Indigenous leader shares traditional knowledge of B.C. plants for Earth Day

Guided walks through Beacon Hill Park provide insight to historical uses of Camas, Indian Plum, snow berries

The sun was shining, the weather was warm and there was no better way to celebrate Earth Day than spending the afternoon learning about the histories of some of its native plants.

The Victoria Natural History Society and the Friends of Beacon Hill Park held a day of guided nature walks focused on the Garry oak ecosystem, on the 27th anniversary of Camas Day.

John-Bradley Williams, an ethnobotanist from the Tsawout Nation spoke to participants about the Camas plant, as he led a walk through fields where the lavender-coloured flower has grown natively for centuries.

Camas is so rampant on the South Island, Williams said the scale at which it was propagated and harvested was prolific. Indigenous people would plant the toxic strain of the plant along the edges of the water to deter enemies from approaching the land.

“When our visitors got into our territories they would look out at meadows of these and think they were looking at lakes,” Williams told a a few dozen people of all ages on his tour.

RELATED: Celebrate Earth Day with guided walks through Beacon Hill Park

Some experts can tell the difference between the edible and the death Camas by feeling the leaves, he added, saying death by Camas is a slow and painful one.

“That’s definitely one that’s reserved for your enemy,” he said jokingly.

Williams also shared his knowledge around the plant Symphoricarpos, commonly known as snow berries.

“We can get three different medicines from this plant,” he explained, adding the plant aids in everything treating everything from eczema to swimmer’s itch to helping stroke sufferes regain the use of their muscles.

“You just take the berries themselves and apply to the afflicted area,” Williams said. “It absorbs a lot faster than any pharmaceutical medicine and helps heal a lot faster than pharmaceutical medicines.”

The group toured its way along other plants, tasting the leaves of the Indian Plum, some taking notes and asking questions.

For more information on what the Friends of Beacon Hill Park are up to, visit them online at


Participants on a guided walk through Beacon Hill Park taste the plant of the Oemleria shrub, sometimes called the Indian Plum. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Participants on a guided walk through Beacon Hill Park chat with First Nations ethnobotanist, John-Bradley Williams. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Victorians gathered in Beacon Hill Park to celebrate Earth Day learning about the Camas plant, grown natively in the region. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

First Nations ethnobotanist John-Bradley Williams, of the Tsawout Nation, teaches participants on a guided walk through Beacon Hill Park, on Earth Day. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

The Camas flower, as seen growing natively in Beacon Hill Park. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

A tiny participants in the Earth Day guided walks through Beacon Hill Park all but disappears in the grass while learning about the history of the plants native to the region. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

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