portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary oregon & cascadia

environment | indigenous issues

Skillshare: Radical Botany #7 The Great Harvest

In the world of plants there is one time a year when all the elements conspire to bring on the harvest. At the time of harvest the plant is at its fullness for essential oils, fragrance, nutritional health and flavor. For most plants when the plant leaf, fruit, nut or root is mature... before the seed is formed, is when it is harvested by humans. There is only one way to know this. Study the plant. Then capture the plant in its prime.
"As you sow, so shall you reap"

There is great harvest going on in Cascadia and on the earth at this time. It is a time when we look at our gardens and wildlands and find food to eat and store away. We are reaping what we have sown.

The seeds of our actions are producing either healthy plants or plants without vitality. The way we humans have treated the earth, is creating either healthy plants or plants that are not regenerating.

On a wider scale we as humanity are also reaping what we have sown for hundreds of year. I find it interesting that the "fall" of the stock market and the changes of social and cultural structures are also occurring at the time of year we call harvest.

We are experiencing an election that is producing energy sown for the last eight years.

In January new seeds will be planted for a culture of continuous war or a reshaping our culture to act to save our planet, our people and healthy community.

In ancient times before humans began to cultivate plants, there is much evidence that the tribal people of Cascadia nurtured patches of plants found the wild. Plants such as Wapato, nettles, Oregon grape, Salal, and Camas were protected and "owned" by a particular tribe. These plants were needed for survival.

In the world of plants there is one time a year when all the elements conspire to bring on the harvest. In Cascadia, in the western hemisphere of the earth, the harvest time begins in August. That time stretched from the August to the last day of October.
Before the harvest, during the planting season four elements were honed to cultivate the plant.

Earth: The tilth of the soil is built up to encourage microbes and fertility.
Fire: Sun, warmth and long days are used to bring on the fruit and grain and root.
Water: enough was needed to support plant growth.
Air: Air currents were manipulated to bring on the seed, and the pollinators. The air was used to keep the suns heat from scorching the earth.

Earth centered people knew that when the elements were in balance the harvest would be great. In Ancient times the Celts and druids knew there were three steps to the harvest: Lammas, Autumnal Equinox and Samhain.

In the months of the harvest as well as the rest of the year the Sioux - First Peoples followed the summer by calling out the harvest moons. They did this by naming the moon after what was observed. In August it was "Moon when the cherries turn black". In September they had the "moon when deer paw the earth", or in October they had the "Moon of the changing season"

The harvest was started on the first day of August and this time was known to ancient Celts as Lammas - Loaf Mass day - the festival of the first wheat and the first fruits of harvest. Also know by Gaelic as the festival of Lughnasadh. The turning days began. It is the time for the seasonal shift. The sun becomes more golden. The leaves on the trees begin to lose their bright green. There is a lull of laziness in the heat of the day.

In this time fruit ripens: our crops of tomatoes and peppers and heat loving veggies are everywhere. Food is plentiful. The harvest begins in earnest.

At autumnal equinox - September 22 this year - The harvest is in full swing. We put away what will nourish us in the hard times ahead. In ancient times the celebration of Equinox was a time to give thanks for the harvest. Communities gathered to bring in the grape, the grain and the fruit. Gratitude was expressed and any projection of greed was discouraged. Community, family and tribe were needed to survive. It was at Equinox that an awareness of the coming darkness began. It was a time for planning. The days would now become shorter and the nights longer.

In the plant world the aromatic oils, natural sugars and bitters are at their peak. Flowering plants created seed pods and fruit. Culinary/medicinal herbs are gathered while the leaf is still upright. The plant is harvested on the branch and hung upside down to dry. This way the aromatic oils that give it flavor fall into the leaf. Wine and vinegar making are begun. The essential chemicals and sugars found in the fruit are at their prime. The microbes are waiting to start the process of fermentation.

The last celebration of the Great Harvest is at the end of October (October 31 to November 2). The druids, Celts and Gaelic called it Samhain. Old Irish simian /sampan/) is a festival on the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, with aspects of a Festival of the Dead. It is popularly regarded as 'The Celtic New Year'. The word Simian means "Summers End".

It is the ending of a season and the beginning of a new year. In many cultures the veil between the two worlds of the living and the dead becomes thin. It is a time to thank our ancestors for taking care of the harvest and the seed so that we might have something left. It is a time to remind ourselves to put away seed, root and cutting for the next generation and the next season.

Cultivators, harvesters, hunters and gatherers knew the time of the harvest by the phases of the moon, the angle and color of the sun in the sky, and by observation of the plants. Each season is different. The elements of weather, rainfall, fertility, cycles of pollinators and insects all play into when to begin the harvest. Earth centered people knew when a fruit leaf or root was in its prime.

