Garlic Mustard, Blue Cohosh and relationship with land

Several years ago in the spring my mother in law Noreen and I were out and about in Stoney Point (Aazhoodenaang) gathering Raspberry leaves to dry and make tea with. Noreen had not been familiar with the benefits of raspberry leaves so I shared that with her. For a couple of years the two of us together collected enough raspberry leaves, nettles and red clover to make nutritional tea for the both of us to drink throughout the year. The tea helped us both with low iron. Noreen also taught me many things during those times. She would tell me about how her mom and other women used to pack tea and bannock for the day and head to the bush to do whatever work it was they had to do.  She taught me how to use Touch Me Nots for poison ivy rash and Sumach Berry tea as an astringent mouth wash. Most people call Touch Me Nots, Jewelweed. But to me they will always be Touch Me Nots because that is what I was taught from Noreen. From her I learned what Jack in the Pulpits look like and we encountered a few partridge nests and eggs together.

Raspberry Leaves in the spring.

One morning when we were gathering Raspberry Leaves Noreen suddenly blurted out to me, “to you this place is gold, isn’t it?” I smiled and agreed because I knew exactly what she meant. Noreen quickly qualified her words lest they be misunderstood. She said, “I don’t mean gold as in it can make you rich, but gold as in its a treasure just the way it is.” “This place” is, of course, Stoney Point and indeed I see it as a beautiful treasure. Its not my treasure, personally. I don’t own or claim anything, but I am enraptured with its golden beauty. Which, to me, is more beautiful that all the gold in the world.

I know there are messes here that the army left. I know these messes need to be cleaned up. I also know that some never can be, at least that is what has been said about the land that was Noreen’s mom’s -Pearl George’s- farm. Several firing ranges all converged on her land and the army has said it can never be clean.

Sometimes it is difficult to look at what the clean up does. A field of medicine cut down; a vast field of medicinal trees clearcut. It makes me sad but I don’t dwell on it because I know these things need to be done. And yet who is really paying attention to what the land is telling us? I certainly don’t know everything and I am by no means an expert of traditional uses of plants. I do spend a lot of time on the land, however, and I observe things; changes.

Aster and Goldenrod, medicine for the lungs and sinuses.

The bush next to the field were the Red Pines, White Pines and other trees were clearcut was underbrushed more than once over the past couple of years. This spring the invasive Garlic Mustard is growing in the bush all over where it has been underbrushed. I may or may not have noticed the Garlic Mustard there before, I don’t really recall. I remember Raspberries. Now the Garlic Mustard is all over, way too much for one person to pick. Although Garlic Mustard is a food and medicine, it is also an aggressive plant not native to Turtle Island which threatens other plants- native plants- by its aggressive growing habits and through its chemicals which interact detrimentally with other plants and some insects. I gather and make food with as much of it as I can each spring, but the impact I have is limited. And I won’t gather it for eating from the place where the bush has been underbrushed. Who knows what unholy mess the army left behind there? I don’t, because the people who live with the mess certainly aren’t told what it is.

Every spring (well, every season) our family spends a lot of time in the bush. Sometimes we just take it in and marvel at the beauty of it. Sometimes we collect food and medicines. In all the years we have done this I have never encountered Garlic Mustard deep in the bush. But I have twice already this spring. The first time I parked the truck beside a mound of dirt that had been ploughed up for road maintenance. There were about 4 plants growing in that mound, I plucked them up and took them home to eat.

Garlic Mustard early in the spring before the flower stem shoots up to bloom.

And then just other day we were walking along a trail in the bush, not really close to any roads. I stopped at a spot where an expanse of Blue Cohosh grows. Blue Cohosh is strikingly beautiful in the spring when it is just emerging because it has a distinctively blue hue to it. Encountering a stand of Blue Cohosh plants, unfurling their blue beauty for the first time was a formative moment in my life. It was one of those moments when I saw plainly the treasure that the land here is.

Blue Cohosh

So the other day I paused at that place where those Blue Cohosh plants grow and just remembered the awe and gratitude I felt when I first saw it. Then I looked down and what was at my feet? Garlic Mustard! There was awe again, and surprise, mixed with sadness and gratitude. Sad that it found its way into this precious place; gratitude that the Garlic Mustard found me! So yes, I crouched down, plucked it out by the roots and brought it home to eat.

I don’t know how I wound up right there in the spot amongst all those plants, that one spot (?) where the Garlic Mustard was growing, deep in the bush? But I did. I don’t know if there are many such spots like that hidden amongst the otherwise very healthy indigenous eco system. I do know that I will be keeping my eyes open for it!

I know that the communities and people here have real problems. Problems of poverty, addiction, poor heath, lack of housing. Problems that perhaps jobs and money can go some way to fixing. I don’t deny that money and resources are needed. I don’t deny that jobs that pay well help a person, help families, get by.

I also know what’s coming in this world and I think most of you do too. We know that global warming is real and we know that increasingly we will be struck with bizarre and extreme weather and other environmental crisis that can affect our health and well being, our safety, our food supply, our access to medicine and more. We need jobs and money and resources but we also need to prepare ourselves for these times that are coming.

We need to be able to rely on the land around us to provide us with the necessities of life. And it can. What we need is all around us, we only need to put the time and resources into building that food sovereignty and protecting the medicines; into relearning skills of community food production and self sufficiency. This land *is* gold. It can feed and nourish us.

Blue flour corn which comes from Six Nations. Indigenous crops which can nourish and sustain people.

Deep in the heart of Aazhoodenaang- where families gather to cross over- the land is strong, healthy and resilient. It has stories to tell about itself for those who can be still enough to listen; stories that weave the lives of plants, trees, animals, swamp and people into a grand epic a story in which we all have a part to play. Yes we need money, resources, jobs to heal. But perhaps just as significantly people need to consciously reweave that connection to the land? Whether we realize it or not, wether we accept the reality in our daily lives or not, our fate and the fate of the land are one and the same. We can consciously choose a path where we accept our reciprocal responsibility to the land or we can carry on indifferent to our combined fates.

If this sounds preachy and overly moralistic, I apologize. I certainly am not trying to tell anyone what to do. What is to be done with Aazhoodenaang is not up to me anyway. All I can do is offer up my thoughts and perspectives. I hope it gives you something to think over. Please know that I have no hate for anyone. Just a respect for the land, gratitude for the life we live and enough love for people that I care enough to speak up for what I feel is important for the health and well being of the generations to come. The people will do with it what they will.

Wild Rose Rosa acicularis). Medicine for broken hearts.
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