Herbs & Plants Treat Ailments

Ida Calmegane (pointing finger) talks about medicinal and herbal plants at the Chilkoot Trailhead August 2. Listening are, from left, Skagway resident Jack Inhofe, Lani Hotch, a Tlingit culture teacher from Klukwan, and Judy Selmer, also of Skagway. Lucie Straub

Traditional knowledge of plants shared by Tlingit ‘aunties’

If you had a bad burn, what would you take? If you had cramps, what would you do? How about indigestion? Well, Auntie Ida and Auntie Jessie have the answers.
Two of the most revered descendants of the valley’s original residents can tell you about medicinal and herbal plants that can treat almost anything. These are the real locals.
Last Friday, members of the Tlingit Nation shared their knowledge of local herbs and plants traditionally used to cure various ailments they’ve had to combat in a two-hour presentation at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park auditorium.
Ida Calmegane and Jessie Johnnie ( known to their extended family as Auntie Ida and Auntie Jessie) were the main speakers, and Ray Dennis opened with a prayer.
Lance Twitchell, president of the Skaqua Traditional Council which sponsored the event, introduced both of his grandmothers, and from that point on the “Aunties” carried the ball.
Burns are to be treated with ground puffballs. For cramps, make a tea from of the inner bark of devil’s club. To cure indigestion, a variety of plants grow wild in our wilderness.
The second part of the presentation took place the next day with a field trip in Dyea. Many of those present attended the previous evening’s presentation and were eager to learn to recognize and handle the wild herbs and plants.
The group met at the head of the Chilkoot Trail and took a short walk down one of the paths by the trail. This gave Auntie Jessie and Auntie Ida the opportunity to actually show the plants they had discussed the night before. Many people shared their own knowledge of plants.
During the outing the ladies frequently spoke to each other and their grandson in their own Tlingit tongue. Auntie Jessie said everything had a spirit. In the Tlingit tradition, if a plant is to be used, a gift must be given in return to keep the balance of nature and to show thanks – “Gunalcheesh.” She also said that if medicines need to be heated, she now uses modern technology – the microwave, rather than the older methods.
Auntie Jessie and Auntie Ida said the intent of their talk was to help others and to teach alternative ways to treat ailments. “We want to share our knowledge from our people to others.”
Everyone who attended the presentations went away with a tiny bit of the aunties’ vast knowledge.