Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards reviewed by Dianne Biin

Posted by in Elementary, Higher Education, Medicines, Place based, Secondary, Uncategorized

This set of 65 cards is a portable resource, packaged and laminated for use while out on the urban and disrupted landscape. “The cards include beautiful photographs and descriptions to help identify plants, names of the plants in three different Indigenous languages, including SENCOTEN, Hul’q’umi’num, and Dididaht.” The plants are common food and technology plants and include some introduced species. The package is published as a creative commons resource through the Vancouver Island & Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network (the Network) and are $35 each (proceeds go towards sustaining community food security activities). Sets can be ordered online I selected this resource to share with the cohort as a means introduce place-based knowing in the classroom.

The expertise shared in this resource ranges from ethnobotanists to traditional medicine and plant experts along southern Vancouver Island such as Nancy Turner, John Bradley Williams and Earl Claxton Sr. I gravitated towards this resource rather than others as it is self-published and proceeds go directly towards Indigenous plant security efforts and education. The people in this network carry themselves in a good way as they are always striving to educate and share knowledge so as to increase environmental and sustainable foods knowledge to all.

These cards are a great introduction, as they build interest and fun with the plant world. I appreciate this resource was designed to only provide some information in a visually appealing format. The detailed knowledge of preparation and use is hinted to, but the Network wanted this resource used “as an inspiration to talk to an Elder or Knowledge Keeper”. It is only through this dialogue that true understanding and respect for plants and their sustained use can be attained. Using this resource as a connection to other Indigenous knowledge keepers requires a bit of caution and leads to a challenge of relevancy. This resource was based on the experience of knowledge keepers in southern Vancouver Island working in the realm of food security. Educators who use this resource need to respect Elders and knowledge keepers in their region will assign importance and relevance to different plant resources. Hence, use this resource as a springboard; it is not a definitive source of knowledge.

I recall some of my own botanical training with knowledge keepers in the interior and in a two to three year relationship; I gained a cursory knowledge of plants. When I reflected on this learning, I realized that learning in an apprenticeship manner also involved learning mindfully as one gains comfort with the resources and landscape. This leads to the next challenge of using this resource – how can an educator engage learners who have no connection or comfort with the natural world? The lack of connection to the natural world has been coined ‘nature-deficit disorder’ and talks to the need to rebuild connections between the environment and youth. There is always a fear of non-engagement with this resource; the trick to engaging is to build a natural curiousity of what surrounds oneself. Expanding this knowledge of self-outwards occurs once learners see themselves situated within the environment and not as an outside observer. The community garden movement has begun to rekindle this connection to environment; this resource rekindles a deep-seated connection to the gifts of Indigenous plants for wellness.

An added benefit of these cards is that they identify the plants in traditional languages and that the traditional names are given more prominence in the resource. As a revitalization mechanism, these cards are holistic in design, delivery and presentation. They give learners an interest and thus comfort in taking their learning to the experiential level.

The activity I created below to highlight these cards involved creating teams of ‘novice experts’ of foods and plants that heal, can be eaten or used. My lesson plan was tested with my cohort.

Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards Exercise

Context: Preliminary activity for a guided plant walk with youth; cards created by knowledge keepers from Nuu Chah Nulth and Coast Salish Nations. Cards included introduced species and aquatic plants. Creative commons license on the cards, developed by non-profit group. Note: the educator/instructor needs to review all the cards beforehand to pull forward responses in the quiz portion of the activity.

Directions: Provide groups of cards to teams and hand out the legend explanation to everyone. In the span of half an hour; teams will have 20 minutes to review plant cards and become ‘local experts’ on the various uses of plants. A short group quiz will enable all to share their knowledge.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the session, learners will be able to:

  • visually identify at least three food plants used in pit cooking
  • determine when plants can be harvested
  • examine how some plants can be dangerous to a novice learner
  • identify and describe how to prepare plant medicines for common ailments
  • reflect on how plant knowledge connects one to the land and knowledge keepers


  1. What plant can only be harvested in the spring?
  2. What plant can be used to make twine or rope?
  3. Who has a plant that is identified as deadly? what harm can it do?
  4. What plants can be used to treat a sore throat? how do you prepare it?
  5. What plant treats mosquito bites?
  6. What plant can be used as a bug repellant? when can it be harvested?
  7. What plant has both male and female flowers? what can it be used for?
  8. What plant can be used to make dyes?
  9. What plant, when prepared as a tea, treats headaches? what part of the plant is used?
  10. Which plant can you use to make tea from its bark?
  11. What plant foods are prepared in a pitcook or steamed?
  12. Are there sensitive habitat or endangered plants?
  13. Which plants have edible roots/tubers? how is it prepared?
  14. What plant can be harvested for pillow stuffing?
  15. What plant can be used as a skin softener? how is it prepared?
  16. What plant can only be harvested in the summer? what are it’s uses? Where can you find it?
  17. Which berry can be whipped into a dessert?
  18. What semi-aquatic, marshy or coastal plant is edible?
  19. What plants make good jellies? Are there other parts of the plant that can be used?
  20. What plant is high in vitamin C? Any special notes in harvesting or consumption?

As a college educator, I see using this resource in all disciplines. The focus of the activity’s learning outcomes shift to either learning about plant biology to sustainable living practice in an urban environment. These cards could also become part of an assignment with humanities or health students where they augment their written knowledge with experiential and apprenticeship activities with Elders and knowledge keepers. I do believe these cards can ladder learning into Indigenous ways, knowing and being with the land.

By Dianne Biin

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