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Basic Traditional Foods
Ganohhsgwao:ta:ah | En'nisko:wa | March

Traditional Food Practices

(Onkwawen Tkaienthohseron “Our Garden” The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres)

Our ancestors recognized the essential role of food in maintaining physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health. They learned, through experience, to select those foods in proper amounts to supply the body with the nutrients it needs. Although our traditional food habits varied according to region and the foods available in each area, our people were able to maintain nutritionally balanced diets by living off the land. Our adaptability and ingenuity enabled us to develop methods of transportation, food preservation and cooking to meet the challenge of what could be, at times, a harsh environment. Food was cooked simply but with great care and our respect for the land, and the food it provided, led to the wise use of animals, fish and plants. Very little was wasted. Food was considered sacred.


Wild Foods

The following are some of the wild foods that were gathered. Some are still gathered by Aboriginal people today.

• Crow potatoes (Bugle weed)• White Pine Moss
• Wild Asparagus• Sumac and Berry Sprouts
• Wild Onion and Leeks• Mustard
• Pea• Sorrel (Rhubarb)
• Yellowdock• Wild Bean
• Woodbine• Bulrush
• Hog Peanut• Aspen Sap
• Aster (Lake Superior)• Basswood Sap
• Jerusalem Artichoke (flowers)• Milkweed
• Dandelion• Burdock

Many of these wild foods can be grown in cultivated gardens. Try doing some research in a library or on the internet, or consult your local horticultural expert to find out how you can grow these traditional foods in your community garden.


Common Wild Food Seasonings

Wild foods were also used to season prepared meals. Instead of using salt, try seasoning your food with herbs from your garden. Here are a few common wild foods used for seasoning:

• Wild Ginger
• Mountain Mint
• Bearberry

Common Wild Herb Teas

Herbal teas made from the leaves, bark, stems and fruit of shrubs were the traditional beverage for most Aboriginal groups and still used today. Herbal teas included Labrador tea and teas made from salmonberry, strawberry, raspberry and mint leaves, rosehip and bergamot. Healers and Medicine People used some teas for their healing qualities.

• Creeping Snowberry (Leaves)• Wintergreen
• Spruce• Chokecherry Twigs
• Labrador Tea• Hemlock
• Red Raspberry• Wild Cherry Twigs

Food Preservation

Most Aboriginal groups dried and/or smoked fish and game in order to preserve them for later use. They carefully selected the proper woods and controlled the cooking time and amount of fire to develop the best flavour. Berries, bulbs and roots were air-dried, mixed with oil or fat, and sometimes dried meat or fish, to form pemmican. The pemmican was stored away from the air and light in cedar casks, root cellars, underground pits, birch bark containers or animal stomachs. Seeds and nuts were collected, dried and stored for winter use.