Birch bark texture.

Ahtna Kanas Spring 2021

Ahtna Plants: Black and White Spruce

Traditional uses cannot be attributed to a specific species of spruce.

Plant parts used: Inner bark, needles, pitch, tips and twigs.

Medicinal properties: Analgesic, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, disinfectant. Includes beta carotene, starch, sugars, and vitamin C.

Ways to be used: Chew, infusion/decoction, poultice, salve, steam, powder, teas, syrup, wash. Black and White Spruce can be used for relief of coughs, congestion, cuts/scrapes, earaches, frost bite, infections/inflammation, pneumonia, sore throat, toothaches, tuberculosis, influenzas, and arthritis.

  • Tea: boil pitch and bark and drink to relieve symptoms of coughs and colds.
  • Pitch used on cuts and scrapes to keep wounds clean and free of infection. Pitch would sometimes be mixed with animal fat when putting on wounds. Pitch chewed for toothache and headaches. Pitch would be applied to burns to relieve pain and help heal.
  • Gum can be used to seal boats, shelters, and baskets.
  • Spruce tips can be used as a wash for rashes and sores on skin. Spruce tips can be dried and stored to be used later. Spruce tips can be eaten raw.
  • Boiling spruce needles on the stove was a way to keep the house clean by removing germs and infections in the air.

Ahtna words:

  • ts’ebe: spruce
  • ts’abaeli: white spruce; tree
  • tatsaaye’: black spruce: lit. ‘water stunted tree’
  • tsaay: stunted, undersized tree that grows on permafrost or at high elevation; Jack Spruce
  • c’elaats’I: peeled spruce bark
  • t’adzaex: soft sticky pitch; spruce pitch hair dressing, lit. ‘inner gum
  • teenta deltaani: inner spruce sap, lit. ‘that which is among the wood’
  • Kentsii Na’: Tonsina River, Lower Tonsina; said to be derived from kentsaadi spruce bark boat
  • Hwtsaay Nene’: Western Ahtna people, lit. ‘stunted timber people’
  • bic’ecaadzi: spruce bark pot for rendering fish heads
  • c’elaats’i hwnax: spruce-bark house
  • ‘el hwnax: spruce-bough house

Caution: Tea should be drunk (or taken) in moderation and avoided during pregnancy.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented here.