October 16, 2018
Learn About Haida Gwaii's Skunk Cabbage
Although Hlgun Skunk Cabbage leaves are not consumed, this part of this indigenous plant has played an important role in the preparation of traditional Haida foods for generations.
Skunk Cabbage – Hlgun
This plant is known for its big bright green leaves and bright yellow flower sheaths. The leaves of skunk-cabbage are poisonous for humans as they contain sharp crystals of calcium oxalate, which can become embedded in the tissues of the tongue and throat causing extreme irritation. Although the leaves were not consumed, they were a very important part of food preparation. The large leaves and waxy surface protects food from pungent properties. It was also used as makeshift drinking cups, berry containers, wrapping fish for steaming, and to line cooking pits. The roots of skunk-cabbage – that look like a small octopus in the water – were also used as bait on halibut hooks, making the roots look as though they were a small octopus.
One old story that suggests skunk-cabbage roots were linked to having supernatural powers. A young man who was left by his entire village returned home and he approached a massive skunk-cabbage. Digging around the cabbage, he built a trench for when he became thirsty. The next day, when he approached the skunk-cabbage there was a sockeye salmon in the trench. He dug the trench deeper. The next day when he returned there were two salmon. Again, he dug the trench deeper until he received a great deal of salmon. One day he noticed someone had eaten all the salmon, a large man with a big stomach. The young man shot arrows at the man to defend his bounty. He then discovered it was a supernatural being, Skunk-Cabbage. He had chased off the supernatural being who was giving the young man salmon.
Immerse yourself on the rugged west coast of Haida Gwaii with Ocean House at Stads K’uns GawGa. Connect with a Cultural Interpreter and learn about the unique flora native to the islands. The Cultural Interpreter will also be able to provide insight about the traditional uses and personal stories regarding the various plant life.
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