Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany, and Use.
by Harriot V. Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner. Gordon and Breech. 1991. Hardcover. 633 pp. ISBN 2-88124-465-3.

This book is Volume 8 in a series, "Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology." The authors are experts in the area of ethnonutrition. Dr. Kuhnlein is a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Dr. Turner, professor of ethnobotany at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Throughout their careers both have published extensively in the areas of aboriginal Canadian appropriation of plants for food, fiber, and medicine, as well as a host of other uses.

The primary purpose of this volume is to describe and reference published literature on the nutritional properties, botanical characteristics, and ethnic uses of traditional food plants of Canadian indigenous peoples. Although many of the plants described are also found in Northern Europe, the United States, and Alaska, the authors maintain their ethnographic focus only on the use by Canadian indigenous peoples and states immediately bordering Canada, i.e., Alaska and states in the Northern U.S. This volume covers about 1,050 species that were identified as edible available within Canada. The book is extensively referenced and contains lengthy tables and descriptions of edible species. The authors provide as much information as is available on the potential toxicity of some of the edible plants, many of which the readers will recognize as "medicinal" plants. The pages are replete with tables, grouping edible plants by families, as well as black and white photographs of numerous plants.

A typical treatment of a plant will include the common and botanical name, a fairly simple and lucid botanical description, the habitat occurrence, food use, and the food use of related species as well as a "warning" about potential toxicity when appropriate.

Chapter 5 provides an outline overview of all the plants by Latin name, common name, the plants listed in other parts of the text with their Latin name, common name, ethnic use described in Chapter 4, any toxicity that might be noted, a "tea" if the plant has any noted toxicity, as well as distinguishing whether the plant is native or introduced, rare or endangered.

Chapter 6, "Nutrient Values of Traditional Plant Foods," provides over 140 pages of information in table format which gives the published nutrients (when available) of the species covered in this book, plus an extensive bibliography.

Although admittedly this book is not good bedside reading, it is primarily intended as a resource for native peoples, botanists, nutritionists, and other health care professionals who may be working with native peoples, or other people living in rural areas. In addition, this book has extensive value for researchers in the area of human nutrition, health professionals, and even members of the natural food and herb industries who are looking for novel food ingredients as well as the nutritional composition of wild foods. The authors are to be commended for an important contribution in the area of the ethnonutrition of wild edible plants.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal