Haida House at Tllaal

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Plants of Haida Gwaii: Ferns

August 21, 2018

Learn About Haida's Gwaii's Ferns

Haida Gwaii has been home to the Haida since time immemorial. The rich nourishment of the land and sea continue to provide sustenance on the “Islands of the People.” As we progress with our technological and medical advances globally, many medicinal plants that were once used by humans over the ages have been forgotten. But today, the people of Haida Gwaii use many of the same plants for healing that have been used over the centuries. On your journeys across Haida Gwaii, keep your eyes out for these ones.

Haida Gwaii Ferns

Ferns – Ts’aagul

Depending on the species, ferns (or ts'aagul in the local dialect) had many different uses for the ancient Haida. They could be dried and used as cushioning for bedding. In the winter months, when food was scarce or when warriors went on long canoe journeys they would often eat fern roots to suppress their hunger. In Tsgwal Licorice Fern, the rhizomes (also known as root) have a very sweet taste and were sometimes used as a mouth sweetener. These roots are still used today by chewing the fresh rhizomes and swallowing the juice from the root, or boiling the rhizomes as a sweetener. Some mothers give their teething babies a small amount of licorice root to chew on as they teethe.

A Haida legend explains the story of how Raven received Fern Roots. One day, Raven went to visit Fern Woman with a canoe full of fish. He allowed her to take as much fish as she pleased. Raven told Fern Woman that he felt his canoe cracking and pushed it from the land. As Fern Woman reached out to get more fish Raven ripped the hairs from her armpit. Raven escaped with Fern Woman’s armpit hair (really, fern roots) and they were then eaten from that time on.

Learn more about the plants of Haida Gwaii on the Ocean House News Page - stay tuned for new posts.

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