewardship and includes recognizing, valuing, and taking an active part in upholding the complex web of relationships between humans and nonhumans. Our educational resources and classes emphasize ways that people can develop meaningful connections and experiences with plants and thereby build resiliency, health, social/emotional intelligence, and care for the land.
Embracing Our Weeds
Our Wild Foods and Medicines programs and activities include useful non-native species – for example blackberry, chickweed, dandelion, and plantain. These common, free, and easily accessible “weeds” provide nutritious food or healing medicine. Wild foods help build food security for those who do not have access to healthy store-bought foods. Making herbal home remedies can help improve our health while connecting us with the gifts of the land.
Our program encourages people to identify, harvest, honor, and utilize local plants while also emphasizing the critical importance of protecting native foods and cultural ecosystems. Plants are living beings who have family, neighbors, and friends. They communicate with and care for each other. When we are in their space and are gathering them for food and medicine, how can we be respectful? How do we make sure we leave enough to share with others and for the plant community to thrive? Here are some things to consider when harvesting plants:
- Ask Permission: Acknowledge whose land you are on. Do you have permission to harvest there?
- Slow Down and Look Around: How many plants are there? Are they healthy? How many can you harvest while still leaving a strong community? Many foragers take a maximum of 10-20% of the plants in a place. Leave enough for others who rely on the plants for food, like pollinators, birds, and mammals. Sometimes caring for plant communities means not harvesting anything.
- Harvest Safely: Make sure you have the right plant! Some plants have tricky look-alikes that may be toxic. Avoid harvesting from roadsides, railroad corridors, agricultural areas, or other areas that might be contaminated or sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. These chemicals can make us sick.
- Leave No Trace: Clean up and fill in holes so you don’t make a visible impact.
- What Can You Give Back? Some people leave a gift, a song, or a prayer as thanks for the gift they have received. Others may pick up garbage or remove invasive plant species.
- Anticipate Processing Time and How Much You Need: Sometimes the bulk of the work comes when you get home and process the plants. Will you have time? And how much will you be able to actually use?
- Celebrate Responsibly: Only share about your successful harvest (via social media etc.) when you are also able to remind others about proper harvest protocols. Protect places that are shared with you and be mindful of the pressures they might experience if they become too popular.