Ethnobiology: Wild Plants, Heirloom Species, and Traditional Food Systems

My current research is on Indigenous food systems and ethobiology in the northeastern woodlands. For this research, I have been attending seed exchanges, planning and attending workshops and conferences, harvesting wild edibles, doing research in archives and museums, learning to weave baskets, and planting and tending campus gardens. My training in ethnobotany, seed banking, and ethnobiology/ scientific collections curation through University of Kent at Canterbury, Harvard University Herbaria, and the Millenium Seed Bank and Economic Botany Collections at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, as well as ongoing botanizing and learning, have prepared me for this work.

I'm currently researching and writing about Haudenosaunee and Algonquian food systems and food sovereignty, combining historic and contemporary, community-based research, botanical science, and linguistics of plant nomenclature in Latin, English, French, and Haudenosaunee and Algonquian languages. This research will lead to writing a culturally grounded field guide to common Haudenosaunee and Algonquin food and medicine plants. The purpose of the guide is to create an accessible and user-friendly resource to support programs and education within communities that address concerns of food sovereignty, species changes that are occurring due to climate change, the linguistic and cultural dimensions of restorative environmental education, and repatriation of cultural information from archives and museums.  Part of the vision of this project is that, as climate change shifts species compositions and ranges, it is all the more necessary to create educational tools that engender community-based local education of plants and traditional knowledge. Identifying the species and understanding the relationships between them is vital for food sovereignty, for adaptive resilience to change, and for enacting citizen stewardship and our environmental responsibilities.

This project is part of a larger, collective life project that aligns with so much of the powerful food sovereignty work being done across Turtle Island. It fits into the ongoing work of teaching and research to understand the oral history and historical ecology of places in the northeast, in order to envision and enact sustainable and peaceful values in economy and environmental stewardship.  This processes of this research and writing contribute to Indigenous studies, environmental anthropology, environment and sustainability studies, ethnobiology, and to re-thinking peaceful and just cohabitation in North America.

Here, below, are some photos of learning traditional skills, harvesting wild edibles, canoe journeys (which take place across Turtle Island and re-animate Indigenous landscapes), the heirloom food and medicine gardens we planted with the First Peoples House and Santropol Roulant at McGill University, and culturally significant plants that we grew and harvested. Enjoy!