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G'oos "Cow Parsnip" - Traditional Carrier First Nations Vegetables & Medicines

G'oos "Cow Parsnip" - Traditional Carrier First Nations Vegetables & Medicines

Apr 20, 2016
Category: General Traditional Foods & Medicines 

The forests of North Central British Columbia are home to many plants, animals, and foodstuffs that have sustained the Carrier people for thousands of years. One of these plants, G'oos (pronounced G-wus) - also known commonly as Cow Parsnip has been historically used by the Carrier as a food source and medicine.

A relative of the celery family, traditionally G'oos was harvested in the spring when the leaves and shoots were still young. In times long ago, before global warming started to affect our seasons, the shoots were harvested until the first week of July in lower lying areas around Saik'uz. After this time, they could be harvested in higher mountain regions in the Takla Lake area. After spring, the leaves and stocks turned bitter and thus were not good for eating.

G'oos needs to be carefully identified by someone who has had extensive training to distinguish it from the extremely poisonous look-a-like plants water hemlock and poison hemlock.

Traditionally, the stalks or leaf stems were peeled and eaten raw, boiled, or roasted. It was also split into strips and air dried in the sun to preserve it, and later eaten with eulachon grease or fish. Other Carrier ways of using g'oos included:

  • "Indian Rhubarb (cow parsnip) the outer bark is removed and the inner core is eaten raw or can be fried up with a little bit of grease." - Catherine Abraham
  • "The outer shell is peeled and the white inner tube is eaten raw and the leaves are used to dry Saskatoons or berries." – Alec Johnny
  • "Cow parsnip leaves people use to dry berries on them then store the dried berries away for winter" – Johnny Joseph
  • "Cow parsnip when young can be eaten raw they taste like rhubarb". – Peter Abraham
  • "The root part, don't eat that. You die just like a cow. Poisonous. I don't like to use it around kids because they'll think it's a turnip and they'll eat it. You have to really destroy it when you use it. Don't leave it around for kids to find" – Sophie Thomas

Erica Marciniec of WildFoodGirl says its important to note that eating g'oos can lead to a nasty sun related skin reaction if not harvested and processed properly. Great care must be taken when gathering and using this plant as a food source. 

Medicinally, the Carrier and Gitxan people washed and ground the roots into powder for topical (external) use on sore joints.

  • "Cow Parsnip. Good for arthritis. " – Sophie Thomas
  • "This woman had arthritis and her kids gave her a bath in wild rhubarb they laid her down on the towel with wild rhubarb because she had arthritis, now she's running around doing fish and berry picking" – Julie Jacque

Other Carrier medicinal uses have been noted as follows:

  • "Balsam cone mixed with kis (cow parsnip) and Labrador tea (ladih mus tsik) is used for cough medicine" – Peter Abraham
  • "This kind of medicine, they use for impetigo" – Peter Abraham

This paper from the Journal of Ethno Biology outlines some of the traditional use of g'oos from various British Columbia First Nations.

Photos used with permission from

© Carrier Sekani Family Services, 2016. Written by Marlaena Mann. All Rights Reserved.

The information in this post is intended to help preserve Carrier First Nations health and sustenance knowledge, for educational purposes and historical record. This information is not a guide to the preparation or prescription of food or traditional Carrier medicine, nor are these references to be used in the treatment of ailments or conditions without extensive hands on training from a knowledge holder, in collaboration/consultation with a medical professional.


  • Aboriginal Health Sciences FNST 282-3 (2004) UNBC and CSFS, Page 35-36
  • Carrier of Long Ago (1992) School District 57, Page 83
  • Cowparsnip (Winter, 1986) Journal of Ethno Biology Page 309-224
  • Plants of Northern British Columbia (1999) Lone Pine, Page 181

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Last modified: Wednesday 03-Apr-24 12:36:28 PDT