Students of Aberystwyth, Wales Visit Kodiak Herbal

I had the extreme pleasure of hosting students from Coleg Ceredigion during their visit to Canada in March 2022, for a plant walk featuring traditional Metis medicines of the Bow River Valley.

Among the group of travelers, who hailed from various parts of the UK, were students of health and social sciences, a Welsh witch, and person from the Romani, and 3 instructors from the Coleg Ceredigion. Along the way, we swapped cultural teachings from the UK and Canada, discussing topics as varied as witchcraft, Midewiwin, stone circles, ancient trees, stories of Coyote, Arthur and Taliesin (who we call Merlin).

The students were able to recognize medicines we share across continents – for example, Aspen poplars, Wild Roses and Crocus flowers are indigenous to both our countries.

Our First stop was a Wolf Willow patch on the steep hillside, where we tasted the sweetness of winter-aged Silverberries and talked about using the tea for coughs. Passing knee-high, blackened berry clusters of Buck brush, our next stop was a stand of Hybrid Poplars, the “ugly poplars” of great importance to Metis hivernants.

After getting our fingers sticky with aromatic Balsam resin, we continued down into the Valley to appreciate a gnarled and ancient-looking Horizontal Juniper, the twigs knobby with woody fungal growths. I appreciated the willingness of the students to venture off-path, down a stoney gully to visit a little Red Willow (red osier dogwood), a stand of last year’s Golden Rod, and an over-grown Alder tree that loomed protectively over a seasonal pond.

Back up on the dry prairie hilltops, we traipsed among skeletons of wild Primrose and opened the hips (seedpods) of our indigenous Prairie Rose to examine the seeds and taste the vitamin-rich fruit. Resting momentarily under a small grove of Chokecherry trees, we ran our fingers through the rubbery leaves of Kinnikinnick, dissected a teeny patch of Old Man’s Beard moss, and studied the miniature scarlet fruits of False Solomon’s Seal we found on the ground.

I couldn’t help celebrating with a whoop at sight of the First Crocuses of 2022 (!). We paused on the sun-warmed edge of the hill and dug our fingers in dry grass to uncover silvery-green sprigs of Pasture Sage & White Sage under the yellow straws of last season’s growth.

I feel privileged to share the magic of Canada’s prairies with these students from across the sea, and grateful to learn a bit about the ancient and magical land of Wales – the home of Dragons! I gifted them a small braid of sweetgrass and a length of wolf willow seed beads, in hopes they will always remember their adventure to the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

Perhaps someday I’ll have the pleasure to visit their country and give my tobacco at an old stone circle, or sit and think under an ancient and magical tree.

Written byKalyn Kodiak, ClH