• It’s time to … get outdoors and pick some berries

Blueberries (kanat'á)

Blueberries (kanat’á)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission (aka, the Plants Commission) and your Sitka Local Foods Network (SLFN) remind Sitka residents that it’s time to get out in the woods and pick huckleberries (tleikatánk) and blueberries (kanat’á).

Huckleberries and blueberries are extremely healthy fruits that grow in the forests and openings that surround Sitka. They are a traditional food of the Tlingít and have become a traditional food for Sitka residents who depend on nature’s bounty to keep their families healthy. They can be used fresh on a salad, in jams and smoothies, berry desserts and many other dishes. And they store well in the freezer for a healthy winter snack.

When going berry picking, please keep the following in mind (summarized from the Kayaaní Commission Traditional Harvesting Guidelines):

  • Be Courteous — other families are picking berries too; never take more than you need. If you accidentally got too much, share it with someone that you know will use it.
  • Be Safe — be positive about your identification of edible plants. Check your field guide for details if you are unsure. And pick berries during daylight with friends; make plenty of noise to keep bears away.
  • Take Care of the Berries — wash your berries with clean water before eating them and watch for rot, mildew, and insects. For best results: rinse berries, spread on a baking sheet to freeze, once frozen, slide off the tray and freeze in bags until ready to use.
  • Pick Clean Berries — from off the major road systems and in areas where you know pesticides and other chemicals will not have reached the berry plants.
  • Take Care of the Plants — make sure that there are plenty of other plants in the area (at least 10) to assure future abundance. Whenever possible, harvest so that the existing plant can reseed or recover after you are done. Treat the plants with respect. In Alaska Native cultures, it is traditional to thank the plant for its gift and give an offering. Each individual should show respect to the plant spirits in their own way.

“We encourage people to get out and pick the ripe berries. By getting out and picking berries you’ll get fresh, healthy food, exercise, and quality time with family and friends,” said Kayaaní Commission Coordinator Heather Riggs and Sitka Local Foods Network Vice President Michelle Putz. “Encouraging berry-picking for personal consumption and for winter storage supports both our missions. The Kayaaní Commission’s mission is to preserve their spiritual way of life and to preserve and protect traditional ways of their ancestral knowledge. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.”

While the kanat’á (blueberry) season is upon us, remember the plant is not finished offering its resources to the inhabitants of Sitka once the berries are gone. After the berries have completed their life cycle, the leaves from the plant can be utilized for its medicinal properties. Kanat’á leaves are high in antioxidants. These antioxidants can protect your body against heart disease and cancer. Making a tea from the leaves can help indigestion or a sore throat. Contact the Kayaaní Commission for more information on uses of native plants and methods of preparing plants.

More information about either group or local, traditionally harvested foods is available by calling Heather with the Kayaaní Commission at 747-7167 or Michelle with the Sitka Local Foods Network at 747-2708.

Please note that personal-use berry-picking is allowed on state and federal lands around Sitka, but any commercial-use berry-picking (money changes hands) requires a special permit, https://sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/2014/08/20/%E2%80%A2-tongass-national-forest-sitka-ranger-district-clarifies-rules-for-berry-picking-and-gathering-on-forest-lands/

• Kayaaní Commission Plant Gathering Guidelines

• 2003 Sitka Tribe of Alaska ordinance creating and defining the Kayaaní Commission

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