It’s no secret that Kodiak’s animals and plants have long provided sustenance for those who call the island home. However, one local plant enthusiast has looked beyond the dinner table in terms of what local plants can provide. In recent years, Gayla Pedersen has used her knowledge of traditional Native uses for plants to create her own line of natural products.
“It started a couple of years ago with some encouragement from a couple good friends. And I have this desire to pick and collect herbs and I had jars and jars of them all over my house and a friend of mine said why don’t you make some stuff out of them and sell it.”
She started with some recipes that she collected over the years and turned her collection of herbs into lotions, tinctures, chapsticks, salves and teas. Her goal is to keep it as pure as possible, and she uses organic oils, butters and primarily uses glass packaging and cold processing methods.
Pedersen said every year she develops a favorite ingredient, and this year one of the local plants she focused on was pineapple weed.
“And it’s been a long term relationship trying to develop and get to know this plant and I’ve had some really amazing successes with it. Including things like making a remedy for nightmares, with incredible success. It’s amazing.”
Other plants Pedersen has worked with include devil’s club, hemlock and nettles.
Alutiiq culture includes a long history of using plants for medicinal purposes, and Pedersen said her products follow those traditional applications, but are often developed using modern methods.
“Like for the nightmare remedy – I use vegetable glycerin, which is totally a modern thing. But I use it for nightmares – which is a very classic, traditional use of the plant. As well as other things like making pulpous – you know, simply crushing fresh plants and applying them to affected areas and wounds.”
Pedersen said her products have helped her with her own medical problems and a desire to explore options beyond pharmaceuticals and western medicine.
Aside from an apprenticeship with a master herbalist in New Zealand, Pedersen has had no formal training in botany. Instead she’s invested the past 10 years in hands-on experience and learning on her own – something she thinks is far more valuable than anything else she might have pursued.
Her company is called Sun’amek Teas and Botanicals, and Sun’amek means “from Kodiak” in Alutiiq.
Pedersen will present some of her botanical traditions tonight at 7 p.m. in the Alutiiq Museum as part of the museum’s ongoing fall lecture series. She said the lecture will cover a variety of topics – including her experiences with the plants and where they’ve brought her throughout her life.