Over thousands of years, the Gwich’in have used a variety of trees, shrubs and berries for food, medicine, shelter and tools. Knowledge of this plant use has seriously declined in recent years.

In 1997, GSCI began work with Gwich’in elders on an ethnobotany project to record the use of this traditional knowledge in partnership with the Aurora Research Institute (ARI). The results of this research are available in a joint publication called “Gwich’in Ethnobotany: Plants Used by the Gwich’in for Food, Medicine, Shelter and Tools” by Alestine Andre and Alan Fehr.

The book highlights the use of 32 plants and 3 types of rocks and minerals. Information includes the Gwich'in names for these plants (in both the Gwichya Gwich'in and Teetł’it Gwich'in dialects), where they are found, and how they can be used. Several recipes for making medicine and preparing food are also included. Black and white and colour photographs illustrate the text.

Information from this book and a Master’s thesis by Alestine Andre (2006) called, Nan t’aih nakwits'inahtsìh (The Land Gives Us Strength) have been used to create our Gwich’in ethnobotany database. This database contains cultural knowledge about 43 plants traditionally used by the Gwich’in and is searchable by plant types and uses. You can click on any of the categories to the left to filter the records, or click on “By Type” or “By Uses” above to bring up all categories.

Please note that the plant information provided in this website is NOT a medical guide and must not be used for medical advice or self-medication. DO NOT USE any parts of a plant if you are not certain about the plant’s identity or its medicinal use. Please seek the advice of a local medicine plant specialist for plant information.

Plant database credits

Gwich’in Plant Specialists – Ruth Welsh & Alestine Andre biographies

Dave Jones
Categories: By Uses, Cleaner, Diapers, Fuel, Shelter, Trail Markers, By Type, Mosses and Lichens
As diapers
Gwich’in women used to hang wet moss in branches of willows to dry and get rid of bugs. (The bugs crawl out or drop from the drying moss.) The dry...
Alestine Andre, GSCI
Categories: By Uses, Dye, Food, Fuel, Medicine, By Type, Shrubs
As food
Annie Benoit of Aklavik says that scraping off the dark outer covering of the bark is an option before eating or boiling it. Medicine from red willow...
James McCormick
Categories: By Uses, Flooring, Food, Fuel, Games, Medicine, Musical Instruments, Shelter, Shrubs
As fuel
The small, dry twigs found among branches on the willow tree are good for starting fires. Mary Francis (COPE,c) said that willow was used to...
Alestine Andre
Categories: By Uses, Bait, Fuel, Medicine, Tools, Toys, By Type, Trees
As medicine
The buds, which are very sticky, are collected in the spring before they open and then boiled. Drinking the tea relieves cold symptoms. The...
Alestine Andre
Categories: By Uses, Fire Starter, Flooring, Food, Fuel, Medicine, Shelter, Tools, By Type, Trees

As food

Spruce gum, dzèh kwan' (G) dzih drinh' (T), is the hard, older kind of tree sap or pitch, with a red or rose colour. It can be picked year round from the trees...

Alestine Andre
Categories: By Uses, Fuel, Medicine, Tools, By Type, Trees

People should leave an offering when collecting any part of a tamarack tree.

Caroline Andre of Tsiigehtchic said, “This is real good medicine. They say you have to pay...