At the time of harvest the plant is at its fullness for essential oils, fragrance, nutritional health and flavor. For most plants when the plant leaf, fruit, nut or root is mature... before the seed is formed, is when it is harvested by humans. There is only one way to know this. Study the plant. Then capture the plant in its prime. In ancient times earth centered people knew when to capture a plant in its prime and how to store it for the long winter ahead.

If the harvest goes well, then another year begins. If not, hard times-hard, hard times.

Honoring our ancestral Plants: Wapato
Wapato - Sagittarian Latifolia ( Broadleaf Arrowhead, tule potato, duck potato, arrowleaf).

This story was told to me. I have never seen Wapato. I search for it often to release it back into the wild. This story was told to me by others who love the plants.

In the land whose borders stretched from the area we call British Columbia (Haida, Tlingit, Lleitsui Nuuchah Nuith, and Salish land) to the deep forests and coast of Northern California and Mt Shasta (Tshastl) Wapato grew and kept watch over the people. This was the time before the change.

Once, before the occupation and colonization of the first peoples of Cascadia. Before the times when women and children and the infirmed were taken from the Cow Creek, Umpqua, Siletz, Kalapuya and Chinook. Before the people were lined up and marched on the Trail of Tears to Grand Ronde. Before the strong youth and warriors of those tribe escaped across the Cascades to join the resistance leaders such as Bin, Sister, and Sami of the Carrier Athabasca, Joseph of the Nez Pierce whose real name was In-mutt-too-yah-lat-lat (Thunder coming up over the land from water). Before the brave ones crossed the deep snows of the Cascades to join the Paiute Leader Wovoka and the Ghost Dancers and the Modoc resistance leader Captain Jack - Keiutpoos.
Before that time the Wapato lived in great green rivers along the slow moving streams and the ponds. It was the glory food of the people.

Wapato grew so prolifically, that it was be harvested like crops. First peoples apparently claimed patches that guaranteed rights of harvest. Families or tribes made claims on particular patches of the plant. While Wapato grows all over the North American continent (and the world), it probably came to prominence in the northwest due to mild winters and great abundance of places to grow. Wapato was gathered in October and November when most other ponds in the country are frozen over or too cold for gathering.

Wapato loved the shallow ponds, swamps, slow moving streams, and the margins of quiet lakes. It requires a rich muck that is submerged in water for most or all of the year. In good conditions, Wapato can grow in huge abundance.

According to Pojar and McKinnon a Chinook myth describes Wapato as "the food before Salmon came to the Columbia". The women of the First People tribes would wade in water up to their chests or even necks, while using their feet, to release tubers from their stems. The tubers floated to the water's surface, were collected, and tossed into a special canoe.

Wapato was eaten raw (although somewhat bitter) or cooked. Wapato tubers were prepared for eating by boiling, or by baking in hot ashes or in underground pits, after which they could be eaten or dried for long-term storage or trading. The taste of the Wapato is much like that of the potato.

The tuber was an energy food much like potatoes. Only this plant also yielded some iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium and other minerals. It was an outstanding food when there was a shortage of protein. It is very high in carbohydrates. This allowed the people who harvested Wapato to survive long winters with little other food. The tubers stored well and were much sought after as a trade food item.

The Wapato could be pounded into flour that was stored and made into cakes in the winter time. Or it was added to Pemmican or fruit leather.

But during the occupation wars, in order to beat down the people, the great twisting rivers of Wapato were dug up by the occupiers and piled along the stream edges and burned. This was done as part of the genocide against the First Peoples. It was thought that if the plant was destroyed in the wild, the people would be dependent upon the occupiers for food and would not run away.

The women tried to hide the tubers in their belongings in hopes of replanting them at the place of internment. Some Wapato was smuggled to Grand Ronde and into the Coast range. Some were released along the Luckimute and other local rivers and streams.

There are few reserves of these plants.

One is found at the Ridgefield Wildlife Reserve at Ridgefield, Washington.

Wapato is an herbaceous wetland plant. The leaves and flower stalk rise above the water. The leaves are arrow-shaped (sagittate). Leaf stems attach directly to the base of the plant like celery. The base is partially submerged in the muck, giving rise to the roots and rhizomes below.

The plants grow in long bands that snake around the curves of ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. Wapato's white, 3-petaled flowers bloom on a spike from mid summer through early autumn. The flowering stalk is separate from the leaves but rises about as high off the water. Later in summer, small green balls form in place of the flowers. These turn brown in fall and break apart to disperse tiny, flat, winged, floating seeds.

There is a growing movement to replant the Wapato in Cascadia's waterways. The plant is food not only for humans but for beavers, otters, muskrats, ducks and other animals that frequent water ways.

To learn more about Wapato


Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Pojar & Mckinnon, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia

homepage: homepage: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/radicalbotany/