Traditional medicine good for the soul, body and mind

Lori Sellars (left) with Barb Wycotte and Mary Harry are all keen on practising and expanding their knowledge of traditional medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Lori Sellars (left) with Barb Wycotte and Mary Harry are all keen on practising and expanding their knowledge of traditional medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Lori Sellars says more youth are becoming interested in the preservation or harvesting of traditional Indigenous medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Lori Sellars says more youth are becoming interested in the preservation or harvesting of traditional Indigenous medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Three Corners Health Services Society executive director Lori Sellars says they start each meeting with this Secwepemc prayer (Rebecca Dyok photo)Three Corners Health Services Society executive director Lori Sellars says they start each meeting with this Secwepemc prayer (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Traditional medicines can be used for a variety of purposes. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Traditional medicines can be used for a variety of purposes. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Barb Wycotte makes some sxusem (soapberry) ice cream. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Barb Wycotte makes some sxusem (soapberry) ice cream. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Melamen —Secwepemc for medicine — can be found all around you in the wilderness of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

The spring and summer are commonly the best seasons to collect the inner bark, roots and branches of qwlsellp (green willow) that can be used for pain relief and to help treat eczema.

From elder to child, the medicinal properties the hundreds of plants and berries hold continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

Marry Harry, family liaison at Three Corners Health Society in Williams Lake, knows.

With jars of melamen she picked inside her home, Harry said she always has kewku (sage) and sekwew (rosehip) on hand in the winter when cold and flu season is in full swing.

“In our culture, if your mom isn’t the one showing you then it’s either the other females who know how to do some of the plants,” she said.

Told qwllillennllp (birch bark) could relieve some of the pain her partner was experiencing from having broken their femur, Harry it had helped.

“You have to use the medicines to be able to understand them and you also have to believe that the medicines will help you because they also have a spirit, and that’s why we always give an offering when we’re taking plants to thank them for whatever ailment they may be helping us with,” she said, adding they also ask the creator for permission to pick berries in the territory amongst bears and protection from them.

Read More: COVID-19 testing available at Three Corners Health Society in Williams Lake

Common to most areas, sxusem (soapberry) is used to not only soak tired and sore muscles but can be made into a nutritious ice cream or a cleansing tonic.

As family connection liaison Barb Wycotte went to grab a bowl, handheld mixer and some sugar, Harry recalled how her grandmother who did not have a blender at the time would use corn husks tied onto a stick to whip the berries until frothy.

“Nowadays I see some people add raspberries,” she said of sxusem ice cream.

When refrigeration was not common, the berries were dried into ‘cakes’ that could be soaked and made into ice cream.

Adding small amounts of water, Wycotte showed how a ‘whipped cream’ texture eventually formed after whipping the berries and adding some sweetness to the earthy and slightly bitter tasting mixture with sugar.

Melamen has played an integral role at the Three Corners Health Society, which published a 39-page Secwepemc Traditional Medicine book in 2018 authored by elders Clara Camille of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe/Dog Creek), Cecilia DeRose of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) and Jean William of T’exelc (Williams Lake).

Heather Camille of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council also assisted.

“We wrote the book for our youth and for us to have an opportunity to share with our families traditional healing,” said executive director Lori Sellars, who found it important to incorporate their knowledge of melamen with the Western healthcare model.

One of the Secwepemc’s most powerful medicines is stsmut’elqe —the black fungus found on birch trees. Besides being boiled in water to make a tea, it can also be used to smudge.

Read More: Who cares for the caregivers? Mental health supports for front line workers

Because not everyone knows how to appropriately preserve and use melamen, it is important to always discuss with a knowledgeable elder before using any traditional medicines.

“I know some communities are not apt wanting to share it,” Sellars said, noting melamen is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Some melamen can be collected year round such as spitpetqin (rock lichen). The lichen off of rocks can be used as a poultice or body/bath wash to assist in aiding a variety of skin conditions such as impetigo and thrush.

