Written and photographed by Bethany Goodrich for Capital City Weekly

Deep in the coastal rainforest of Prince of Wales Island, the Haida village of Kasaan prepares for the 5th Annual Kasaan Community Harvest. This event attracts people from across the island to this remote village of less than 80 residents to share techniques in harvesting, process salmon and other wild edibles and to celebrate place.

This year, the event will be held Aug. 10-11. Terry West, the Economic Development Director for the Organized Village of Kasaan (OVK), is organizing this year’s event but isn’t waiting until August to get her hands dirty. West has been facilitating monthly “Health Hikes” to begin gathering and processing. In February, a group from Kasaan, Craig and Klawock harvested Usnea (Old Man’s Beard) to begin the tincture process. The final tinctures will be available to trial for their microbial and antifungal properties at the event. In April, the group squeezed through salmon berry brush and mucked through riverine mud, to harvest Devil’s Club stalks.

Marina Anderson is the Vice President and Administrative Assistant of OVK. She helped co-lead the Devil’s Club hike with her brother Quinn Aboudara. Both have looked to the lands and waters for a seasonal bounty of plants, fish and game their entire lives.

“Devil’s club is our sacred medicinal plant. Aside from it being one of the closest related plants to ginseng, it has other beneficial properties: it can flush you out, give you energy, and balance things inside you,” Anderson said.

Anderson shared an impressive list of uses for Devil’s Club. The inner back can be dried into tea or soaked in oil and combined with wax to make a salve. The soft and lightweight wood stalks are turned into drum sticks or beads. The berries can be applied to the scalp to treat lice. Different stages of the bud offer different healing properties and the root, which like ginseng is more concentrated than the rest of the plant, can be processed to lower blood sugar, boost the immune system, cure gall stones, and more, she said.

People also hang branches above home doors or in fishing vessels for protection.

“Devil’s Club also wards off evils spirits and can give you a good mental state of mind, close to a euphoric state. And when gathering it you know that it has always been our medicine so the way it feels to be out there gathering is insane because you know that for over 10,000 years this plant has been healing our people. And the smell itself is healing,” she said.

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