Where I came from

In the suburbs again — at Chris’s parents’ house for their Father’s Day wing-ding.

My life with plants is a strange one, indeed.  How is it that seeing the familiar rust-red plumes atop sumac shrubs can excite me so?  What would it be like to have no clue of the significance of my delighted exclamation, “We’re is Sumac country!”  (I suspect most people would sympathize with Chris’s puzzled answer: “Poison sumac?”)

I always aspire to learn more and more about wild plants and their cultivated cousins.  Yet, I know quite a bit already, if you want to know the truth.  One can always learn more and more, but I am not without knowledge as it is.

How do I focus among the vast fields of knowledge of which I can avail myself?

Well, I don’t want to be a botanist or a taxonomist for their own sake.  Identification is crucial, but I only need so much knowledge of identification to know an edible, medicinal, or ethnobotanically significant plant when I see one.  I must learn proper identification for safety’s sake, but beyond that, I’ll leave botany and taxonomy to the experts.

Yet, in the six years since I wrote that, I have come to believe differently.  Identification is so crucial — and the lack of understanding of the subtle differences between varieties of plants has probably contributed to society being where it is now.  Instead of 10,000 varieties of apples in active commercial cultivation there are only now 10 or 20 varieties in large scale cultivation  — and the rest of the varieties have been relegated to the status of  ornamental and heirloom varieties.  I firmly believe that if more people took an active interest in knowing their food — where it comes from, who grew it, the history of its cultivation, its locale, what and how it relates to the more commonly available varieties (is it more sour, less pest resistant, native to Arkansas, less tart than a Granny Smith but more so than a Pink Lady or a Golden Delicious, etc.) — the more of those infinite varieties would still be in active commercial cultivation.

While I dearly love medicinal plants, if I had to choose between medicinal and edible plants, I might have to choose edible for a couple of reasons.  The most important of reasons, to me anyway, are that (1) everyone’s got to eat, and (2) the old dictum still rings true: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”  If we, as a culture, relearned the art of eating properly, in proportion to our caloric needs, incorporating the wide expanse of the edible plant kingdom —  including the less well known, but still quite tasty wild plants — into an organically- or biodynamically-predominant diet, we would have considerably fewer needs for either botanical or chemical medicines.  Where knowledge of the medicinal botanicals should be considered essential is in the area of preventive medicine and nutritional support.  Again, there should be little need for chemical therapies — or perhaps more realistically, simply LESS need for chemical therapies — with a broad and varied, nutritionally balanced diet.

Someone — I believe it was Francois Couplan (from all accounts, an eminent European ethnobotanist and edible plant enthusiast) — wrote that edible wild plants provide more and better nutrition than the best multivitamin.  All of this is confirmation, to my way of thinking, that edible wild plants are, if anything, as important or more so than even medicinal plants.

6/20-21/04; with additions on 6/22/10

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