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ARBUTUS • ḰEḰEIȽĆ • Arbutus menzeisii

These magnificent trees naturally shed their outer bark layer and expose their smooth inner surface. They can survive forest fires and intense droughts and it is common for them to live 400 years. They are sun lovers and will grow uniquely to reach more sunlight. Their presence can be felt as mystifying. They can be seen as a symbol of life and resilience. A symbol all of nature including humanity continues to embody throughout the ages. A reminder that nature is alive and by virtue is resilient.

First nations names

qaanlhp (Hul’q’umi’num) , x̱ax̱a’nal’a̱ms, (Kwak̓wala), kʷum kʷumay (Northern Salishan) , kwémkwém-ay (she shashishalhem), ḰEḰEIȽĆ (WSANEĆ), qʷuƛ̓əc, qʷuqʷuƛəc (S. Lushootseed)

The WSANEĆ peoples highly value the Arbutus tree for its medicinal properties and are held in high regard. As the legend goes, the Arbutus tree was praised for saving many people during a flood. A thick rope was made using Cedar and attached to the rooted arbutus trees to stabilize the canoes. According to Elder Dave Elliot, W̱SÁNEĆ peoples traditionally do not burn Arbutus for firewood because it is an important component in the origin of their people. 

They grow new shoots from their roots and stumps rather than other evergreens which grow from seeds and cones. It is not uncommon to see them growing on open rocky outcrops near the ocean alone. 

Their honey-smelling flowers attract pollinators such as bees and provide nourishment to birds. The migratory Rufous hummingbird - who travels from the Mexican coast to Vancouver Island each year, drinks the nectar from the Arbutus flowers. The fruit is edible but has a minimal flavour many animals feed off the berries, and deer will also eat the young shoots when the trees are regenerating after a fire.

THERAPEUTIC USES

The WSANEĆ peoples used the bark and leaves medicinally to help treat colds, stomach aches, and cramps and as a post-childbirth contraceptive. 

Arbutus makes for an important first-aid wilderness ally and often nature medicine is present in situations where we may need them. The astringent properties tighten distended veins, reduce swelling and help disperse leaked blood and tissue fluid. Works well for eczema (weeping eczema), astringing and drying the lesions and preventing infection. Also useful for insect bites, minor burns such as sunburn and skin abrasions. As Arbutus is extremely astringent it is best to avoid long-term but rather favour in acute situations.

CAUTIONS

Due to tannin content, it should be consumed about 2 hours clear of food, other medications and iron supplementation. For the same reason it should be avoided in malnutrition. Caution with long-term oral use due to the presence of tannins. 
Gastric irritation may occur in sensitive individuals. 
Not for long-term use.

References

Government of British Colombia. (n.d.). Arbutus, from https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/library/documents/treebook/arbutus.htm 

Iwachow, K. (n.d.). Arbutus aka Pacific madrone tree (arbutus menziesii. Retrieved from http://conservancy.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Arbutus-Facts.pdf 

MacKinnon, A., & Pojar, J. (2016). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Partners Publishing. 

Madrone . Arbutus ARME. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.arbutusarme.org/about-the-arme/madrone-101 

Native plants. Camosun College. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://camosun.ca/about/sustainability/operations/land-and-habitat/natsamaht-indigenous-plant-garden/native-plants

 

 

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