riverMOUTH plant medicine teaching

Joseph Pitawanakwat introduces plants from the Cobechenonk / Humber river valley for the riverMOUTH project.

Joseph is Ojibway from Wiikwemkoong and is The Founder & Director of Creators Garden, an Indigenous outdoor, and now online, education based business, focused on plant identification, beyond-sustainable harvesting, and teaching every one of their linguistic, historical, cultural, edible, ecological and medicinal significance through experiences. He has learned from hundreds of traditional knowledge holders and uniquely blends this knowledge and reinforces it with an array of western sciences.

Anenome Canadensis | Wiisigibagohns, Psweweshijiibik

“So that’s why it’s called echo root — because it helps that medicine bounce around everywhere in your body longer…

This one’s job or responsibility is to lower your heart rate and so that allows your body to calm down a little bit. That medicine stays in a lot longer and it’s able to do what it’s supposed to do. And so it’s called an arterial sedative. So if you have too much, your heart will stop and you’ll die. But you put in just a little bit, your heart slows down, that medicine stays in your body longer, and then you get better faster.”

Ash | aagimaak

“Ash is the least likely tree to get hit by lightning. Never. It’s very, very dry. You could burn it when it’s green too. You can make a campfire with a bunch of ash when it’s green and then it’ll burn nice. And so it never gets struck by lightning. So when we make our homes, generally, there’s always a spirit pole and it was ash, and that’s to keep lightning away from our homes…There is a special connection between thunder and snakes.”

“When we make a tikinagan, the cradle board where we put our kids, you are only supposed to use ash…because they protect your baby…

When you’re camping, you take ash and you put that around your tent to keep rattlesnakes from coming in because underneath your pillow and your blanket where you’re sleeping is very warm. And so they’ll always crawl in.”

Sumach | baakwaanaatig

“Like a roof or a canopy. Medicine wise, it helps lower insulin requirements…It helps relieve your pancreas of all of the insulin production because it allows sugar to enter into your muscles where it can be burned. And so glucose is really, really controlled and you need less insulin. Now your immune system is on and your pancreas gets a break. Your pancreas looks just like that fruit too. The islet cells too — the branching pattern of the placement of the seeds on here is just exactly like the inside of your pancreas.”

Cat-tail | pakweyashk

“Apakwaan is a roof … a covering that is separating one place from another or thatching, blinds, duck blinds…”

Bulrush| naaknashk

“We call bulrush anaaknashk…a carpet or a mat. A wood thrush and a hermit thrush is anaak. We’re figuring it out, but it’s definitely a bird, so anaak. You weave this into little mats, carpets, things to sit on.”

Basswood | wiigbimish

“Wiigo is rope. So that’s what you used to get your rope from…

We use it for heart medicine. That’s how your heart is too. One chamber is bigger than the other. Every single leaf is like our heart…

It doesn’t matter if you’re making heart medicine or if you’re making anything. The basswood bark is used to tie your medicine together when you go to cook it. So you get all the other barks and wrap it all up with basswood, whatever kind of medicine you’re making.”

Poison Ivy | nimkiibak

“Nimkii is thunder and bak is leaf, so nimkiibak is the thunder leaf. It sounds real cool, but there’s different ways that we could think about it.

You know how you look out when it’s raining or…in a thunderstorm and all of the leaves are shiny. That’s the way poison ivy looks all the time.

A deeper interpretation is that poison ivy is generally protecting something that’s special…it will protect medicine. There’s a lot of species at risk, plants and birds, they’re protected by poison ivy. It’s so nice to see some of the biggest, healthiest populations of some birds and some plants living in giant patches of poison ivy…

No-one’s going to bother those, and if they do, they will be very sorry.”

Milkweed | ninwinshk

“It means simple…because there’s differentiation between all the different milkweeds. So this one is common.

They’re all used the same way though. Like you put it on for warts. That latex, that white milk… I had one kid, he got rid of his warts and then he got rid of all of the warts on his class, and then his teacher, and then they integrated that immersion class into public school, and then he did it in the whole school — the janitor … he was putting that medicine on everybody. And he got rid of everybody’s warts in the first month of school.”

False Solomon’s Seal | Goosemnagoonsh

“We use the roots in smoke medicine. Smoke medicine is like this big mixture. It’s like 50 different things all mixed together, and that’s a smoke medicine…

It was early in the spring and the sun moves real fast. So when the plant was in the shade,somebody else had my binoculars. They said, Hey, there’s that chipmunk. And then he came and then he just put it into the sun. And then we were all watching, but only one person had the binoculars and they said, Hey, he ate some! And so we were watching. That chipmunk took a bite and then its head just went like this — slow — and then it started walking and it was walking like a cat, and then all of us were like, oh, you see that chipmunk just calmed right down.”

“Yeah, it calms kids down. We get kids off of their medication all the time for ADHD. The roots, we burn the roots with club flowered goldenrods — not flat top and not the elm flowered goldenrods — with the club flowered goldenrod species. There’s like nine of them. You use the roots from that.”

Mayapple | bookedemnadoonsh

“You don’t eat it [the fruit] until squirrels are eating it — otherwise you’ll die or you’ll just get sick…

There’s just so much to learn. It’s crazy….You make tea with the stem, flower, leaves, everything. And then that’s what you use to soak your seeds when you plant it in your garden so that the birds don’t eat them, cuz the birds will pluck up the seedlings and then eat the seed.

It’s not just at that point. It’s when your corn is mature and all of the birds are eating all of the corn. When you do that with your seeds, they won’t eat your corn. And for birds to not to eat your corn — it’s a pretty good gift.”