Secwepemc Cultural Education Society
"Metéltwecw-kt Es Knúcwetwecw-kt"
"Everyone come together to help one another."
Secwepemc Ethnobotanical Gardens
The Secwepemc Ethnobotanical Gardens were created in 1999 to promote an understanding of Secwepemc language, culture and use of native plants. Along with fishing and hunting, Secwepemc people relied heavily on plants for food, for medicines, and for tools and implements. Plant knowledge continues to be an essential part of Secwepemc cultural knowledge and is communicated through traditional stories, place names, beliefs and values.
Secwepemc Territory is ecologically diverse and contains a great range and variety of plants at different locations, elevations and seasons throughout the year. Surplus plant foods or essential plant materials occurring only in certain locations were traded among communities and between nations.
The Secwepemc Ethnobotanical Gardens are divided into five zones, each representing a different ecosystem found within the Secwepemc Territory. Each zone supports particular native plants that were traditionally cultivated and harvested by the Secwepemc. Interpretive signage describes the ecosystem in which the plants grow naturally, as well as Secwepemc traditional uses of the plants.
The plants presented in the Gardens have been acquired from seed, cuttings and nurseries. Our elders have taught us that all plants should be treated with respect.
For cross cultural and educational purposes, we are pleased to share the knowledge passed down by generations of our elders on the traditional use and management of plants found throughout the Secwepemc Territory. The intellectual property rights to this knowledge remain with, and are reserved for the Secwepemc people.
Certain plant foods, such as berries and roots, were collected in well-known and well-tended locations. Whole communities often stayed near these gathering locations for days or weeks to process plants for year-round use. Chiefs and families could own food gathering areas, but many were regarded as communal property. Harvesting was directed by the chief or designated elder who would ensure resources were respected and equally distributed among the people. In early spring, a petse or digging stick was used to dig up the taproots of tse'ts'elq (balsamroot). Peeled, then steamed in a pit, the roots were eaten as a vegetable. Later in the summer, after the flowers had gone to seed, Secwepemc people collected the small black dry fruits, roasted and pounded them into a meal which was eaten alone, or with berries in cakes.
Plants in Technology
Before the availability of commercially made implements, plants were the source of a vast range of tools and building materials, as well as fuels. Canoe hulls were made from the bark of qwllinllp (paper birch) and dugout canoes were made from the trunks of mulc (black cottonwood). Baskets were also made from qwllinllp sewn together with roots. Split t'sellp (spruce) roots were an important basket making and stitching material. The bark of the "green" alder, kwle7ellp (Sitka alder), like that of its coastal relative, is a good source of dye. The colors produced range from orange to reddish-brown to blackish.
Management of natural resources was carried out through a variety of methods, including burning of old plant growth, pruning of berry bushes and selective harvesting of plant species. These methods continue today. Harvesting of tree or shrub bark for medicinal use is done by cutting only a strip from the living tree ensuring that the tree continues to live. When picking sxu'sem (hooshum), the branches, thick with berries, are broken off and beaten with a stick to knock the berries off into a blanket. This method of "speming" prunes the shrub leading to enhanced and increased long-term yields. When bulbs are harvested only the larger ones are taken, leaving the smaller, younger bulbs for the following year.
Plants as Food
Many berry producing plants grow in dry forest areas, such as speqpeq7u'w'i (saskatoon), tqitq'e (strawberries) and sxusem (hooshum). Sxu'sem is an excellent health food eaten fresh or dried. These berries are not eaten like regular fruit, but made into a drink or whipped with water into a stiff froth (called Indian ice cream) and eaten with special spoons. Some months of the Secwepemc calendar are based on the ripening of plants and plant gathering activities.
Plants as Medicine
Plants and plant knowledge to promote both physical and spiritual well-being are an integral part of Secwepemc medicine. In cases where illness is treated, herbal medicines are administered. Decoctions of boiled plants or plant parts are prescribed and the treatment is followed for a length of time or until the patient's condition improves. A number of plants are commonly known and used as medicines, while others known to be toxic are handled only by specialists. The traditional concept of healing is holistic, the treatment of conditions and diseases revolves around the symptoms, the improvement of the person's well-being and the prevention of physical and emotional sickness Sekwew' (rose hips) are well known for their high vitamin C content and are boiled along with the branches as medicine for upset stomach. Rosebush branches are also used for spiritual and protective purposes.