Ways of Life

Plants

The Nisg̱a’a traditionally relied primarily on fish and game as their primary food source, but berries and a few other plant foods were also very important.

Some of the most important berries for the Nisg̱a’a were blueberries, black mountain huckleberries, red huckleberries, and another variety of blueberries called “berries of the woods” (maay̓im gililx). These were generally mashed and dried for the winter, whereas wild strawberries and salmonberries were usually eaten when they were picked. Thimbleberries and wild rose hips were also eaten at the time they were picked.

Soapberries were highly valued as “chief’s food”. They were not common in the Nisg̱a’a lands, and they could either be used to make a frothy, whipped dessert or they could be boiled and pressed into cakes.

Cranberries, crabapples, red-berried elder and fruit of the hawthorne treee were boiled and preserved for winter eating by mixing the fruit pulp with grease.

In the spring, the Nisg̱a’a peeled hemlock bark and scraped off the cambium for eating. The cambium could be baked in an earthen oven and formed into cakes.

In late spring, a succulent plant called t’ipyees still appears on the lava beds and on mountain rock slides. Traditionally, the entire plant was picked and eaten raw, and enjoyed for its slightly sweet taste. The stem of cow parsnip was peeled and eaten before it flowered in early summer, and the pith of the fireweed was also eaten by splitting the stem and scraping out the pith.

Edible roots included the fern called ax̱ and the Kamchatka lily. Along Portland Canal and the mouth of the Nass River, certain seaweeds were also eaten.

Devil’s Club was another important plant, though it was used for medicinal purposes and not as food.