Regularly attending Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in Williams Lake in June at Boitanio Park, the Three Corners Health Society hosts an annual melamen celebration on Sept. 12 where Indigenous people from neighbouring First Nations communities gather to share stories and traditions alongside melamen and food.

Although Indigenous Peoples Day was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sellars confirmed Melamen Day will go ahead this year where it will be held via a much smaller gathering at the Three Corners Health Society.

Read More: Tsilhqot’in utilize social media after annual Nation Gathering called off due to COVID-19

As more turn to outdoor activities for their mental well-being and to safely connect with close family and friends, interest in continuing a tradition long practised by their ancestors of collecting and practising Indigenous traditional medicine has risen.

“When you’re out on the land and actually in that environment, you slow down and I find that in itself can be healing,” Sellars said.

Three Corners Health Society is working on completing a second edition of Secwepemc Traditional Medicine which is anticipated to be published before the end of the year.

“If we do a book every three to five years that will be good,” Sellars said.

“It’s identifying and sharing because every year it’s sad because we lose more of our elders, and in order to incorporate and ensure we don’t lose the language we need to make sure we practice the knowledge.”

Cheryl Pope, who grew up with her family at Canoe Creek, has been absorbing as much knowledge as she can about traditional medicines in recent years.

“I have been around some traditional medicine practices all of my life thanks to my grandmother, mother and extended family but only recently have come to appreciate plants and trees and how they can be used to support our health in a natural way,” said Pope, financial manager for Three Corners Health.

“I have done some harvesting on my own and more recently learning from Dr Jeanne Paul who has provided a formalized approach of studying traditional medicines and in her own words, she ‘brings our medicines to the 21st century’ by combining science and her medical background with her in-depth knowledge and passion for traditional medicines.”

Pope said it’s fascinating to carry on the knowledge and share what she learns with her family and community to support their health and wellness in a natural way.

Do you have a comment about this story? email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Health and wellnessIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Williams Lake Skating Club is thrilled to introduce new coach Brenda Boulin (right) to its team. Boulin joins head coach Joanne Macnair (centre) and coach Breanna Davidson. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Skating Club welcomes new coach to team

WLSC longtime head coach Joanne Macnair is thrilled to welcome Brenda Boulin back home

While the weather in Williams Lake wreaked havoc on roads and flooded homes this week, the swans didn’t seem to mind it at all. (David Fait photo)
Waterlogged: Williams Lake downright soggy after days of rain

October has seen an unusual amount of rain fall in the Cariboo this year

Roberts Drive resident Lisa Tarlings awoke at 6 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 to water roaring down the driveway. She and other residents began working to try and divert the water off the road into the ditch. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune.
‘I could hear the water roaring outside’: Williams Lake homes flood after snow, heavy rain

Bette McLennan has lived in her home 41 years and this is the worst it’s ever been

Residents of Riske Creek came to the rescue of a truck driver who slid off Highway 20 in icy conditions with a load of calves Tuesday night (Oct. 27). (Facebook photo)
Riske Creek residents rush to scene of overturned cattleliner on Highway 20 Tuesday night

Residents rounded up cattle and directed traffic in the dark during a heavy snowfall

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Search and Rescue Technicians carry a stretcher to the CH149 Cormorant during a 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Exercise in Tofino on February 28. (Photo by: Cpl Joey Beaudin, 19 Wing Imaging, Comox)
Father and son found dead after weeklong search near Pemberton

The father and son had set out for a day of mushroom picking last Thursday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A full moon rises over Mt. Cheam on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rare full moon, Daylight Saving makes for a uniquely spooky Halloween – despite COVID-19

We can’t host costume parties but this weekend is still one for the history books

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A study by SlotsOnlineCanada notes there is at least 88 hours of top-rated horror movies for Canadians to consume this Halloween. (Unsplash)
Spooks and Chill study reveals Canada’s favourite horror flicks

88 hours of top-rated horror movies can fill COVID-19 Halloween

Most Read