My personal ethnobotanical knowledge recently expanded to include chokecherries. I've known for some time that chokecherries are an important part of my ancestral heritage, but I could never identify them until this week.
My new found knowledge came about in an interesting way. I was standing beside the sweat fire in Wellpinit, when a nearby chokecherry tree caught my eye. The angle of the sunlight shifted slightly and suddenly highlighted the bright red berries against the blue sky. I've been sweating at the same place for almost 20 years, but I never noticed that particular plant. I said to my uncle, "What are those red berries?" He didn't know the answer. In fact, he had never noticed them either.
I was struck by the fact that no one had ever seen these berries, so I broke off a cluster and delivered them to my aunt. She bit one of the bright red berries and said, "These are chokecherries, but they're not ripe. They're one of the last foods to ripen at the end of summer." In the next five minutes, she proceeded to tell me several traditional culinary and medicinal uses for this plant (which I will not recount here).
"I have a chokecherry tree in my yard?" she asked. I guess she had never noticed them either, but in any case, this one brief encounter expanded my cultural knowledge in ways I never expected.
I should mention that I went home and looked up chokecherries on the internet. Many of the published uses correspond to my aunt's account, but I should note that every part of the plant is poisonous except for the fruit. The pits are also poisonous and convert to cyanide in the body. They should be cooked or removed entirely. This one fact highlights the importance of obtaining reliable ethnobotanical knowledge before consuming plants or natural medicines.