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Berries, a staple food of indigenous diets

Genhehneh (Summer) is here and with that comes all the wonderfully delicious fruits that grow locally in the bush. The Gayogoho:no’ (Cayuga) word for fruits is ohya’sho:oh. (Note: letters that are underlined are nasalized). All types of berries can be found locally in the upcoming months. Jihso:dahk or wild strawberries are just winding down. Be

Genhehneh (Summer) is here and with that comes all the wonderfully delicious fruits that grow locally in the bush. The Gayogoho:no’ (Cayuga) word for fruits is ohya’sho:oh. (Note: letters that are underlined are nasalized). All types of berries can be found locally in the upcoming months. Jihso:dahk or wild strawberries are just winding down. Be sure to look out for todakdo’ (blackcaps), jo’dae:ya: (raspberries), shahye:s (thimbleberries) and ohya:ji’ (blueberries). You can usually find these berries in bushes growing on the sides of the road or back in the bush but be careful, sometimes these bushes are covered in thorns.

These berries are not only delicious but they are filled with nutritious properties to keep you healthy and long lived. Besides their nutritional value, they also have medicinal properties.

Jihso:dahk (strawberries) for example, can be found in fields or ditches and sit close to the ground. Their leaves are in groups of 3 and they have tiny white blossoms. The leaves of jihso:dahk can be used as an infusion to treat diarrhea, gastric inflammation, infections and to stimulate appetite. The ohya’ (berry) can be eaten fresh and helps with gastritis and as a liver tonic. The berries can also be crushed and applied as a poultice to areas of mild sunburn or other skin inflammations.

Jihso:dahk is good for the blood and acts as a purifier. They contain chemicals that are rich in antioxidants and aid in keeping cancer cells from multiplying. Jihso:dahk is said to provide more Vitamin C per ounce than oranges.

To make an infusion, just pour hot water over the leaves, cover and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain the leaves out of the liquid and enjoy. The ratio is one part fresh leaves to 6 parts water.

To use as a poultice for mild sunburn, mash or crush the berries up to make a pulp. Wrap the pulp in gauze and apply to irritated areas.

Todakdo’ (blackcaps) is part of the Rose family. The ohya’ can be eaten fresh. Leaves can be used to make tea by infusion. The root bark can also be used to make tea. As a medicine, a decoction can be made from the root to treat various ailments including: back pain, stomach pain and bowel complaints, diseases of female reproductive organs, whooping cough in children and eyewash for sore eyes. The roots can be chewed to treat cough and a root infusion ingested to combat influenza.

Besides medicinal purposes for treating onohsoda’sho:’oh (human sickenesses), these berries can be eaten fresh or used in drinks or for baking, although they do lose some of their nutritional value during the cooking process. To make ohya:gri’ (fruit juice), simply mash the berries and add water. For a sweeter drink, mash the berries in a pot, add water and cook over heat, add honey, let simmer until honey is blended well. Pour in a container and cool in refrigerator.

The harvesting of various plants for medicinal purposes is knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation through teachings, stories and ceremonies and is an important aspect of life among every oy’ajiho:no’ (different Native people) in nation across ohwe:jade (Mother Earth). Our traditional medicines is what makes us strong and healthy as Ogwehoweh people so it is important that that knowledge not be forgotten or lost and it is also important to keep handing down that knowledge just as our ancestors passed along their knowledge to us.

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Jen MtPleasant

Jen MtPleasant

Tuscarora Nation. Honours BA Criminology, Class of 2013. Advocate for missing and murdered ogwehoweh men and women. @JenMtPleasant

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