From: Jessica Wapner, Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published September 8, 2011 08:29 AM

The struggle to save Alaska's 'illness-busting' wild berries

Despite being used to treat diabetes and infections, knowledge of Alaska's wild berries is in danger of being lost as young indigenous people embrace western lifestyles.

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In the remote whaling village of Point Hope, Alaska, the tundra is carpeted with wild berries during the brief but potent summer. For centuries, berry picking has been a galvanising event for this 850-person community. Family members will drop everything, pack a picnic lunch and head out in their all-terrain vehicles to the gently sloping hillsides, where the tiny berries sweeten an otherwise vacant landscape. The berries, which include blueberries, salmon berries and mossberries, are used to treat diabetes and infections.

But in recent years a rift has been growing between the generations. The elders of the native Inupiaq tribe are holding fast to their traditions, while the younger set gravitates toward modern culture. As the elders die without passing on vital knowledge about their history and their land to the next generation, that next generation is increasingly experiencing the ills of western culture, with diabetes and cancer both on the rise - paradoxically the extroadinary health benefits of the berries are in danger of being lost.

A unique science education program is aiming to change all this; the venture is teaching the younger Inupiaqs the value of this precious, natural, commodity.

Article continues: http://www.theecologist.org/investigations/health/1045099/the_struggle_to_save_alaskas_illnessbusting_wild_berries.html

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