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Tend, Gather and Grow Curriculum: Berries


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Lessons to invite native plants into your classroom! Games, interactive lessons, and more.

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Tend, Gather and Grow Curriculum: Berries

  1. 1. Huckleberry Other names: Vaccinium spp. Identifying Huckleberry: What is better than wandering through the woods and finding a bush covered in ripe huckleberries? In the Northwest, there are more than 12 species of huckleberries which grow in habitats ranging from the coast to the high mountains. Huckleberries come in many sizes. Dwarf whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium) is a mere six inches tall and is covered in tiny red berries that would satisfy a mouse, while the bigger mountain blueberries and huckleberries are large enough for a bear to gorge on and get full. All huckleberry fruits have a circular “crown” on the opposite side from the stem. Berry colors range from orangey-red to purple to deep blue-black. Three varieties we will focus on include: Red Huckleberry Vaccinium parvifolium. You will find red huckleberry growing from nurse logs in shady forested areas. It grows to 12 feet tall. Stems are green colored and the deciduous leaves are limey green with smooth edges. Only young leaves remain on the bush throughout the winter. Greenish-white bell shaped flowers bloom in April through July. Pink to orange-red fruit is round and up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Berries are ripe in June to August. Evergreen Huckleberry Vaccinnium ovatum. This bushy evergreen shrub grows to 8 feet tall. Leaves are leathery with toothed edges and a strong central vein. Flowers are white to pink and bell shaped. Berries are dark blue to black, about ¼ inch in diameter, and are ripe in August through November. You will find evergreen huckleberry in gravelly or sandy soil in evergreen forests, open woodlands and clear cuts. Big huckleberry Vaccinium membranaceum. While several types of huckleberries grow in the mountains, big huckleberry is the most prized. It is a deciduous shrub that is typically two to four feet tall with oval shaped, finely toothed leaves and pinkish-white flowers that bloom just after the snow melts. The fruits are shiny and very dark purple. As large as ½ inch in diameter, big huckleberry is the largest of our native huckleberries. Where they Grow: Red huckleberry grows on nurse logs in shady lowland forests. Evergreen huckleberry grows in clear cuts and open forested areas from the coast into low elevation mountains. Big huckleberry can be found in mid-elevation mountain meadows.
  2. 2. Season: Red huckleberry starts to fruit in June. Evergreen huckleberry ripens in late summer, but is sweetest after the first frost. Big huckleberry is usually ripe in August through early September. Harvesting and Processing Huckleberry: Red huckleberry is usually harvested right off the bush, while many people cut whole stems of evergreen huckleberry that are covered with ripe berries. Evergreen huckleberry benefits from some pruning and the small berries are time-consuming to harvest, so many people prefer to do this at home. Make sure to take less than 10% of a plant, and act as if you are pruning it. Cut stems at an angle with sharp clean clippers. Proper pruning will help the plant be more healthy and productive next year! Mountain huckleberry is gathered right off the bush with baskets or buckets that can be attached to your waist or around your neck. Huckleberry rakes can damage plants and should not be used. Be sure to move around, making sure not to trample the bushes, and not taking too many berries from any one location or bush. This will leave enough for the many other species who rely on huckleberries for food. While fresh, sun-drenched berries are the most tasty, you can preserve huckleberries through freezing, drying, canning and making fruit leather, along with eating them straight off the bush. Huckleberry Food and Medicine: Wherever you go in Indian country, people will tell you that their huckleberries are the best kind of all. This shows us how important huckleberries are to the culture. Many people look forward to late summer as the time of berry picking. Huckleberries are one of the most important cultural foods to Native People of the Pacific Northwest and also one of the healthiest. Blueberries and huckleberries do not raise blood sugar and are an important food for pre-diabetics and diabetics. They are high in antioxidants, which help protect the body from the effects of high blood sugar including diabetic retinopathies, kidney damage and poor tissue healing. Recent research studies suggest that blueberries and huckleberries also lower cholesterol, slow age-related dementia and reduce tumor formation. They are also excellent for heart health and can ease varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Huckleberries and blueberries contain arbutin, a plant compound that helps to fight bacteria often associated with urinary