Maskwiomin Skin Care
The traditional Mi’kmaq skincare remedy known as Maskwiomin is based on the natural power of birch bark. But this knowledge was almost lost to time, as only two Elders in the First Nation community of Membertou in Sydney, Nova Scotia, remembered its origin.
The story begins with a mother suffering from a skin ailment across her chest, making it difficult for her newborn baby to nurse. In hopes of healing the outbreak and helping the baby feed, a Mi’kmaq midwife prepares a Maskwiomin ointment and applies it to the mother’s chest, curing the skin ailment and saving the baby’s life.
Over 25 years ago, Maskwiomin co-founder and Mi'kmaq elder Tuma Young pieced together these lost stories and rediscovered the traditional Mi’kmaq method to extract birch bark's medicinal compounds. Tuma is Mi’kmaq and originally from Malagawatch, a small community at the western shore of the Bras d’or of Unamaki/ Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. As an ethnobotanist, Tuma collected hundreds of medicinal plant stories and recipes to preserve Mi’kmaw knowledge as elders and Knowledge Holders are passing on.
Dr. Matthias Bierenstiel is a Professor of Chemistry at Cape Breton University who developed the new proprietary extractor technology that mimics the conditions in a campfire, used to create Maskwiomin formulas.
Dr. Bierenstiel joined Tuma with his chemistry expertise almost 10 years ago on The Birch Bark Project. To date, they’ve received more than $1.05 million in health research funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study the health benefits of the birch bark extract. This is currently the most significant health research grant of this kind at Cape Breton University.
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Maskwiomin is licensed under Health Canada for cosmetics and skincare products. However, the health research project aims to have this traditional Mi’kmaq knowledge recognized as a natural health product.