FARMINGTON — Sumac, Virginia creeper, snakeweed and juniper berries were among the plants Kirtland Central High School students examined during a recent camp that focused on the role science and technology plays in using plants for medicinal reasons.
Eight students participated in a two-week STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — session devoted to ethnobotany and studying plant life on the Navajo Nation. The session aimed to improve students' scientific skills like observation, data collection and experimental design, said science teacher Ann Aboyme.
Aboyme said the focus of the camp, which wrapped up Friday, was to study how plants on the Navajo Nation affect and help the community. Students also compared those plants to commercial products that claim to tackle health issues like muscle aches and bug bites.
Aboyme worked with fellow science teacher Rilla Kramer and English teacher Kate Malone to help students search for plants to use for potential herbal remedies.
"Technology has been part of human evolution and development since the beginning of time," Kramer said. "What makes us human is modification of our world to benefit us."
In the first week, students took part in a plant walk on the Navajo Nation guided by a game warden with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife. Students each found 10 plants to bring back to the classroom to examine.
Each plant specimen was labeled with its scientific name, description, the location it was found, its common and Diné name and its specific uses, influences and effects.
During the session, student Delaney West concocted a juniper berry ointment using a recipe she found on the Internet. West said the ointment is used for mild joint pain or muscle aches. She used olive oil and beeswax to make it.
"The instructor tried it on her knees, and she ended up feeling better, and we had the other students try it in different areas, and they said they felt better," West said.
Emily Hunt, another student, made a snakeweed-based poultice to use as an antiseptic on her show pigs after they are castrated to avoid infection.
Hunt compared what happened when she used scarlet oil on one of her pigs and snakeweed on another. She said she was surprised by the results.
"The snakeweed left no scar and looked good. The scarlet oil left a big scar," West said.
Student Seldon Watson said he learned about ethnobotany — the study of the relationship between humans and plant life — and he hopes to learn more about the topic in the future.
"I didn't know it was going to be about ethnobotany, but it made me more interested in plants and what they are capable of," Watson said.