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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine

Plants in Human Lives and Livelihoods in the St. John River Watershed

Selling fiddleheads along the road, photo by Michelle Baumflek
Gathering and using wild plants is part of full and meaningful lives for the people with whom we spoke.  The profiles on this website describe ways that people have used plants to get by during lean times or be self-sufficient over the long term, carve out a niche and income for themselves, participate in an informal or barter economy, and feel creative satisfaction.

Gatherers in the region enjoy many benefits from gathering and using plants.  A few such benefits are described below.

Independence and self-sufficiency 

Plants can help people meet their needs for food or medicine or provide a means of economic independence.  One woman who grew up along the Allagash River during the Great Depression weathered this time of national hardship, as did the other children in her family, by gathering berries and fiddleheads while adult relatives preserved them to provide nutritious foods for the coming year.  She still relies on seasonal wild foods to supplement her diet.

Pride and recognition 

The skills necessary to gather and use wild plants can bring pride and recognition when family and community also value that knowledge. A French-Acadian snowshoe maker notes proudly that his handcrafted snowshoes “sell themselves.”  He and another artisan have also been recognized as informal ambassadors of brown ash to people outside their home region.


Many gatherers describe gathering as a supremely pleasant.  A Mi’kmaq basketmaker voices the sentiments of many when he says that time and schedules seem to stand still when he is in the woods.  This enjoyment can create a powerful connection to the land.  A farmer who spins and dyes wool plans special outings for her grandchildren on her land, hoping these experiences will result in stable landownership and stewardship in the younger generation.

Cultural preservation

Gathering plants that are used in traditional foods, medicines, crafts, or celebrations helps gatherers preserve their cultures.  For example, members of the Maine Swedish Colony in Stockholm and New Sweden, Maine gather lupines and other flowers to weave into intricate garlands for their Midsommar (Midsummer) celebration.  Many Native American basketmakers participate in the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes the culture and craftsmanship of basketmaking.  Wild plants are integral to tribal ceremonies and the recovery and preservation of Native cultures.


Plants also enhance gatherers’ lives by fostering feelings of gratitude for their bounty.  Gatherers express gratitude for the ways plants connect them to cultural traditions, other people, and the land itself.  For example, a Mi’kmaq woman always prays and gives thanks before harvesting the medicinal plants that she uses to treat illnesses at home, thus helping her avoid traveling for hospital care that she considers intrusive.

Plants contribute to the lives and livelihoods of all the gatherers we spoke with, but you may be particularly interested in the range of contributions in these gatherers’ profiles:

Brian Theriault
Faye Hafford
Sandi Macdonald
Gene Nadeau
Glenda Wysote-Labillois


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Last Modified: 05/24/2010