Ode’iminan (Strawberries)

Berries are an important food for many animals and people, especially in Ojibwe tradition. Berries are not simply something to sprinkle on cereal—they are one of the four sacred foods in Ojibwe culture.


Beautiful beaded ode’imin on this purse!

June is the time the wild strawberries start ripening and begin to appear, glowing like fire in the grass.  The heart shape of the berry gave the strawberry the name ode’imin.  In fact, the word ode’imin translates to heart berry.  Wild strawberries differ from the cultivated strawberries we see in the grocery store.  Wild strawberries are small; a wild strawberry the size of a thumbnail would be considered large.   And,  unlike some of their domestic cousins, wild strawberries are very sweet and have an intense strawberry flavor.  I’ve been told by people who’ve tried them that once you’ve had a wild strawberry, you will never forget it!

In the Ojibwe culture, each plant was given a soul-spirit and some believe the soul-spirit of this fruit was unique, unlike any other.  It is told that the soul-spirit of the strawberry was that of a being not admitted into the Land of Souls and who was returned to earth complete its term of being in the form of this heart-shaped berry.  Other Anishinabeg teachings portray the strawberries as “preserving marital harmony, their heart-shaped form being a reminder to those who may have forgotten, why we live with a loved one” (from Basil Johnson, Ojibwe heritage, taken from “Jiibaakweda Gimiijiminaan, Let’s Cook Our Food” a collection of recipes by Native Harvest, copyright 2003, Morris Press Cookbooks.)


Ode’iminan hiding in the grass

During the summer, when berries were abundant, the Anishinaabeg would eat the berries fresh.  They would also gather the berries to preserve for use over the long winter months.  Berries were preserved in many ways. In one method, the Ojibwe would weave mats from strips of pine bark, lay berries on the mats and leave them in the sun until they dried.  Another option was to mix the berries with maple syrup, pour the mixture onto sheets of birch bark where it was left until it was dry.  Sometimes, berries would be made into little patties.  Then, in the winter, they would boil these patties, sprinkle them with a little maple sugar and they would taste just as sweet as they had in the summer.

Traditional Native American diets were exceptionally healthy, keeping the body and spirit strong.   Many of the berries that Native people gathered, ate and preserved for the long winter months are no exception to this tradition of eating healthy foods.  Strawberries, for example, are an excellent source of vitamin C.   Just 1/2 cup of sliced strawberries provides 68 mg of vitamin C….that is 75% of the daily amount needed by men and 90% of the amount needed by women!  Vitamin C plays an important part in keeping you healthy.  In fact, some experts call vitamin C one of the safest and most effective nutrients around.  Some of the ways vitamin C helps keep you healthy include:

  •  It helps boost your immune system to prevent colds.
  • It helps cuts and wounds heal.
  • It keeps your gums healthy.
  • It helps your body absorb iron and folate from plant sources of food.
  • It keeps your blood vessel walls strong and so protects you from bruising.
  • It helps produce collagen – a connective tissue that holds muscles, bones and other tissues together.

A wild strawberry plant




Wild Greens—Gifts from the Creator

thCAV0VRATGreens were traditionally eaten as fresh shoots and new

leaves in the springtime, before they became bitter and tough in the summer.

In the early spring, after the snow melts and the ground thaws, tender shoots begin to appear.  Traditionally, these new shoots and leaves were eaten like we eat salad today, although there were many variations.  Since salt was not used, salads were flavored by herbs, oil pressed from seeds and especially with a type of vinegar made from fermented, evaporated uncooked maple sap.  In addition to salads, the new shoots were eaten in soups and cooked with meats.

After the long winters of the north, these springtime greens were a beloved reminder of new life, thus this meal was always surrounded by celebration.  Customarily, there would be huge salad eating feasts, enjoying the new leaves and shoots before they became tough, bitter and inedible later in the season.

fiddlehead-food-fern-springWild greens that were traditionally eaten by Ojibwe included wild onions, wild leeks, ostrich ferns (fiddleheads) and many more.

Today the greens in our diet can be eaten all year round.  Even with modern day conveniences, it seems that our bodies begin to crave greens in the spring.  Our greens have moved away from the wild ones of our ancestors.  Now it is much more common to see spinach, lettuce, romaine, radicchio and swiss chard in the salad bowl.

Maple Glazed Salmon

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fats.  These fats help reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protects from hardening of the arteries.  Our bodies do not produce these fats so it is important we eat foods—like salmon and walnuts—that are good sources of them. 

Maple syrup in a food that is central to Ojibwe culture and food.  Because it was labor intensive to collect the sap and boil it down into syrup, it was often used sparingly as just a seasoning by Ojibwe ancestors.  In modern days, we know that maple syrup is high in natural sugars so using it sparingly – as Ojibwe ancestors  did – is still a wise idea.

INGREDIENTS Maple Salmon 500

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp garlic power or garlic salt
  • 1 pound salmon


  1. In a small bowl, mix maple syrup, soy sauce, minced garlic, garlic salt or powder and black pepper.
  2.  Place salmon in a shallow glass baking dish and coat with the maple syrup mixture.  Cover the dish and marinate salmon in the refrigerator, turning once.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake salmon uncovered for 20 minutes or until easily flaked with fork.

Per serving:  265 calories; 12.4 g (9.9 g are healthy fat); 14.1 g carbohydrate; 23.2 g protein.  Serves 4

Sugar Bush

For centuries, maple trees have been tapped for their sweet sap by the native woodland peoples.  Maple syrup was the main seasoning ingredient for the Ojibwe people. 20130502_sugar_bush_lg_5[1]

Maple syrup has been called “one of the world’s healthiest foods” (The World’s Healthiest Foods, Essential Guide to the Healthiest Way of Eating by George Mateljan).  A one quarter cup serving of maple syrup contains more calcium than the same amount of milk and more potassium than a banana.  Maple syrup is also a great source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron.

Maple-flavored syrup, on the other hand, is made up of mostly high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), preservatives and artificial flavorings.  HFCS is an added sugar.  That is, not a naturally occurring sugar.  Added sugars have been linked with many health concerns including type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

Maple syrup in small quantities provides an all natural sweetener.  Despite it’s high sugar content, pure maple syrup is a much healthier sweetener than refined white sugar or HFCS which have been stripped of all their natural nutrients in manufacturing.

Maple syrup does have high levels of natural sugar so it will raise blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes.  For that reason, maple sugar should be used in small amounts and only sparingly.thCAGQTBKU