Thursday, August 15, 2013

Behold the Cedar: An Ode to the Campus Forest

There is a time for classroom and lab studies — and a time for stepping into the forest to study the creatures that sprout and bloom and tower above us. Welcome to Northwest Herbs.

Western red cedar along campus trail
Tall cedars line many of the trails around Bastyr University's Kenmore campus.

If there is a time to haul out the gnarly old verb behold, then surely it is now, standing before this behemoth of the ancient world. Press your hand against its bark rippled like jerky. Crane your neck to watch it vanish above. Note the J-shaped swoop of its boughs. Feel its leaves scaly like dragon skin. Peel away a strip of bark and inhale the dark fertile scent.

We are speaking of the Western red cedar, giant of the Pacific Northwest forest. Native Cascadians called it the tree of life, and they were not embellishing. Their uses of this tree would astonish us moderns who know cedar only as fencing and deck furniture.

Some of those uses: canoes, paddles, bows, totems, skirts, harpoon shafts, spear poles, barbeque sticks, fish racks, bent-wood boxes, drum logs, rattles, benches, rakes, combs, whistles and fuel (excellent for drying fish because it burns with little smoke). And cradles, and coffins.

Native tribes of Cascadia used cedar in every season of their lives. A young girl learned to gather cedar bark from her mother and grandmother, the women trailing into the forest until they found a suitably sized tree, upon which they offered a prayer. With wedges they peeled off 20-foot strips of bark, which they dried, beat and pulled into soft layers, from which they formed rope, fishing nets, crib blankets, dresses and baskets so tightly woven they could cook soup in them.

You can learn about this in Northwest Herbs, a Bastyr University class in which adjunct faculty Heidi Bohan leads students out of the classroom, across the medicinal herb garden and into the campus forest, where they stand face-to-trunk with giants and take a moment to behold the tree of life.Close-up of cedar bark

In a natural health education, there is a time for laboratory research, molecular biology, human anatomy and all sorts of endeavors best pursued indoors. But Northwest Herbs is a time for stepping into the forest, breathing in its dank fertile song, and learning something of the creatures who dwarf us and the people who arrived before us.

From Northwest Native Americans we can learn the diverse medicinal uses of Oregon grape and licorice ferns. We learn that stinging nettle, among the first green shoots to rocket from the ground each spring, makes a fine tonic tea. We learn that ripe pink salmonberries in early summer mean salmon have returned from the ocean. We learn that blooming dogwoods mean the clams are ready for harvest. We learn that the dense wood of Western yew makes a halibut hook sink to the bottom of the Salish Sea and that lighter yellow cedar, the other half of a halibut hook, flips the lure after it sinks to attract the massive bottom-dwelling creatures. Today halibut fishers use modern materials but the same sound design.

From natives of Cascadia we learn that camas bulbs and salal berries make nourishing cakes for the winter. We learn that soapberries can be whipped into a delicious frothy dessert. From the elaborate festivals known as potlatches we learn of the inescapable human need to feast now and then. We learn the central truth of potlatch ceremonies: That a person is wealthy in proportion to what he gives away — smoked clams, herring eggs, salal cakes or, in Bohan's case, vast stores of knowledge about indigenous people.

Bohan teaches in campus gazebo

"We've disconnected from our relationship with plants," says Bohan, who has immersed herself in ethnobotany and native culture, marrying into the Haida tribe, learning woodcarving and basketry from tribal elders, and reconnecting people with plants at Northwest schools and nonprofits. Much of her knowledge and passion is captured in her book, The People of Cascadia. It gets passed on to her students, who see the land with new eyes after her class.

For students in Bastyr's undergraduate herbal sciences program, Northwest Herbs is one last hurrah in the spring quarter of their senior year, a reminder that the teas and tinctures they learned to wield have their roots, always, in the earth. For students in the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program, the class is a chance to consider exactly how the vis medicatrix naturae— the healing power of nature — sprouts and grows and towers above us.

For all of us, the class is a chance to dip a toe in a deep river of knowledge. Over 11 weeks we take walks and hear Bohan's stories, such as the first European settlers who struggled to find a place to dock their ships, the shore so dense with ancient cedars and firs. Or the copious leisure time that native tribes enjoyed, their streams thick with salmon, which let them devote hours to elaborate headdresses and other art. Or the simple story of the forest's succession: Fire or storm disrupting the canopy, red alder leaping up first in a clearing, followed by slower-growing fir, then cedar and finally Western hemlock, the climax tree of the Northwest coastal forest. Salal and ferns and a thousand other things form the understory.

Student weaves basket

Toward the end of the quarter, we research what it takes to build some of the traditional tools of Cascadia. We meet in the campus gazebo and construct (or attempt) baskets, ladles, clam-digging sticks and canoe paddles. Bohan shares her traditional carving tools, acquired over decades of study. We press blades to bare wood, feeling the yield of cedar offering up one more gift.

It's little more than a taste, a handful of berries. Yet it's enough to know there's a feast awaiting those who seek it.

By Jonathan Hiskes, senior marketing communications coordinator

----

Learn more about Bastyr's programs in herbal sciences and naturopathic medicine.

Subscribe to Newsletters

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Events

Apr 24 Admissions

Take advantage of this opportunity to speak with an admissions representative and learn how Bastyr can help you build a career that helps create a healthier world.

Apr 26 Continuing Ed

Fine tune your skills diagnosing and treating trauma with Chinese medicine. We will discuss the heart/kidney axis as the physiological foundation of stability and how to restore integrity to this most important relationship.
April 26-27, Sat-Sun, 9a.m.-5p.m.
Instructor: Lonny Jarrett, MAc, MS, FNAAOM.
(13 CEUs, PDAs, CPEUs)

Apr 26

The gluten-free diet (GFD) is now a multi-billion dollar industry gaining in popularity with the general public. Gluten sensitivity is a controversial subject, where patients who have neither celiac disease (CD) nor wheat allergy have varying degrees of symptomatic improvement on the GFD. Dive deeper into the world of gluten for your own health or the health of your patients.
April 26, Sat, 9a.m.-5p.m.
Instructor: Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACB.
(6.5 CEUs, CMEs, CPEUs)

Recent News

Naturopathic doctors can become licensed health care providers as Maryland becomes the latest state recognizing naturopathic medicine.

David Tolmie, BS ('06), MLIS, combines psychology and technology skills to help students navigate the fast-changing world of evidence-informed medicine.

Coquina Deger, MBA, and David Siebert fill key roles as part of President’s Cabinet

Herbal sciences students cook up foods with love -- and health-giving herbs -- in a popular lab class.

The actor and author joins us for a Q-and-A before her May 22 talk at Bastyr's Spring for Health Luncheon.

Press

Bastyr University Nutrition Faculty Member Receives Prestigious State Honor

The public is invited to a free community event to explore Bastyr University’s teaching clinic

Teaching clinic earns second consecutive year of stellar results in regional patient satisfaction survey

In the Media

FOX Q13: Bastyr University's Ellie Freeman Discusses the FDA’s New Food Labels
Bothell-Kenmore Reporter: Bastyr Center for Natural Health Expands Integrative Oncology Services
Puget Sound Business Journal: Bastyr University's President Daniel Church to Retire

Health Tips

It's important to be mindful about how we use technology. Here are some tips for a healthful relationship with digital technology.

Here are some ways to eat an inexpensive and well-balanced diet consisting of many nutritious whole foods.

Here's how to create a healthy posture to improve your health.

The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods.

While tax season can be daunting and stressful, these are simple, easy ways to help lighten the load.