Tulalip Tribes harvest highly nutritious stinging nettles

Inez Bill harvests stinging nettles in Tulalips' forestlands.
Inez Bill harvests stinging nettles in Tulalips’ forestlands. Photo: Francesca Hillery, Tulalip

The Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Cultural Center is finding new uses for stinging nettles, a traditional medicinal plant.

Participants in Hibulb’s Rediscovery Program, led by Inez Bill, harvest nettles from the tribes’ forestlands each spring. They process the plant before using it in tea, flavored lemonade, pesto and a diabetic-friendly version of buckskin bread called “Hibulb bread.”

Inez created the Hibulb bread by adding ground nettles to a sugar- and salt-free dough for her husband, Hank Gobin, who passed away in 2013. Gobin was the founding director of the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve.

“I was inspired to make this bread for Hank because of his diabetes,” Inez said. “Hank loved bread, but his illness prevented him from eating 98 percent of market breads.”

Traditional wild foods have more nutrients than some of the “superfoods” found in grocery stores, such as kale and spinach. Nettles are high in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and Vitamin A, and can be used to treat allergies and high blood pressure, as well as diabetes.

The Rediscovery Program researches and prepares traditional Coast Salish food and medicines. Since the cultural center opened in 2012, the Rediscovery staff has introduced healthy traditional food at some of the cultural events.

“Our teachings and values for preparing food and meals are unique to our people,” Inez said. “To prepare food in our traditional way is to share part of ourselves with our people. Whatever the meeting or event is, the food and its preparation, and the feelings of those who prepare the meal are equally important.”

“This year when we harvested and blanched the nettles, we saved the liquid to drink. I enjoyed drinking it,” she said. “Every year in January, we can’t wait for the nettles. It’s one of the first plants that come up. It lets us know that spring will soon be here.”

The cultural resources staff learned how to harvest nettles and other traditional plants from the late Bruce Miller of Skokomish, who walked on in 2005.

“Bruce had the plant knowledge,” Inez said. “He shared with everyone. I grew up using a few native plants that my family introduced me to. The teachings and values around those plants are the basis of how I work with plants today. My awareness has continued to grow over the years.”

In recent years, Inez has worked alongside Valerie Segrest, who coordinates the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project.

“A lot of things have come to me now that I’m older, on how to teach our people,” Inez said. “People used to be taught by their aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Today, the Hibulb Cultural Center is an additional resource that our tribal membership can turn to for teachings.”

Inez passes on the knowledge to summer youth workers in the Rediscovery Program.

“I teach the youth workers not to harvest the whole plant, to make it like we were never here, and to thank the plant,” she said. “There’s respect in every aspect of our way of life.”

For more information, contact: Inez Bill, Rediscovery Program coordinator, Tulalip Tribes, 360-716-2638 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].