“When she told me she 76 years old I was awestruck at how active she was in picking chokecherries for members of the Wind River Reservation community,” Sally Palmer contacted Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk of Wind River Grow Our Own 307 and mentioned that the Laramie community had thousands of chokecherries that she walks by each day. She said, “It makes me sad to see so much of them go to waste.” An agreement was made that if Sally could get some volunteers to help her pick the berries, she would send them via postal mail.
“At first I thought no way can chokecherries be mailed, they will go bad,” Perez-Good Voice Elk said, “But then they arrived, and after opening the package I took a hand full of berries and instantly thought who shall I give them to, I don’t want them to go bad.” The chokecherries had made it to the Wind River Reservation.
Because of the vast expanse of the area where Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk lives on the land, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, Darrah at first thought…gas to get from point A to point B would be an issue. Her first instinct was to sell the berries for a small price, but the demand was so high that the berries were gone before even leaving the gas station.
With a call coming in the next day from Chesie Lee of the Riverton Peace Mission, the news was… another box of chokecherries had arrived. Once opened a note inside read, “3500 cherries carefully picked.” Was Sally Palmer counting all the chokecherries one by one, this was a question Darrah had asked.
The Native American classify chokecherries as a medicinal food. The healing properties are within the pit of the berry. Amygdalin and prunasin create hydrogen cyanide. In small quantities hydrogen cyanide can stimulate respiration and can help promote digestion. In small amounts it is also known to fight cancer cells. The fair warning is that in consumption of large amounts hydrogen cyanide is deadly and can result in serious injury or death.
The ancestors knew that all good things came with consuming the berries in moderation. This is something that is still being taught today in Native communities.
“I remember when my late grandmother would pull out her grinder and grind up chokecherries. She even ground up the pit to make chokecherry gravy,” Darrah says. “I never knew while growing up that the gravy was not only a traditional food but also contained medicinal properties.”
Today, Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk likes to learn about the different health benefits created by eating the foods of her ancestors whether through foraging or creating and growing gardens through the nonprofit Wind River Grow Our Own 307. The goal of the program is to bring back food sovereignty through gardening, and through the teaching and continued learning of medicinal food properties to aid in the health and wellness of the Wind River Reservation population.
Members of Wind River Grow Our Own 307 can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org