Bringing the Food Back Home: Plants, Algae, Lichens and Fungi in the Food Traditions of Indigenous Cascadia

Nancy J. Turner
School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., CANADA V8W 2Y2


SalmonberriessmIndigenous peoples of northwestern North America are identified by anthropologists mainly as fishers and hunters. Yet, their traditional food systems include many, diverse plant species, as well as some marine algae, lichens and fungi. Plant foods include roots and other underground parts, green leaves and stems, many fruits, inner bark of trees, and a range of beverage teas. These foods collectively provide essential nutrients and have been part of a healthy Indigenous diet over thousands of years. The knowledge required to use these nutritional resources effectively and sustainably is part of an overall system of knowledge that incorporates ecological understanding, taxonomic, and biogeographical expertise, specialized practices of harvesting, processing, and maintaining resource populations, and belief systems that guide their use and management. Women have been the holders and practitioners of much of this plant-based knowledge.
Lomatium nudicaule

In recent years, for a variety of reasons, manyof these important Indigenous foods have been declining in use, a dietary trend known as the “nutrition transition,” that is occurring with local and Indigenous Peoples’ food systems worldwide. People who once gathered and prepared healthy local food are turning towards more processed and marketed foods many of which are high in unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates. The result is increased risk of diabetes and heart disease and other health problems. Today, Indigenous communities are using a range of strategies to maintain and strengthen their use of their original foods, and have found partners in universities, NGOs, and government agencies to support this endeavor. In this presentation, I will describe some of the diverse Indigenous “wild” foods of the Cascadia Region, including Angiosperms, Gymnosperms, and some Algae, Lichens and Fungi, and discuss the ways in which Indigenous Peoples have maintained and enhanced these resources, what has happened to these food species, and how they are now being reclaimed and re-incorporated into Indigenous Peoples’ foodways.

For additional information or questions, please contact:
Johanne Stogran
Botanical Society of America
(740) 927-8501