Traditional Plants

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Our Traditional Plants and Foods Program is a general long-term wellness program that recognizes the therapeutic value of traditional foods, medicines, and lifestyles.?? We serve native people and those who work within tribal communities in Washington State and nearby regions.

Regularly scheduled workshops teach people about native foods nutrition, culinary arts, gardening, herbal medicine, and much more.? Through community-based participatory research, we identify barriers that keep people from re-adopting traditional healthy food behaviors and then develop programs to overcome those barriers.? We examine community food assets and accessibility, with the ultimate goal of improving food security and tribal food sovereignty.? We use mentoring relationships and train-the-trainer workshops to increase the number of community educators able to teach about traditional plants and foods and healthy food behaviors.?? We offer innovative educational resources on native plants and foods including curricula, books, and other tools.? And we identify job skills and opportunities related to traditional plants and foods, with the goal of providing job skills trainings.


Quarterly gatherings are hosted by participating tribal communities.? Each gathering highlights the hosting tribe’s knowledge and resources.? Participants learn not only about the cultural importance of the foods and medicines, but also how and when to gather, process, and prepare them.? Handouts and samples are given to participants so they can remember and share what they learned.

Our first gathering in 2005 was hosted by the Makah Tribe.? Cultural specialists, health care workers, educators, and tribal elders from over a dozen tribes came.? Theresa Parker (Makah) helped organize the gathering:

It was such a beautiful day.? After everyone toured our museum and cultural center, we led them on a hike on the ethnobotanical trail that was created by our youth and elders.? For lunch, we had halibut stew, herring row on eel grass, mussels, goose-neck barnacles, Ozette potatoes, berries, and horsetail fertile shoots!? The elders just lit up while they shared stories about the foods that were an such important part of their childhood.

Since then, 18 tribes have hosted over 60 gatherings.? Storytelling, hands-on activities, intergenerational sharing, and delicious native foods are always a part of the day.? Last spring the Lower Elwha Tribe hosted a gathering about harvesting, processing and preparing seaweed.? Wild foods expert Jennifer Hahn led us through the low tidal zone and helped participants identify over 12 different kinds of edible and medicinal seaweeds.? In the afternoon we convened at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Training Center to prepare a feast of seaweed-based dishes including kelp pickles, cucumber seaweed salad, salmon baked in seaweed, and chocolate seaweed pudding.??To watch a video about the event created by Northwest Indian News click??here.

Every spring we gather at a local prairie to harvest camas bulbs.? Camas is an important traditional staple and was second only to salmon as a traded good among northwest tribes.? The nutritious white lily bulbs become sweet when they are roasted, yet do not raise blood sugar.? Last year we donated our harvest to the Squaxin Island Tribe for the Tribal Canoe Journey traditional foods dinner.

Other examples of gatherings include a Huckleberry Harvest Celebration at Swinomish, Making Herbal Gift for the Holidays at Muckleshoot, Building Strong Community Food Systems with Snoqualmie, A Celebration of Salish Seafoods at Jamestown, Bringing Back the Harvest at Quinault, Wild Spring Greens Harvest at Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle and many more!? Our program continues to coordinate seasonal traditional plants and foods gatherings.? If you would like to host a gathering please contact Vanessa Cooper at


Over the years, a strong community of people actively interested in traditional foods and medicines has developed.? Many participants requested additional in-depth training that would help them feel confident teaching in their own communities.? In response, we developed several train-the-trainers workshops.? These include Diabetes Prevention Through Traditional Plants, Creating a Pea Patch Garden, Herbal Medicine Making, Herbal Remedies for Winter Health, First Aid for the Canoe Journey, Natural Remedies for Skin Health, and The Medicine of Trees.

Lora Boome (Lummi) has participated in gatherings and train-the-trainer programs since the program’s inception.? She has gone on to train her family, youth in her community, and Northwest Indian College students and faculty.????? In her words:

For the past year, I have been teaching my family about traditional plants and their uses.? We make a variety of bath teas, teas, salves, lotions, and other herbal products for ourselves. ?I’m proud that I am sharing this knowledge with my family because it has united us.? There are a number of stories I have heard about my family gathering plants and berries. ?Other stories reveal facts about the seasons, and what each season brings.

The plants program continues to respond to the requests of those it serves.? In addition to offering past train-the-trainers workshops, our program staff is developing curricula related to native foods nutrition, growing plants, herbal medicine, tribal food sovereignty, and native culinary arts.

If you are a native person in Western Washington or if you serve tribal communities and you would like to participate in our programs please contact La Belle Urbanec at


We would like to thank our program funders including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington Health Foundation, First Nations Development Institute, National REACH Coalition, Whatcom Community Foundation, Honor the Earth Foundation, the Potlatch Fund,? St. Luke’s Foundation, St. Joseph Peace Health, and several Western Washington tribes, including Nisqually, Lummi, Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Quinault, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Squaxin Island, and Stillaguamish.

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