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Nah 'wess "Soap Berries" with Sarah Hein

Nah 'wess "Soap Berries" with Sarah Hein

Jun 29, 2016
Category: Traditional Foods & Medicines Carrier 101 

Berry harvesting season in the Carrier territory is here!

One of the first berries available for harvesting is the nah 'wess berry, also known as 'soap berries'. These tiny red transparent berries are harvested by picking them by hand, or by laying a blanket or pail below the bush and hitting it with a stick to knock the berries off the bush and catch them. The berries are then cleaned and prepared in a variety of ways.

A favorite Carrier summer treat made from the nah 'wess berry is 'indian icecream'. Indian icecream is made by hand beating the berries and adding sugar until the consistency is like whipped cream and the bitter flavors are balanced out by the sugar.

Nah 'wess berries are found around the Carrier territory in dry to moist open woods and thickets

Nah 'wess is also used widely as a traditional medicine by many Carrier people. It can be preserved in canning jars, boiled, frozen, smoked or dried as friut bars. 

The health benefits of nah 'wess are numerous and include high concentration of vitamin c, fiber, carbohydrates, antioxidants and immune system boosters.

Carrier people have traditionally used the berries and juice medicinally. In the Aboriginal Medicines I - Harvesting and Preservation Manual (CSFS and UNBC, 2004) nah 'wess was noted to have the following uses:

"Soap berries you can use as medicine you can eat it raw but its sour its good for cancer or you can drink the juice of it when you can take a teaspoon a day" - Julie Jacques

"Soap berry bush can be used for TB, colds and cancer" - Irene Skin

"You boil it and drink the juice, and thats good for the heart" - Lottie French

Sarah Hein, CSFS Nurse Educator and member of Stellaquo First Nation spent many a day in her youth picking and preserving berries with her mother; in those days there was no refridgeration to keep them from spoiling. 

Check out the video below to hear Sarah share information about the nah 'wess berry, and also share words in her mothers Wet'suwet'en dialect.


The Carrier (Wet'suwet'en dialect) words Sarah shared in her video were:

  • hadih - hello
  • so h'en tzin? - how are you?
  • nah 'wess - soap berry
  • dull'h k'hun - red 
  • la'suc - sugar
  • mi'h - berries
  • a 'whet 'zeh - that is all
  • musi - thank you

Traditionally, nah 'wess berries were a major trade item. Today the berries are still highly valued and are often exchanged as gifts. Late June to mid July is prime nah 'wess harvesting time in most of the Carrier territory. We encourage you to head out and pick some for yourself! 

© Carrier Sekani Family Services, 2016. Written by Sarah Hein. 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 prescritption of food or traditional Carrier medicine, nor are these references to be used in the treatment of ailmanets or conditions without extensive hands on training from a knowledge holder, in collaboration / consultation with a medical professional.


  • Aboriginal Health Sciences FNST 280-3 (2004) CSFS and UNBC, Page 64-65
  • Plants and Medicines of Sophie Thomas (2004) Sophie Thomas, Page 37

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Last modified: Monday 19-Dec-22 15:19:48 PST