Postcards: Linda Black Elk

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

(musical bells chiming) – A lot of people ask me,
how did I start doing this? How did I get to be
an ethnobotanist? And really, I come from
a long line of people who use plants for
food and medicine, and I would go on walks
with my grandmother and she would show
me all the plants that we would see
out on the land. It was amazing because, as I
was looking at these plants and learning these
plants from her, she would know everything,
she’d be able to tell me their names, she’d be able to
tell me about how those plants interact with the
animals around them. So, like this plant
is eaten by deer, but this plant, the
seeds are eaten by mice. She knew all of that, she
knew the exact habitat in which I could
find these plants and which plants grew together. As I was growing up and I
eventually went to college, I realized that my
grandmother was a scientist. She was a Native scientist, she
had an intimate relationship and knowledge of the land
around her, that came from observation and experimentation
and this long term knowledge that had been passed
down from her family. And, you know, I often
think about that, think about my
grandmother as a scientist and how different would I
have been as a Native person? How different would I have
been as a young person, if I had known that I was
descended from scientists? You know, because they
never tell us that. They never tell us that our
knowledge is still valid and useful in today’s
world, and it certainly is. A lot of contemporary
pharmaceuticals come from ethnobotanical
knowledge. It comes from the knowledge
of indigenous people all over the world. And so, that’s what I try
to talk to my students about and that’s how I got my start. That’s what I always say,
they’re like that family member, who you don’t like very much,
but anytime you really need something, (laughing) they’re
always there to help you. That’s the dandelion,
they’re always there for you. So today, I’m at the
Lower Sioux Reservation and we are making four
traditional and a contemporary preparations using
traditional plants and other traditional
ingredients. (upbeat electronic music) The first thing that we
made today, is a lip balm. And this is one of
my favorite lip balms because it just contains
three basic ingredients. It’s oil, whatever oils
you have laying around. In this case, we’re
using organic olive oil and organic coconut oil,
but if you only have some regular olive
oil sitting around, or even some vegetable oil,
you can absolutely use those. Or if you only want to use
coconut oil or olive oil, you can do that as well. So it’s oils, it’s nettles,
stinging nettles, dried and added to the oil in a crock
pot for as long as you can. And then we’ll strain
it and we’ll just add some melted beeswax until
we get the consistency that we like for lip balm. The other preparation
that we made was, we made these
beautiful face masks. It’s just something to
pamper yourself with. They’re great to get
glowing, moisturized skin. But they’re also fantastic
for things like poison ivy or perhaps an infected
sore or boil on your skin. And so, for that we
used bentonite clay, spirulina which is a blue
green algae and raw honey, that’s it, just those three
ingredients mixed together and applied as a sort
of paste or a mask. The third preparation
that we made today was an elderberry elixir and
this is an antiviral syrup that is amazing for
boosting your immune system and helping to fight
off viral illnesses. And the ingredients
are super simple. So it’s just elderberries,
spices and honey to make this beautiful
antiviral elixir. (upbeat music) The fourth preparation
that we made today is an allergy syrup. I myself suffer from terrible
seasonal allergies and asthma and this is the preparation
that I found works the best. And again, super
simple, all it is, is licorice root,
nettles and raw honey. (gentle music) Through ethnobotony, I’ve
also been put on this path of really valuing the
knowledge of my ancestors, which helped me to
value myself more as a Native woman
and as a mother. Plants really encompass the
entirety of our existence. They’re food, of course, and
they’re medicine as I said, buy they’re building
materials, they’re ceremony, they’re child rearing,
even in pregnancy, I used so many of our
traditional medicines to have a healthier pregnancy
with my three children. So, yeah, plants have helped
me so much in my life. (gentle music) Post Cards is made possible by The Minnesota Arts and
Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota. Additional support provided by Margaret A. Cargill
Philanthropies, Mark and Margaret
Yackel-Juleen on behalf of Shalom Hill Farms, a retreat
and conference center in a prairie setting
near Windom, Minnesota. On the web at Alexandria, Minnesota,
a year round destination with hundreds of lakes,
trails and attractions for memorable
vacations and events. More information
at The Lake Region Arts
Council’s Arts Calendar. An Arts and Cultural Heritage
funded digital calendar showcasing upcoming art
events and opportunities for artists in West
Central Minnesota. On the web at (upbeat music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *