A Taste of Ethnobotany – Yarrow for Tomorow

June 29, 2024

The 2024 Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS) Study Weekend took place on the traditional lands of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. Many plant enthusiasts were privileged to participate in field trips led by Tribal Citizens.

On Sunday I attended a field trip on ethnobotany – the scientific* study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.

I imagined that we would explore a meadow to identify many of the edible plants with nutritious bulbs, roots or tubers or corms. Instead, we headed into the forest for identification of plants with mostly medicinal uses. I was a total beginner!

Our leader, ƛ̕əw’cən Mackenzie Grinnell, who grew up fishing in the area, is the Traditional Foods & Culture Gathering Coordinator for the Tribe. On the hike we ventured into a North Pacific Maritime Dry-Mesic Douglas-Fir-Western Hemlock Forest, containing salal, evergreen huckleberry, blackberries, along with a variety of ferns, and wildflowers.

Mackenzie explained that the Tribe’s energy and resources were completely drained for generations, trying to stop the degradation of natural resources. It’s only been the last few years that they have been able to focus on traditional foods knowledge and the magnification of their Klallam language. (Mackenzie is also a Klallam language speaker.)

Makenzie informed us that he often feeds traditional foods to the remaining elders, as a way to help them remember the traditional stories that accompany different food plants. He also collaborates with members of the other four Klallam bands in the area, since each elder’s knowledge is specialized.

common yarrow

Our group walked and discussed many plants. Here are tidbits about a few of them:

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – grind leaves and flowers into a powder to stop bleeding. Yarrow has been revered as a healing plant for thousands of years not only in Coast Salish Territory but also in China and ancient Greece.

broadleaf plantain

Common cleaver (Galium aparine) – the seeds of cleaver are energy producing, like stinging nettle. Cleaver is also a natural insecticide. Use it to make a mattress to keep the bed bugs out. If you squeeze the plant you will get a liquid. He freezes the plant in ice cube trays.

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major – not native)) – chew up leaves to make a poultice. Good for a rash. Also called frog leaf plantain or Indian Band-Aid. Seeds are high in oil.

My main takeaway from the weekend was not, however, about plants. I was amazed at the resiliency of these Tribal Citizens who, in their efforts at environmental restoration, are required to negotiate with at least a dozen different governmental and private entities, face the impacts of climate change, deal with invasive species, and mitigate the effect of clear cuts. And now they have to buy back their land or gain easements, piece by piece, in order to maintain ecological connectivity for the protection of fish, wildlife, rivers, the forest, ceremonial landmarks and their way of life. I believe they will succeed!


Plant harvesting note, from a plaque in the Traditional Plant Display area at the Tribal Library:

For the safety of the community and lands, it is not recommended to harvest the plants we have displayed, unless you are a tribally-designated knowledge holder. In addition, some of these plants are endangered. The Tribe has worked on habitat restoration for decades so that there is enough for the Tribal Community to harvest.

*Science includes traditional ways of knowing. (See Native Science by Gregory Cajete – 1999)



NOLT selects Jamestown tribe’s traditional foods, culture program for annual award
By Sequim Gazette Staff • September 21, 2021 2:10 pm

Klallam Classified Word List

yəhúməct Klallam Tribe Traditional Foods & Culture

Jamestown S’Klallam’s Prairieland to Provide Food and Medicine
December 22, 2019


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