Durham audience learns about plant-based medicines

Joseph Pitawanawkat talks at Durham College about plant-based medicines. Photo credit: Leslie Ishimwe

Plant-based medicines can heal diseases such as breast cancer, clean lungs and help women during their pregnancy.

That’s the message Joseph Pitawanawkat delivered at the First Peoples Indigenous Centre at Durham College Nov. 6.

Pitawanawkat, from Manitoulin Island, was available for five hours at the centre to speak to people about his background in plant-based medicine.

“My grandma when she was growing up, she had very little access to a hospital, so if she got sick or injured she had to know what kind of medicine to fix herself so this is where all of this comes from,” says Pitawanawkat, who is referred to as a traditional knowledge keeper.

Pitawanawkat is passionate about sharing the “legitimacy” of plant-based medicines.

Pitawanawkat says he and his wife started to learn about the medicines and thought they should start sharing their knowledge about four years ago.

They created their own business – called Creators Gardens – which is a community-based business for now as they’re still introducing the medicines.

Different plant-based medicines. Photo credit: Leslie Ishimwe

“We harvest almost all of these on Manitoulin,” says Pitawanawkat. “We were walking for over 25 kilometres a day for 13 days to be able to find everything and pick it all.”

The Prickly Ash is one of the medicines Pitawanawkat presented. He says it can make “your mouth watery, heal pain around your gums for a certain amount of time,” and kill bacteria as well.

Pitawanawkat also told an audience of about 15 students and faculty about tamoxifen, which he says can help cure breast cancer.

He also mentioned Sweet Cicely, a plant Cree women used during pregnancy to avoid having children born with Down syndrome.

Pitawanawkat says the medicines are not limited to Indigenous people and anyone can use them. He says some of the plants can grow in a garden or on farmland while others need to harvest in their natural habitat, such as lung medicines.

Some guests at the centre sampled tea made by Pitawanawkat, which included plant-based medicines.