tract and bladder infections. The berry juice or the leaf tea can be used as a preventative and a treatment. If you cannot gather your own huckleberries or blueberries, you can buy them frozen in most stores throughout the year. They are relatively inexpensive to buy in bulk at food coops. If possible, buy wild harvested or organic berries. You can add them to hot cereal, sprinkle them on cold cereal, or mix them into dressings, sauces and desserts. Cooking them actually increases their antioxidant content. The recommended daily amount for health benefits is 1/2 cup a day. Huckleberry leaf tea: Surprisingly, blueberry and huckleberry leaves are as high in antioxidants as the berries, and they can help to lower blood sugar levels. The leaves can be harvested in spring through summer when they are fully developed and still a vibrant green color. Prune a few branches off each bush, and then hang them in a warm dry place
  3. 3. out of the sunlight. When the leaves are fully dry, strip them from the branches into a basket, then store them in paper bags or glass jars. Steep 1 heaping tablespoon in a cup of boiled water and drink 2-3 cups a day. The leaves will last about a year. Ecological Relationships: (This section from Joyce LeCompte) Big huckleberry needs sun in order to produce its fruit in abundance. It is tolerant of fire – in fact, it was one of the very first plants to return to the slopes of Mt. St. Helens after the mountain erupted in 1980! Northwest Coast people were well aware of big huckleberry’s need for sunlight. Historically, they would burn the meadows where big huckleberry grows to prevent trees from encroaching on them. For many plants and animals, big huckleberry meadows are an oasis of food and light in an otherwise densely forested landscape. Deer and elk, black and grizzly bear, mountain beaver, marmot, and other small mammals, as well as several species of resident and migratory birds, rely on the foliage and fruit of big huckleberry and the other plants that grow along with it. Northwest Coast people also hunted all of these animals during their stay in huckleberry camp. Along with the big huckleberry, the people also gathered many other plants for food, medicine and basketry, some of which are found only in the mountains. Growing Tips: While most types of huckleberries cannot be cultivated, the evergreen huckleberry is an exception. These handsome bushy shrubs grow to 8 feet tall and have leathery leaves with toothed edges. They prefer partial sun but will also grow in full sun. Delicious small berries are dark blue to black and are ripe in August through November when most other berries have died back. They are sweetest after the first frost. Many nurseries carry evergreen huckleberry and they are common landscaping plants in public spaces. Rubel blueberries are also available at many plant nurseries, which are close to huckleberry in antioxidant content and flavor.
  4. 4. Huckleberry Medicine Time – 30-45 minutes Season – Any Age – Grades PK-12 Setting – Indoor or Outdoor Overview: In this activity students will gain a general understanding of where huckleberries grow, what they look like and why they are so valued as a traditional food and medicine through a drawing activity and a Salish story. Student Wondering: Why is huckleberry one of our most revered native foods? Learning Objectives: ● Students will know that there are several types of huckleberries with distinctive characteristics and habitats. ● Students will understand that huckleberry is considered to be a medicine, and will be able to name at least two reasons why it is beneficial for health. NGGS Standards Alignment: K-12 Crosscutting Concepts: ● Structure and Function - The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions. ● Systems & System Models - A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems. Performance Expectations: ● K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. ● K-ESS2-2 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs. ● 2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. ● 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. ● 5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment. Materials: Samples of huckleberry plant for the students to draw along with crayons, colored pencils or colored pens and paper. If available, berries for students to sample. Preparation: Read the huckleberry overview and review the story about huckleberry. Activity
