We asked Tuma Young to write about the Mi’kmaq plants that we featured in UINR’s 2011 calendar and how his family uses them in making pisun and healing. If you didn’t get our calender this year you can download a copy at uinr.ca
One of the first things I want to point out is that our family does not wish to teach L’nu’s the English names for the plants. The reason for this is that we are trying to pass along the traditional knowledge and this includes “tan teluwisikl pisunk.” This is in keeping with the Pakosi story where Pakosi came to teach the L’nu’s about pisuns. Pakosi did not teach the L’nu the English common names for the pisuns.
Wisawtaqji’jkl: These small plants bloom in early spring and can be found in moist wooded forest floors. Look for the three leaves with slightly ragged edges and a slightly shiny green leaf. The easiest way to identify this plant is looking for the Wjip’sk (root). Pull up the moss, turn it over and look for the wataptek (yellow) wjip’sk. Our family harvests the plants near a sipu (creek) and can be harvested at any time you need it.
We use it as eyewash, to clean wounds, skin lotion (mixed with other pisuns in bear fat or bees wax) for eczema and other skin conditions. We also used it for ulcers (around the mouth such as cold sores) and for gastric ulcers. We also combined it with other pisuns to help folks that are going through a rough time with the urge to drink alcohol. It takes away the urge to drink (good for those in 12-step programs).
Wjkulje’manaqsi: The best time to find this pisun is early spring before the leaves are out but it is not difficult to find. The easiest way to identify it is to look for the bright red bark on the stems of the bush. It grows along the edges of brooks, streams, meadows and ditches. The flowers are white and may be arranged in a four pattern around the leaves. The bark is used as a mixture in tobacco ties, tobacco offerings and other rituals. It is often mixed with other pisuns to create “Kinnikinnik.” We have used it for headache, sore throat and sore eyes and to remove mucous from the lungs.
Wso’qmanl: This is a fairly common small plant that grows in the wooded forest floor. It is readily identified by a bunch of red berries. However, during the middle of spring, the flowers are very small and the sepals are often mistaken as white flowers (four pattern). It is used as a pisun for wejipilkwet wen (seizures). There is no set time for harvest but often we wait until the berries are ripe to gather it. The berries can be eaten but have little taste.