Youth Ambassador Program

Inspired by Sámi artist Geir Tore Holm’s Secret Hidden Garden, the Youth Ambassador program was centred on the care and harvesting of eight plants grown discreetly in a corner of the National Gallery’s Sunken Garden. Ten Youth Ambassadors met on a regular basis with four community volunteers: Paula Chewinsky, Jennifer King, Anna Maria Paluch and Heather Wiggs. One goal of the program was to transfer knowledge about the plants from the volunteers to the youth, and for the youth to share their own knowledge and observations. Each volunteer took a turn between program meetings to water and weed the garden.

What We Learned


Youth Ambassador Hunter taught us that:

  • Yarrow can be made into tea and is good for colds. It is recommended mainly for severe colds (not for mild ones).
  • The Latin meaning of yarrow is “one thousand leaves.”
  • Yarrow can be used to treat puncture wounds and to stop heavy bleeding.
  • Some people in Norway pick and chew Yarrow to help with toothaches. Hunter wasn’t sure if the Yarrow in Norway is the same as in North America, so we decided not to try it!
  • In Sweden, Yarrow is used to make beer.

As a group, we learned that:

  • Yarrow is good for the immune system.
  • There are different varieties of Yarrow.
  • Yarrow leaves remind us of ferns and of carrot tops.
  • From Paula, we learned that yarrow is a very common wild plant. The yarrow in the Secret Hidden Garden is more condensed and bushy than the type normally seen around here in fields or on the side of roads, which is tall with lots of little white flowers.


Youth Ambassador Riley taught us that:

  • Arnica is part of the sunflower family.
  • It’s not sensitive to altitude, so it can grow really high on a mountain or really low in a cave.
  • Arnica is an ingredient in anti-inflammatory products. It helps with bruises, swelling, backaches, things like that. However, if you use it for too long, it can cause itching and eczema!
  • Arnica is also known as Wolfsbane (like in the TV show Grim), Leopard’s Bane and Mountain Tobacco.
  • It has been used for medicinal purposes since 1523.
  • Arnica is actually native to Europe and Siberia, but is cultivated only in North America.

As a group, we learned that:

  • Arnica is poisonous! It is good for treating sore muscles and joints, bruises and pain. It should not be used for treating open wounds.
  • One way to use Arnica is to make a poultice, which is made by mashing up part of the plant and spreading it on a cloth. The cloth is then placed over the body part in need.
  • We weren’t sure which part of the plant to use as medicine, the flowers, leaves, or roots.
  • Roots, leaves, and flowers often have different medicinal uses. As you spend more time with a plant, and get to know it, you learn which parts to harvest for what use.
  • From her research, Riley thought that arnica could also be used to make medicinal tea (maybe from the roots). Nobody knew for certain. Remember, we need to find out for sure before anyone tries it!
  • From Anna, we learned that arnica flowers can be yellow, purple, white or pink. She thinks arnica usually lasts until about September.


As a group, we learned that:

  • The centre of the echinacea flower is cone-shaped and very sturdy.
  • Echinacea is also known as “Cone Flower” because of its shape.
  • The flowers are usually purple, but you can also find white ones.
  • The leaves are kind of stiff and fuzzy. They feel a bit prickly.
  • Echinacea plants grow to be about 1-2 feet tall.
  • Echinacea can be used to boost the immune system and treat colds.
  • It can be made into medicinal tea, but we weren’t sure which part of the plant to use.
  • Echinacea is sold in health food stores in liquid or pill form. The liquid is yellow and has a very strong taste!


As a group, we learned that:

  • Sweetgrass is a traditional medicine. You can braid it when it’s fresh, and burn it when it dries.
  • Over the summer, people who visited the garden shared different traditions about how to harvest it. Some people were taught not to pick the root. Others were taught that you should pick the root, because that’s where the medicine is.
  • Sweetgrass grows fatter at the bottom and smaller at the top.
  • You should never run your fingers from the top (skinny end) to the bottom (fat end) of the plant. Sweetgrass is covered in little ‘hairs’ that are actually really sharp, and will scratch and cut your skin!
  • Sweetgrass grows and spreads very quickly. It has a lot of roots.
  • We weren’t sure if sweetgrass could be used in food or cooking.

Anise Hyssop

Youth Ambassador Alicia taught us that:

  • Anise Hyssop is used to treat to stomach flu and breathing problems.
  • It makes great honey and is very, very fragrant.
  • It attracts a lot of bees!
  • Anise Hyssop can grow in sun or shade.
  • It tastes like black licorice.
  • The leaves are used in salad, tea and candy.

As a group, we learned that:

  • Anise Hyssop attracts a lot of bugs! Not just bees, but spiders, grass hoppers, praying mantis and more!
  • Up close, the flowers sort of look like tiny purple bells.
  • If you eat too many leaves, your tongue will turn green!
  • Paula taught us that anise is part of the mint family. It’s really good for digestion. People sometimes have mint tea after dinner to help calm their digestive system. Anise Hyssop can be used the same way.
  • Anna taught us that there are different types of Anise. She knows more about the kind that grows in Europe, which looks like fennel. Both can be used for making candy.

Black-Eyed Susan

As a group, we learned that:

  • Hunter thinks that squirrels like black-eyed Susans. There used to be a big patch by her house and she would always see squirrels nibbling at them.
  • Black-eyed Susans attract flies.
  • From JJ, we learned that when flowers don’t smell very good, they attract flies.
  • Like other plants, the seeds are found in the centre of the flower. You can use the flower to try to grow a new plant. The flower should be planted upside down.
  • The black-eyed Susan is strong and easy to grow. One of the ladies who visited the garden told us that her daughter considers it a weed. She keeps trying to get rid of it, but it always comes back!
  • Paula taught us that the black-eyed Susan has some of the same properties as Echinacea. One way to recognize the black-eyed Susan is by the cone shaped flower. It also has fuzzy leaves, but they’re a bit softer than the Echinacea.
  • Like Echinacea, the black-eyed Susan can be used to boost the immune system and treat colds.
  • It can also be used to treat sores by making a poultice.
  • You make a poultice by mashing up part of the plant and spreading it on a cloth. The cloth is then placed over the sore or body part in need. We weren’t sure which part of the plant to use.
  • Someone (Heather?) told us that the black-eyed Susan can be used to treat worms in children. We couldn’t remember how though!


Youth Ambassador JJ taught us that:

  • There are two types of sage. This sage has spear shaped leaves. The other type has leaves that look more like the black-eyed Susan.
  • This type of sage is more commonly used in cooking. It has fuzzy leaves and no flowers.
  • The other type flowers in blue, pink, white or purple. It does not have fuzzy leaves.
  • If you grow sage in your garden you can make a lot of money, because sage is worth a lot.
  • Sage grows best if it’s planted in sandy dirt and has 100% sunlight for the whole day.

As a group, we learned that:

  • This type of sage is common to the area. Anna described the other type as greener and less fluffy.
  • Sage is a traditional medicine. Once dry, it can be burned and used for smudging.

The Youth Ambassadors also raised awareness about the Sakahàn youth programming at two annual events: the Odawa Friendship Centre’s Annual Powwow at the Ottawa-Nepean Tent and Trailer Park in May, and the Aboriginal Summer Solstice at Vincent Massey Park in June.