  5. 5. Begin by asking, How many of you have eaten huckleberries? How did they taste? Describe what they looked like and where you harvested them. Huckleberries are one of our most prized traditional foods. Wherever you go in Indian country, people will tell you that their huckleberries are the best, a testament to how important huckleberries are to the native culture. Ask, What other animals love huckleberry? Answers might include bear, small mammals and birds. Here in the Northwest there are many varieties of huckleberries, ranging from the coast to the high mountains. Huckleberries also come in many differing sizes. Dwarf whortelberry is a mere six inches tall and covered with tiny red berries that would barely satisfy a mouse, while the larger mountain blueberries and huckleberries are substantial enough to satiate a gorging black bear. Berry colors range from orangey-red to purple, to deep blue-black. The only difference between huckleberries and blueberries is that huckleberries have a stronger flavor. They are closely related, almost like cousins. Identifying huckleberry: Lead students through taking a closer look at huckleberries. Pass out plant samples and ask them what they notice about the plants (prompt by asking about the colors, textures, and shapes of the leaves, flowers, and stems. Then help them to see what characteristics will help them to identify the berries in the wild. Have them draw a picture of the huckleberry plant. Encourage older children to draw plant characteristics like serrated leaf edges and bell-shaped flowers that look like little lanterns. Ask if they recognize any other native plants that have similar shaped flowers. Examples include uva ursi, manzanita and blueberry. Huckleberry Medicine: Share that huckleberries are one of the healthiest traditional foods, and quite possibly the reason that many Native elders commonly lived to be over 100 years old. They are considered an anti-aging food, and are even sold as supplements in health food stores. Tell this Salish huckleberry story as told by Roger Fernandes, Lower Elwha S’Klallam storyteller: A long time ago a man had a daughter who became very sick. She was unable to eat and was in great pain. The family tried all the remedies they knew, but nothing worked. She became sicker every day. She was becoming weaker. The family called for Indian doctors to come and treat her. They tried all their medicine, but nothing worked. She became sicker. The man was afraid she would die if a cure was not found. One night, before he went to sleep, the man prayed to the spirits to please help his daughter. A plant came to him in a dream that night. The plant taught him a song. The plant told the man to go up into the mountains the next morning, singing the song. When he knew it was time, he should stop singing and the medicine he needed would be there.
  6. 6. The man awoke and went into the mountains, singing that song. He went a long way, but finally knew he should stop singing. He looked down and there was the Huckleberry bush. The man picked the berries and took them back to the village. The girl was too weak to eat so he pressed the juice from them and had her drink the juice. She got a little better. The next day he mashed the berries and feed them to her. Again, she felt better. Finally after several days she was able to eat the whole berry. She was well now. The people asked what he had done and how she got better. He explained about the dream and the berries. The people did not believe him. They said it could not be from a simple berry. That night the man had another dream and a voice spoke to him. It said that the juice of the huckleberry is the blood of the earth and the bush is the veins. The man then knew that huckleberry is a powerful medicine. He shared the dream with the people and they believed what the dream said. And that is all. Ask, How do you think the huckleberry helped the girl to get better? Share knowledge about huckleberry medicine from the huckleberry overview that is appropriate for your your class level. For example, for younger children, you could say that huckleberries help to strengthen our eyes and our heart. For older children you can highlight antioxidants within the huckleberry that protect body tissue from the damage caused by “free radicals” within the cell wall. They prevent inflammation and increase tissue strength. Additionally, huckleberries are one of the only fruits that do not raise blood sugar. All fruits contain natural sugars, but huckleberries have a compound that actually lowers blood sugar, making the net blood sugar effect zero. All these factors make them a perfect food for diabetics. Eating huckleberry: Share that you can eat huckleberries fresh right off the bush, or you can preserve them for later by drying them, canning them, or freezing them. If available, pass out samples of huckleberry for students to taste. Tying it Together Remind students that all food is medicine. What we eat has a powerful impact on our health. Many of our modern foods are refined and processed. You can’t even tell the source of where they came from. Native People have valued huckleberries for thousands of years and they are just as important for our health now as they were centuries ago. Ask, What can huckleberries do for people today? List answers on the board. In addition to the nutritional value and medicinal qualities, they also bring families together, get us outside into wild places, connect us with other species of plants and animals, and for many of us – they make us smile when we eat them!
  7. 7. Digging Deeper Follow this activity with a huckleberry cooking demonstration. Examples include huckleberry smoothies or berry crisp under the Wild Edible Berries activity.
