Workshop teaches healing uses of the forest

Wells Gray Community Forest held a workshop in Chu Chua on non-timber forest products

What are non-timber forest products? Why be interested? What are the opportunities?

Those were the themes addressed during two one-day workshops on NTFP organized by Wells Gray Community Forest and held in Chu Chua on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2.

“You are talking about the base of how our people believe when you talk about symbiosis,” said Simpcw First Nation member Joe Jules as he participated in a welcome for the participants. “It comes back to the land, how we fit in. We’re not in control. We’re not above it. We’re part of it.”

“When you’re talking about those values, you’re hitting home base with us,” he said. “We’re always proud to share with guests and relatives. There is plenty of bounty on the land for all of us. We want to see talk around the table about protection. We have to find a way to balance that.”

“This community is going to rely on your voices, the voices of all the outlying communities,” Jules said.

Many people think non-timber forest products are something new, when in fact they have been gathered and used for thousands of years, said Tim Brigham of Royal Roads University’s center for livelihoods and ecology.

“We estimate there are over 200 species being commercially harvested in B.C.,” said Brigham. “We don’t know, honestly, how many there are.”

Examples of people making a living from NTFP include between 50 and 75 on the Coast who are tapping big leaf maple. The syrup they make sells for twice the price of maple syrup from eastern Canada.

Others, including some in the Interior, are making syrup from birch sap. The syrup is not good for pancakes but is great with ice cream and for cooking, the Royal Roads researcher reported.

It takes 100 liters of sap to make one liter of syrup. However, some are marketing the sap as a spring tonic.

There is a big market for boughs and wreaths, using materials such as pussy willow, rose hip and boxwood.

Other forest products include woodcarvings, walking sticks and baskets.

Several different types of fungus are used in Asian folk medicine as treatments for cancer.

“Almost everyone gets fungus treatment along with chemotherapy,” said Brigham.

“There still is a lot of use in our own Aboriginal communities that we don’t know about, including medicinal use,” he added.

Many wild products, such as blueberries and Saskatoons, have phenomenal antioxidant properties.

Aromatherapists look for locally made products to use, such as essential oils.

During the afternoon Clearwater herbal specialist Sharon Neufeld took a short walk through the village and pointed out a number of plants that have traditional healing uses. Many of those she focused on were in fact alien species and not indigenous to the area.

She then demonstrated how to make salves, lip balms and other products from locally available plants.

St. John’s Wort is used mainly to treat seasonal affective disorder but also is used by some for arthritis.

Birch oil smells like wintergreen and birch oil from Russia is often substituted for it. A Birch Island resident used to make good money collecting birch bark to sell to an Ontario processor.

“This is our quinoa,” Neufeld said of pigweed. “It makes the best greens in the world.”

The local herb specialist said she usually starts weeding her garden in late summer so she can harvest “weeds” such as chickweed, chamomile and plantain in the fall before they go to seed.

The following day, Oct. 2, Betty and Ken Foote of Barriere facilitated a workshop on wreath making.  Participants used local boughs, greens and cones to create beautiful wreaths and other decorative products. The Footes said the purpose of the workshop was to help the participants learn the complete process for wreath production, from harvesting to sale opportunities.