Alaska's summers sprout many plants that have nutritional and medicinal properties -- many of which have been forgotten over the years. An upcoming event next month in Anchorage hopes to change that, though.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is preparing for the Alaskan Plants as Food and Medicine Symposium, set to be held at Alaska Pacific University.
Dr. Gary Ferguson, director of wellness and prevention at ANTHC, says many plants that Alaskans view as "weeds" can actually be very beneficial to our health. The consortium is working to preserve traditional plant knowledge and pass it on to a younger generation.
"We need to understand more about that natural environment and our elders are saying this is really important, something we feel this is a priority," Ferguson said.
According to Ferguson, plants like yarrow and fireweed are both abundant statewide in the summer and have powerful medicinal properties. Yarrow, for instance, has anti-inflammatory aspects that can treat bug bites and help them heal quickly. Its leaves and flowers can also be turned into a tea to treat a cold or flu, and it can stop bleeding, making it ideal as a natural first aid remedy.
"All of those properties of the yarrow are the ways we respect and honor the plant for its medicine," Ferguson said. "It's also one of the guardian plants, so one of the powerful plants that has been used for medicine."
Fireweed is another Alaska wildflower that can be used for healing. It's often turned into a salve and is edible and nutrient-rich.
"It's very high in vitamin A which is a very important nutrient for immune system strength and skin healing, healthy for your eyes," Ferguson said.
Stinkweed can ease colds and flus, itchy bug bites and infection. Even devil's club, a prickly plant often avoided in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, is also good for bug bites, bruises and inflammation.
Ferguson says plants like fireweed, stinkweed and yarrow are easy to identify, but he suggests taking someone with you to help. It's also a good idea to test out a plant on a small area of your skin if you've never tried it before.
The symposium takes place Aug. 7-9 at APU. It is open to the public and can provide more information on how to identify, harvest and prepare traditional plants.