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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Plant Life - Profile and Uses

pincherry plant

Seen from a distance, the green, dark forest of summer seems uniform. On closer examination, deciduous trees, conifers, and shrubs each have their own unique hues. Look closer still, and you will see brilliant flowers and succulent fruit. The forest, which at first glance seemed to be an evergreen wall, is composed of hundreds of plant species. Many of these plants served the bushland people as foods, medicines, and tools.

-Terry Garvin, from Carving Faces, Carving Lives: People of the Boreal Forest

Over thousands of years, the Aboriginal Peoples living in the northwest boreal forest developed an intimate knowledge for the trees and plants that shared their world. Each plant had its season – and a potential use. The understanding and application of plants in the northern woodlands could vary slightly or greatly among the various Aboriginal Peoples who made use of them. For instance, the buffalo berry plant yielded fruit traditionally used as food by many northern Aboriginal Peoples. In Chipewyan culinary tradition, however, the buffalo berry fruit was considered to be inedible.

Regardless of the cultural variations in knowledge and usage of boreal forest plant life, it could be argued that it was universally agreed among the peoples of the northwest that the forest provides. Food, medicine, building supplies, tools, and other valuable implements could be crafted or harvested from the many species of trees, flowering and fruit-bearing shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, lichens, mosses, and fungi.

For the purposes of this website, only a few boreal forest plants and their traditional uses will be touched upon. It should be noted that there are a great deal more plants and traditional uses of those plants that have been documented by various sources, some of which can be found on the resources page of this website.   


Featured Video: Plants and Their Uses

The Heritage Community Foundation, with the kind permission of Terry Garvin, is pleased to present this feature excerpt from the Bush Land People video.

The forest provides for the people who dwell in it. Various trees and shrubs in the forest offer food, medicine, and even art supplies to those who know how to harvest them.

[Read] [View]


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            For more on Aboriginal hunters and trappers in Canada’s northwest Boreal forest, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
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