A Jargon word for edible cambium

“What does that even mean?” some will be asking 🙂 Which goes to show you that it’s never been put into Chinook Jargon dictionaries!

Definition of cambium from Dictionary.com


A cylindrical layer of tissue in the stems and roots of many seed-bearing plants, consisting of cells that divide rapidly to form new layers of tissue. Cambium is a kind of meristem and is most active in woody plants, where it lies between the bark and wood of the stem.

It’s been compared to stem cells! Yum!

Cambium of various tree species, harvested by peeling away some living bark and scraping this edible layer off with a tool made of antler, stone, etc., was a widely used traditional springtime food. (I’m told it’s sweetish, and I consider plain oatmeal sweet, so I’ll probably agree when I try some!)

So when you run into the expression CMT, “culturally modified trees”, you’re likely to encounter traces of cambium gathering. I had mild difficulty finding a photo of this specifically, so here is a wonderful one of an arborglyph CMT from Namgis (Kwakwaka‘wakw territory; credit to Northwest Coast Anthropology blog):


CMT: arborglyph (Northwest Coast Anthropology blog)

There’s a section on cambium use in Nancy Turner’s book “Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge” that’s well worth your attention.

You may also enjoy a thorough, focused investigation of traditional cambium gathering from a single species, lodgepole pine, by Megan Dilbone of my alma mater UVic.

Now having oriented you to the significance of today’s discovery, I’ll pick up on that last source and go right to it.

Some Indians camped near us now engaged in preparing the cambium layer of the scrub pine. (Stick a muck-a-muck or food) They scrape it off in long ribbons and put these in two layers, one across the other, spread the sheets so formed, which resemble mats, on poles to dry.

— George Mercer Dawson, June 12, 1876, Euchiniko Lakes, BC (quoted by Dilbone 2011:1 from Cole and Lockner 1989:207)

GM Dawson, who you’ll encounter elsewhere in my website (here and here), was a reasonably reliable observer of Native practices and languages.

Here he’s being told by Tsilhqot’in people (Chilcotin) in Chinook Jargon that edible cambium is known as stick (i.e. ‘tree’)  muck-a-muck (i.e. ‘food’; the first a is extraneous).

I find this a convincing report, and I’m adding this new expression to the Great Chinuk Wawa Dictionary that will compile, for once, everything we know in one place.