They sprout in untidy tangles from sidewalk cracks and root down stubbornly amid the showy perennials we so carefully cultivate. They erupt in thorny backyard clusters, shoulder out our favored vegetables and thrive on the trammeled margins of society.
People generally put weeds in the category of bothersome nuisance. But Katrina Blair sees in weeds something entirely different: nourishment, culinary potential, wellness and a key to human resilience.
Blair is a Durango-based wild-food forager, teacher, Turtle Lake Refuge founder and grower. She extols the virtues of her favorite weeds in her book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival.
The 358-page book, released in November 2014, is a charming collection of photographs, recipes and writing on the culinary and medicinal benefits of some of Earth’s most common edible weeds. And Wild Wisdom’s ambitions go beyond didactic plant guidebook: spread through its pages is a pitch for human survival based on tapping into the wild intelligence of nature and utilizing what it so readily offers.
Because weeds do, after all, grow like weeds.
Blair, who fell in love with plants as a child and began foraging for wild edibles when she was a teenager, said she always knew she would write a wild food guidebook. So when she was approached by Chelsea Green Publishing to write a book, she had just the thing in mind. And she had already started on it.
In Wild Wisdom, Blair spotlights dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter and knotweed. When asked why she chose these 13, Blair contends that they actually chose her. She has encountered them in travels all over the world, from Japan to the Philippines and the Arctic, and they make themselves readily available.
“There are amazing things that these wild plants do,” Blair says. “They clean the earth and they clean our bodies. They are just such a gift, and we have them growing wildly and freely everywhere around us.”
“They are edible as food and they are all easy to access and find and identify,” she says.
The book, which is part field-guide, part memoir and part philosophical treatise, walks readers through the basics of each plant, expounding on its beneficial qualities before offering tips on harvesting, preserving and preparing. Wild Wisdom also features poems, drawings and Blair’s lighthearted musings on the weed world.
Readers will learn that amaranth is anti-inflammatory and chickweed draws toxins out of the body; clover is an expectorant and knotweed stimulates the heart. Take these weeds into the kitchen, meanwhile, and the possibilities are vast. Recipes run the gamut from thistle root kraut to purslane peach pie, mallow milk shake, sprouted lambsquarter tabouli and dandelion pesto.
Knowledgeable as she is, Blair says researching the book was eye opening. “I was already in love with these plants, but when I went into depth … I was blown away by them,” she says. “These wild, resilient crops are so rich as a resource for food and nutrition. And what I think came through more and more was that they can help us be self-reliant where we live. It’s pretty powerful.”
By welcoming weeds into our kitchens and our lives, Blair contends, we humans can better connect with our innate knowledge of how to survive in harmony with, and make wiser and more passionate decisions about caring for, our planet.
“The more of us humans who are eating wild, the more of a stronger advocate we can be for caring for the earth,” she says.
Amen. That calls for a glass of dandelion juice, and maybe even a sprouted clover cookie. /