  8. 8. Wild Berries Time – 1 hour Season – Spring through Early fall Age – Grades 8-12 Setting – Indoor Overview: In this lesson students will be introduced to plant characteristics through a symbol game. They will learn how to identify and use some native berries through a berry identification game. This knowledge will be tested through the game Berry Bingo. Student Wondering: How do I identify, harvest and preserve wild edible berries, and why are they so good for my health? Learning Objectives: ● Students will be able to identify and harvest at least 3 native berries. ● Students will be able to name three health benefits of berries. ● Students will be able to identify two ways to preserve berries. NGGS Standards Alignment: K-12 Crosscutting Concepts: ● Structure and Function - The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions. ● Scale, Proportion, and Quantity- In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance. Performance Expectations: ● 2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. ● 3-LS3-1 Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms. ● 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. ● MS-LS1-7 Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism. Materials: symbol cards, berry identification cards, berry bingo cards, dry erase markers or dried berries/nuts for students to mark answers, and a prize for the winner of berry bingo. Eight cuttings of each plant in the identification game if they are available. Place each set of plant identification cards in a large bowl with the plant samples for breaking
  9. 9. the class into eight groups. If you cannot find plant samples for some of the plants, you can play the game without them or you can use dried, pressed samples. Samples of wild berries for students to taste. Preparation: Review characteristics and fun facts for berries in Berry Identification cards and the berry bingo questions so that you can make sure students have been given all the information they need to play berry bingo. Activity Begin by asking the class, What are some of your favorite native edible berries? Share that wild berries have been an important source of food for Coast Salish People for many generations. Berry patches were sometimes owned by families and were maintained like gardens. Some tribes hold a first berry ceremony. An elder or community leader determines when the berries were ready, and the people honor the berries before they are harvested. The Yakima Nation still does this during huckleberry season. Tell students that berries were traditionally eaten fresh and some were also dried so they could be eaten throughout the year. Many people still harvest wild berries, which are low in calories and provide important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Most importantly, berries taste delicious. Symbol Flash Card Activity: This exercise is intended to empower students in their ability to identify plants. Tell students that you are going to flash symbols to them and ask you some questions. For each symbol, ask, What does this symbol tell you? What does it provide for you? Where can you find it? The advertising symbols will spark some conversation like “Pepsi is full of sugar and gives us diabetes.” McDonalds gives us fast food that promotes diabetes. It promotes “supersizing. Quaker Oats is promoted as a symbol of “health” but this is not necessarily true. Many sugary highly processed cereals have the Quaker symbol. Facebook connects us to information but can keep us inside and isolated from face to face interactions with people and the natural world. Emphasize how much students know about the symbols. Many will know the advertisements but not the plants. The fern basketry design is an old Northwest Coastal Indian symbol that also means spreading out or opening. Rosehips are high in Vitamin C and can be made into a tonic tea for colds, coughs and inflammation. Plantain is also called “Indian Band-aid”. It helps to draw out infection and heal wounds. Nettle is a nutritious spring edible. It can also be dried and made into a medicinal tea. Share with students that in the United States, youth under ten years old can identify up to 2000 advertising symbols, but less than seven native plants or animals. As a culture today, we are constantly bombarded with advertising but rarely spend time in nature. One six-year-old girl in Ecuador was able to identify over 1000 plants in the jungle from small samples of leaves! We human beings have an incredible ability to recognize shapes, textures and colors if we focus our attention on them. We can take this ability and apply it to identifying different types of wild berries! Plant Identification Terms: Remind students that plants including leaves and flowers come in many shapes and sizes. Some leaves very large while others are small
