Perhaps the hot springs had something to do with it, but when I sat down to review Katrina Blair’s book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014), I found myself enjoying a sort of inner peace.
The book features chapters on 13 edible, medicinal, and useful plants, found worldwide, that are widely considered “weeds.” These include amaranth, chickweed, clover, dandelion, dock, grass, prostrate knotweed, lambs’ quarters, mallow, mustard, plantain, purslane, and thistle. Blair travels abroad often to speak on wild plants, and she chose the 13 because she come across them regularly in her travels.
She considers them to be “essential plants for human survival,” not from a survivalist perspective, but because they are abundant, free to harvest, and readily available to people around the world. Also, she writes that these plants contain “exceptional nutrient density,” and “offer a host of attributes that provide simple solutions to many of the basic requirements that we need to live in a prime state of health.” The book teaches how to make use of the 13 plants for food, medicine, and even self-care products like lotions and shampoo.
A lifelong lover of plants, Blair earned a graduate degree in holistic health education from John F. Kennedy University in California. In 2009 she published a book of wild, raw, and living foods recipes entitled Local Wild Life: Turtle Lake Refuge Recipes for Living Deep.
In The Wild Wisdom of Weeds (2014), she takes her ideas a step further, promoting a way of life while delving deep into the 13 featured plants. She encourages self-reliance by having us utilize the local abundance around us, and describes the book as “a journey about remembering our identity, rooted in the wisdom of our indigenous ancestors, while living in today’s modern civilization.”
The Wild Weeds
Each of the “wild weeds,” as Blair refers to them, is featured in its own chapter in the second part of the book, starting with a description of the plant along with a list of related useful species. Although she gives species-level scientific names for each, she includes broader, genus-level and in some cases family-level, discussion of related plants in her accounts. For example, the “Mustard” chapter is headed with the binomial Brassica juncea, but the chapter itself includes a broad discussion of many mustard species and genera.
The plant accounts are interesting and more in-depth than a traditional field guide allows, since an entire chapter is dedicated to each one. There are sections on edible and medicinal uses, and another section dedicated to “current uses” in which Blair relates how she and the folks at Turtle Lake Refuge make use of the plant. Her accounts speak to many years of first-hand experience working with these plants, and are bolstered by research cited by chapter in the reference list.
A major theme of the book is global plant use, so she includes a list of global names for each plant. In each chapter’s history section, there is a review of both historical and current plant uses that I found very interesting. For example, she writes how in Lapland the Sami people use dock greens as a rennet substitute to make buttermilk and cheese, and how in Syria, a dish called khebbese is made with mallow greens, bulgar wheat, olive oil, and onions.
Each chapter concludes with recipes, many of which are for raw food, in keeping with the author’s belief in the nutritional power of living foods. There’s thistle lemonade made with thistle greens, sprouted amaranth alegria bars, dandelion spicy chai tea, and even a dandelion ice cream made with dandelion greens, avocados, lemon, water, and honey. Many of the recipes for crackers, breads, or snack bars are done via dehydrator or sunlight instead of the oven and make use of freshly sprouted, cultivated ingredients combined with wild foods. I’m not a raw foodie myself so the recipes surprised me—which is great, because I am always on the lookout for new ways to prepare wild foods. There are more than 100 recipes in all.
In addition, Blair offers detailed instructions on how to make healthy green powders from dehydrated greens that can be added to winter meals and smoothies, explaining that we can replace store-bought vitamins and minerals with those gleaned from wild plants. She includes a wild weeds supplement chart indicating which of the 13 plants are best for calcium, vitamin E, antidepressants, and omega-3’s, to name a few, as well as a plant-by-plant discussion of properties and proportions.