Fireweed and mountains

Flowers of Significance to Alaska Native Peoples

Flowers of Significance to Alaska Native Peoples

Alaska Natives and other Indigenous peoples have used northern wildflowers for medicinal, healing, and nutritive purposes for a millennium. It’s important to note that different groups may share similar practices and that those listed here represent only a fraction of the Alaska Native knowledge and heritage. Here are just a few detailed examples of the many practices used by Alaska Native peoples throughout the state, as well as the flowers’ Alaska Native names: 

Northern Yarrow (Achillea borealis)

Unangax̂: Amikayax (Atka Island); cingatudax (Nikolski)
This perennial wildflower, which can be found throughout most of Alaska, displays varying colors of white, pink, and magenta and is used by the Unangax̂ peoples (Atka Island) for colds/flu, nosebleeds, internal pain, sore throat, and stomach troubles.

Suqpiaq: Caisit (Prince William Sound); qanganaruaq (Kodiak Island)
Sugpiaq peoples (Prince William Sound and Kodiak Island) use the leaves to treat kidney troubles, sore throat and to alleviate the pain of childbirth. Yarrow tea can be brewed to treat hangovers and asthma, while hot packs of ground yarrow can be used for cuts, sores and even pimples.

Athabascan: Bask’ilt’uts’l (Inland, Iliamna, Outer Inlet, and Upper Inlet Dena’ina)
Athabascan peoples (Outer Inlet, Upper Inlet Dena’ina) use yarrow to treat burns, chest congestion, cuts, and scrapes. The flowers are often crushed and rubbed into hands and then inserted into the nose for nosebleeds. Dena’ina and Ninilchik area uses it to treat burns, cuts, infection, inflammation, eye issues, kidney issues, and measles. During childbirth, women are given tea for internal cleansing. Gwich’in peoples use the flower to stop bleeding and hemorrhages. For nosebleeds, the flower clusters are rubbed in hand and inserted in the nose for nosebleeds.

Tlingit: Ka-kuk-tleaty
Tlingit peoples (Coastal Southeast Alaska, Yakutat Bay to Cape Fox) use it to treat eye problems, inflammation and rheumatism. Traditionally the yarrow is used as compress, poultice or steam.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)

Sugpiaq: Cillqaqtaq (the plant), Cillaq (the flower)
Prepared either crushed or as an infusion, the Sugpiaq peoples (Prince William Sound, Kenai and Kodiak Island) use fireweed during childbirth, and for the treatment of colds, flu, constipation, cuts or scrapes.

Inupiat: Paniuqtaq, pamiugtak, pamiugtat, pautnuq, quppiegutaq (meaning young shoots)

Tlingit: lóol (meaning fireweed leaves in the fall)

Athabascan: Ch’deshtleq’a (Inland Dena’ina); tl’ik’desq’a (Upper Inlet Dena’ina)
Athabascan peoples use it for cuts and scrapes a poultice from raw stem used to draw out infection.

Yup’ik: Almaruat
The Yup’ik culture uses fireweed to relieve constipation and stomach troubles. Fireweed leaves are picked in late summer though early autumn, and can be brewed as a laxative tea.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)

Unangax̂: Putschke (Russian origin)
The Unangax̂ peoples use cow parsnip to treat colds, flu, cuts, scrapes, sore muscles, and throat– typically with a poultice application.

Sugpiaq: Vgyuun, amuulraaq; ammuul’aq
The Sugpiaq (Prince William Sound and Port Graham, Kodiak Island) term for Cow Parsnip means “Dead stalk” and it is typically used as a salve plaster to treat arthritis, dandruff, infections, inflammation and rheumatism.

Athabascan: Ggis (Inland, Iliamma, Outer Inlet, and Upper Inlet Dena’ina; buchgi outer inlet Dena’ina)
The Dena’ina peoples use this flower to treat arthritis, colds, and flu. The root was chewed raw or boiled for tea, and could also be used for mouth sores and sore throats. The plant is also highly valued in use for arthritis treatment. It was also used for toothache relief by placing warmed parsnip root on the injured tooth. Additionally, the Den’aina peoples believed that burning the roots would keep sickness away from the home.

Tlingit: Yana’ Et xadi, yanu èit 

Cottonwood Tree (Populus balsamifera)

This striking tree grows anywhere from 70-100 feet tall, producing resinous and aromatic flowers. A balm is made from the buds of the tree. It is thought to be anti-inflammatory and hold antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Its leaves and buds can be made into a tea. Notably, all parts of the tree are used in a variety of practices and purposes. 

Yup’ik: Avngulek, avngulgaq, ciquq, cirque, equgniilnguq, qugniilnguq

Tlingit: dúk

Labrador Tea (Ledum palustre)

Sugpiaq: Caa’uq, nunallaq caa yuq
The Sugpiaq peoples used this herb as an infusion and decoction to treat coughs, and chest congestion.

Athabascan: K’l’tladsai (Salcha); chi’ilaak’ay (Upper Tanana); lediiasket (Kutchin); la dee musket (Kutchin for Ledum palustre); quchukda (outer Inlet and Upper Inlet Dena’ina meaning “grandmother”); kenhughudza (outer Inlet Dena’ina); kenqughudze (Upper Inlet Denai’ina); K’eluq’ey (inland and Iliamma Dena’ina); decumbens (meaning “forked branches”, k’ilaakk’uyh)
Used as an infusion, powder, ash, chew, decoction or poultice, the flower was used to treat arthritis, constipation, coughs, chest congestion, cuts, dandruff, general ill health, hangovers, indigestion, internal pain, skin trouble and even rheumatism.

Inupiat: Tilaaqiuq
Used for the treatment of coughs, congestion, food poisoning and nausea as an infusion and decoction.

Tlingit: Sick shult, sick-shel-teen, sikshuldéen
Used as an infusion and decoction to treat venereal disease, colds, flu and stomach troubles.

Yup’ik: Ayuq, ai’yut
Used as an infusion and decoction to treat bleeding, hemorrhages, constipation, and stomach troubles.

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis)

This beautiful flower is a stunning deep brown-purplish flower and can be seen throughout Alaska between May and July. It has a rancid odor that attracts flies that act as pollinators, but the stems and flowers can be cooked for a variety of uses. 

Tlingit: Kóox

Sugpiaq: Lagaaq

Athabascan: Alugax (East), Saranax (West)

Snowy mountain peaks in Alaska

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