Mawinzo-giizis (berry picking moon)
By Alex Wrobel, GLIFWC Forest Ecologist
Odanah, Wis.—Odanah, Wis.—Mawinzo-giizis is when Ojibwe women and children would take to the woods and gather enough berries to sustain them through the winter months while maintaining the teaching to "take what you need and leave some for someone else and for the Great Spirit as well, so he can give us more next year."
This year we have experienced higher temperatures earlier in the season and some gatherers may have already begun their berry harvesting. Referring to the time of the year when berries are plentiful on the landscape, "mawinzo" means "(s)he picks berries" while "giizis" means "moon." Mawinzo-giizis does not refer to a specific month or range of dates, but rather to when the conditions are ready for the harvest.
Ojibwe families have relied on berries as a form of sustenance throughout their history. Berries that are traditionally gathered during mawinzo-giizis include (but are not limited to):
miskominag—raspberries oshkizhaanimuk—dewberries odatagaagominag—blackberries
miinan—blueberries ode'iminan—strawberries gozigwaakominag—juneberries bibigweminan—elderberries datgaagminan—thimbleberries ookweminan—black cherries
asasaweminan—choke cherries bawa'iminan—pin cherries sewa'kominan—sand cherries
zhaabominan—currants bagwaji bagesaanag—wild plums
Berries were then cleaned, eaten fresh and often preserved for use over the winter months. Berries were preserved in two different ways. In one method, the Ojibwe wove mats from strips of pine bark and laid the berries in the sun until they dried out. Another option was to mix the berries with maple syrup, then pour the mixture onto sheets of birch bark where they were left until dry.
Picking berries was an important activity for women of many generations. Not only were the berries nutritious and tasty, they also became a source of income. Many years ago, when there were limited opportunities for women to earn their own living, berries became a cash crop. The most common and thus most frequently harvested berries in this region are blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
Miinan "Blueberries" (Vaccinium angustifolium)
According to some teachings, star berries were believed to be a gift from the Great Spirit. They were sent from the stars to feed the people and keep them healthy. He marked the bottom of each fruit with a star so that they would never forget where this fruit came from.
The low-bush blueberries of this region were eaten fresh or preserved for later consumption; the dried berries were used as food in stews and pounded into meat to add flavor and help preserve it. There are many documented uses for wild blueberries, and not just as food. Blueberries are also known to be high in tannins (a substance once used to tan leather) so were used to make blue dyes and teas for medicinal and spiritual uses.
The shrubs are often found in open conifer woods, sandy or rocky barrens and old fields. So when harvesting, look for low, straggling shrubs, usually six inches to two feet tall and wide. The berries are ready for harvest when they are dark blue and firm to the touch.
Miskominan "Raspberries" (Rubus ideaus) and Odaatagaagominag "Black Berries" (Rubus allegheniensis)
One of the most loved of the wild summer foods with their jewel-like fruits are raspberries and blackberries. Identifiable by their long drooping and prickly stems, the shrubs are often found near the edges of woodlands, clearings, roadsides and abandoned fields. Fruit production generally peaks between late July and August.
The leaves are taken either before or during flowering and then dried; the berries are taken when ripe and used fresh or dried. The fruits are most often eaten fresh or mixed with sugar and used as dressings.
Fresh Blueberry Sauce
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup water
Combine half the water and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and remaining water in a saucepan. Heat over low-medium heat. Stir occasionally. Bring to boil. Add cornstarch mixture. Return to boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Cool slightly to allow sauce to thicken before serving. Makes approximately 2 cups.
Miskomin Niibish (Raspberry Leaf Tea)
Steep fresh or dried leaves in boiled water for 10 minutes. Raspberry leaf tea is full of vitamins and minerals and is known to have been used for centuries as a folk medicine to treat wounds, diarrhea, colic pain and as a uterine relaxant.
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups crushed wild raspberries or blackberries
2 tbsp. lemon juice
For a "refreshing summer treat," in a saucepan over moderate heat, mix together the water and sugar. Heat to a full boil and boil for 5 minutes. Add berries and lemon juice. Pour the mixture into ice-cube trays or a shallow dish and place in the freezer. When water becomes slushy, stir it to reduce the size of the ice crystals. Repeat at half-hour intervals until the mixture is all coarse ice crystals. Put in the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving. Makes: 4–6 serving
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 lbs. blueberries (or any other berries)
Cornstarch or arrowroot to thicken
Mash the fruit. Reserve some of the water to mix the cornstarch or arrowroot in. Put mashed fruit, sugar and water into pan and bring slowly to boil. Remove from heat and stir in cornstarch mixture. Watch for lumps! Place back on low heat and stir well until thickened to the consistency of pudding.
Note: Can eat this over frybread, ice cream, or biscuits.
When out harvesting your berries, they may be hot from the sun when you pick them. Wrapping them up while they are still warm can cause condensation to develop, and the moisture can cause the berries to begin to rot. For best results, allow them to cool to room temperature before packaging them for storage. Refrigerate them in a covered container. In optimal conditions, they should keep well for about a week.
Freeze berries by spreading them thinly in a single layer on a cookie sheet or in a baking pan, and placing them in the freezer. Once each berry is frozen solid,pour them into plastic freezer bags or storage containers, label and date, then return to the freezer. They will keep at least a year.
Berries can also be dried. Again, spread a thin layer of berries on a baking sheet and place it in the sun for four or five days, or you can choose to dry them in the oven on low heat (150 degrees) for four or five hours. Dried berries should be so dry they rattle; otherwise they will mold. They keep a very long time in a glass jar or plastic bag.