  10. 10. (thimbleberry verses huckleberry). Some have edges that are toothed (serrated), while others are smooth. Some leaves have many leaflets that make up an entire leaf (strawberry, blackberry). We look for these details when we are identifying berries. Introduce these terms and ask students for examples of each. You may want to write them on the board so students can see the spelling. ● Annual refers to plants that live only one year. Ask, What are some annual plants? Examples include marigold, calendula, garden color plants like petunias, and vegetables like pumpkin, tomatoes and corn. ● Perennial refers to plants that live several years (most herbs, trees and shrubs including nettles, huckleberry and yarrow). ● Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the cold months (maples, alder, willow, and red huckleberry). Some herbs lose all of their above ground leaves and stems, but their roots are still living beneath the soil. ● Evergreen plants keep their leaves or “stay green” all year long (salal, evergreen huckleberry and evergreen trees). Berry Identification Game: Split the class into eight groups. Give each group a set of identification cards and plant samples. Ask them to match the samples with the cards. They will need to pay close attention to leaf shape, color, texture, etc. Walk from group to group and give students tips on what to look for. As groups complete, have them pair up with a neighboring group to check their work, and come to consensus. Once they have properly matched the cards with the samples, assign each group with a plant to share with the class. Fill in information that was not shared for each plant, along with any personal experience you might have. Once everyone is done, two to three people from each group can share a plant with the class. Assign each group with different plants so they are all shared. They can say how they identified the plant along with any fun facts they learned. They can speak from personal experience or simply read the berry ID card. Berries for Health: Share that Native Elders often teach that berries are medicine. In addition to the cultural and spiritual teachings that they carry, they are some of the most nutrient dense foods available. Berries are loaded with minerals and vitamins. Huckleberries are considered the most medicinal and are loaded with antioxidants. Some berry seeds like salal contain a significant amount of protein and omega fatty acids. Share what is appropriate for the knowledge level of students: ● Antioxidants – Cells are the tiniest structures in our bodies- the building blocks of life. Molecules called oxidants and free radicals constantly attack them. These can tear cell membranes and damage cell components, leading to poor health or “aging” of cells. Some oxidative damage is a normal part of being alive. Yet, pollution including cigarette smoke and unhealthy food including refined food and fried food exposes us to excessive amounts. This is a contributing factor to developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. Antioxidants in berries stabilize free radicals, limiting the damage they can do to
  11. 11. our bodies. They are said to slow down aging, reduce inflammation and increase immune health. Berries are among the most potent antioxidant foods! ● Flavonoids – These plant pigments give berries their color. They protect the body in many ways including acting as antioxidants, protecting and strengthening blood vessel walls and healing tissue. Scientific research has shown that flavonoids help protect the body from cardiovascular disease, varicose veins, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, glaucoma and the side effects of diabetes including diabetic retinopathy, kidney damage and vascular degeneration. ● Fiber – Fiber helps to prevent constipation and normalizes gut health. It also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Most adults only eat half the amount of fiber recommended by the USDA for optimum health. ● Minerals - Minerals are naturally occurring substances that are vital to our health. We need them to build strong bones, hair and nails. The health of our blood and cells depends on having the right balance of minerals. Plants are able to draw up minerals from the soil and concentrate them in their tissue. When we eat plants including berries, or drink tea made from plants, we can absorb their minerals. Examples of mineral rich herbs include: raspberry, strawberry and blackberry leaf, horsetail, nettles and rosehip. ● Vitamin C – This important compound helps our body absorb the mineral Iron, heal cuts, and keep teeth and gums healthy. Our bodies do not make Vitamin C, so we need to eat foods that contain it. Eating Berries: Explain that eating fresh, whole, ripe berries is better for health than juice because they have fiber and are lower in sugar. The fresher berries are, the higher they are in nutrients. Berries always taste best right off the bush! Share that there are many ways to preserve berries: ● Canning – some people make jam or jelly, while others prefer to can berries straight so they can be used throughout the year for a variety of recipes. ● Drying – only berries that are low in water content dry well. These include cherry, cranberry, huckleberry, salal and serviceberry. Check out the instructions for drying berries in the student handout. ● Freezing – this is probably the easiest way to preserve berries. Place berries on a cookie sheet and freeze for several hours, then place them in freezer bags. Berry Sampling: Have students taste as many wild berries as possible. Compare flavors and have students share their favorites. Tying it Together Berry Bingo: Give each student a bingo card and a pen or a small handful of dried berries to mark their answers. Explain that there are no free spaces. If a student gets all four in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally, they can call BINGO! Shuffle your cards and then begin. Once someone calls bingo, double check that they have the right boxes crossed off. If not, keep going until someone gets a correct bingo. Give the winner a prize. Reread the questions and have students call out the correct answers.
  12. 12. Digging Deeper: Prepare Huckleberry smoothies or Wild Berry Crisp. See the wild berries handout for recipe ideas. Tell the huckleberry story that is included in the Huckleberry Medicine Activity if students have not already heard it. Wild Berry Walk: Lead students on a field trip to explore wild berries.