Category Archives: Pheasant Creek

Bearberry

I return again and again to the same part of Pheasant Creek, in different seasons, at different times of day. I have learned where the wild bergamot flourishes, where the buffalo berries can be found, where the coyote digs her den, the location of the drumming  log of the ruffed grouse, or the tree that the pair of red tail hawks return to each year. While I know it as well as I know any place, I am constantly being surprised by new discoveries.

I see but I don’t see. Sometimes I amazed by what I have not noticed and what i have missed.

Take the bearberries, for example. I noticed them for a long time before I knew what they were called. I noticed them because they seemed out of place on the prairie hills with their deep green colour and the leathery feel and shiny look of their leaves. They seemed to belong more in a boreal forest.

At some point, I noticed the delicate pink bell shaped flowers that blossom in spring, or the red berries that come in the fall. In fall their leaves turn a deep red, and in early spring you will find patches of faded red bearberry leaves mixed with fresh green growth, as pictured below. Bearberry grows low to the ground as a trailing shrub, often close to stands of aspen or other trees. I usually find it on the coulee and valley hills, but it has a wide range across Canada.

Bearberry, early spring

Once I found out that this plant was called bearberry,  I learned that the leaves were an essential ingredient in kinnnickinick (blended smudging mixture used by many Indigenous peoples, with ingredients varying somewhat depending on locale).

Recently, when I was thinking I might have the beginnings of a bladder infection, I looked up herbs that can help with this. All ten plants listed can be found where I live. Top of the list and  and very plentiful was bearberry!!  I began by making tea with the leaves, but as the leaves are full of tannins, I have made cold water infusions instead (which do not release the tannins). I do this by tearing the leaves up and grinding them and letting them sit in water for 12 hours ( 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup of water). I then drain the water off and drink it through the day. It has a mild but very refreshing taste. This will only work if your urine is alkaline. Drinking a glass of water with a teaspoon of baking soda about an hour before drinking the bearberry water will alkalize your urine. A few cautions: This is not for pregnant women, and limit use to about two weeks.

Other medicinal benefits of bearberries can be found in The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North by Beverly Gray (see below). It is a fantastic resource. You can also find bearberry in health food stores as Uva-Ursi, or in plant nurseries.

Bearberries are aptly named according to Beverly Gray. She writes, “In fall, bears will ingest massive amounts of bearberries, which has a numbing/paralyzing action on the intestine. Bears follow this meal  with Carex, a rough edged sedge that ravels right through their intestines, dragging with it tapeworms  and other parasites paralyzed by the bearberry.”

Source:http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/bearberry

Sources

Beverly Gray, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, Whitehorse: Aroma Borealis Press, 2011, pages 51-54

Mary Siisip Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have To Do Is Ask: Anishinabe Botanical Teachings, University of Minnesota Press, 2015. (“How Cedar and Bearberry Came into the World” is well worth reading, pages 33-36)

Kahlee Keane and Dave Howarth, The Standing People: Field Guide of Medicinal Plants for the Prairie Provinces, Self-published, 2003, pages 128- 129

 

 

Befriending Wildflowers (the noisier version)

It was a very hot and humid day when we set out to explore the wildflowers of Pheasant Creek Coulee, with small sketchbooks in hand.  Each sketchbook had several line drawings of flowers we hoped to find, with a space to name it ourselves, and a space for the common name. I had anticipated moving quickly across the pasture to the hills below but this gaggle of 5 girls and 2 moms stopped to look at  and appreciate every wildflower – they did not miss one – and gave each some very fun names. We collected a few to paint later and proceeded to a very steep hill full of western wild bergamots and a scary climb down  (for some!) that ended with a slide several feet down to the road!!

We returned to Kerry Farm a little overheated, but cooled down with a delicious potluck lunch. We found some shade to really look closely at our wildflowers and experiment with watercolour painting. Along the way, we visited Grandmother Willow (for a little tree climbing and some feather collecting) and said hi to the horses. We ended the day with some flower yoga and gymnastics as you can see.

This is a companion piece to Befriending Wildflowers (the Quiet Version)

Into the Hawthornes

Down on hands and knees

through the door of thorny branches,

just big enough

and into the hawthornes

right in the middle

 

sssshhh…if you can stay quiet

long enough

they come back

the birds, the squirrels

to eat the red berries

 

if you can stay as still as a hawthorne

you can hear the soft wingbeat of a fairy

 

if you can stay quiet

you can catch the scent

of the coyote who slept here last night

you can feel the slow heartbeat of the earth

that is holding you

loving you

back to life