Wild Foods and Medicines
Our GRuB Wild Foods and Medicines work provides educational resources, community classes, and teacher trainings that connect people with the land, the seasons, and community. We also have demonstration gardens on our Olympia-based farm and at the Victory Farm in Lacey.
Elise Krohn serves as the Traditional Plants Program Director. She has worked with GRuB School since 2008, leading students in hands-on workshops on wild foods, plant medicines, and field trips to local ecosystems. Elise has 10 years of experience as a clinical herbalist. During her 19 years of experience teaching in tribal communities, she has worked with Elders and cultural specialists to create community gardens, food sovereignty resources, a program on healing addiction, and curricula on chronic disease prevention. Since 2016, Elise has led a team of 12 people in developing the Tend, Gather and Grow Curriculum (link), which engages youth and community members with regional plants that are used for food, medicine, and traditional technologies.
Mariana Harvey is the Traditional Plants Program Coordinator. Mariana has spent the last 5 years working to promote culturally based leadership initiatives for Native youth within the northwest and nationally through her work with the Native Youth Leadership Alliance and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Youth. Mariana has studied with Elise Krohn in her Wild Roots apprenticeship, is a traditional food gatherer for her Longhouse and is a contributor to the Tend, Gather & Grow teaching toolkit. She holds of Bachelors of Arts Degree in American Indian Studies. She is a member of the Yakama Nation, a proud new mother and currently resides in Olympia, WA.
Indigenous Plants and Foods
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.
We partner with native educators, Elders, and cultural experts in developing educational tools that are place-based, promote respect for the land, and increased understanding of tribal history, traditions, and food sovereignty. Honoring cultural property rights and protected knowledge is an important part of this work. We respect and honor Native communities’ right to keep sacred knowledge within their communities, and strive to share knowledge that is appropriate for a broader audience.
Examples of tribal partnerships include:
- Co-designing the Cultural Ecosystems Field Trip Guide, which will be utilized at the Muckleshoot Tribal School and in the Tend, Gather and Grow Curriculum.
- Offering a year-long series of teacher trainings for tribal community educators through the Northwest Portland Indian Health Board.
- Developing the Native Infusion: Rethink Your Drink Toolkit (see the Resources page for a downloadable file) with Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot), graphic designer Annie Brule, and Coast Salish artists Roger Fernandes and Joe Seymour. The toolkit was funded through First Nations Development Institute and includes a curriculum, posters, and a recipe book that promotes healthy native beverages instead of sugary drinks.
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.
Consider these guidelines when you are harvesting plants:
- Build Plant Identification Skills: Never eat something if you are identifying it for the first time. If possible, learn from an experienced harvester so you feel confident that you have the right plant.
- Harvest from Clean Land and Waters: Plants can pick up toxins from the environment. If you are harvesting from the waters, make sure the area is clean and far away from runoff from a town or industrial site. Avoid harvesting plants along roadsides, in industrial areas, or in agricultural areas.
- Gather in the Right Season: Learn the best time to harvest wild foods and medicines. For example, dandelion greens are tasty in spring, but become very bitter in summer.
- Processing and Preparation Techniques are Important: How a food is processed, stored, and prepared can make the difference between someone being nourished or getting sick.
- Take Only What the Land Can Give: Wise gatherers, hunters, and fishers remind us to take only what the land can handle and leave enough so that plant or animal communities continue to thrive. Likewise, it is essential to give back to the land so it will not become depleted. For example, we can return shells to beaches and compost food scraps.
- Honor Your Commitment: Sometimes harvesting is the easy part. The real work comes when you process your food. Evergreen huckleberry branches are easy to cut, but picking the tiny berries off the stems and cleaning them can take hours. Honor the plants you harvest by using what you take.
- Give Back to the Land: Organic and sustainable practices return basic life materials to the soil. Through caring for the land, we honor the ancient practices of the native people of this land and their ancestors, and join together to help pass down a world that will support generations to come.”