The Great Bear Rainforest is a unique environment. It’s part of the larger Pacific temperate rainforest ecoregion—the biggest coastal rainforest in the world.
On the North Coast of BC, massive amounts of moisture combined with plenty of clouds and varying amounts of sunlight create conditions ideal for various plants and animals.
The Gitga’at Nation has occupied its territory since time immemorial and is deeply connected to the plants in the territory. Many have healing properties, some are edible, and others are harmful. Here are the plants you should be able to identify to avoid them.
Harmful Plants on Gitga’at Territory
Twistedstalk, or maaya galipliip (thunder berries), is found throughout Gitga’at territory. The berries are red and translucent and hang under each leaf toward the upper end of the stalk. The berries are not edible, and you should not touch them under any circumstances.
Indian Hellebore, or Poison Root, is also known as huulens. You can find it in moist areas, such as in damp woods, near the lake, or in the bogs above Hartley Bay. It’s a large, bright green plant with pleated leaves. If you see it, do not touch it. The plant is highly toxic, poisonous, and not to be messed with.
Although it is an extremely dangerous plant, trained healers have used the roots to make a salve for sores, kill lice, or treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. During illnesses like the flu, huulens have been used as incense. Poison root also applies to ceremonial purification, luck, and other practices.
Cow Parsnip is a large plant with clusters of white flowers commonly found on the North Coast of BC. It is similar to Giant Hogweed (although the latter has never been found in Prince Rupert).
Cow Parsnip looks very similar to Hogweed, and it can be difficult to distinguish between them. One tell-tale sign is that Cow Parsnip flowers look like a cluster of spheres, and Hogweed flowers are in a flat shape, more like a dinner plate.
Cow Parsnip is toxic and dangerous and can result in nasty chemical burns if you handle the flowers and stalks on mature plants. However, in the early stages, the shoots have beneficial properties.
In the spring, Cow Parsnip shoots are part of the traditional Gitga’at harvest along with other shoots and sprouts, including fireweed shoots, thimbleberry/salmonberry sprouts, clover roots and the inner bark of Hemlock.
Sustaining the Nation
Although some plants on Gitga’at territory are harmful, others are helpful and have healing properties. Knowledge of which plants are safe and which are not is the key. Regardless, environmental protection and seasonal harvests will help sustain the Nation for all generations.