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Plant Books: Foraging, Flowers, and Community Weaving

I've recently been reading some great books about Pacific Northwest ecology. All of these books are on different topics, but I've come to realize that there is a commonality between them: they all have to do not only with the land, but also with the relationship between plants and people. 

  The Nettles & More...  series from Deborah Freeman and Diana Mongeau,  Common Threads  by Sharon Kallis, and  Dandelion Hunter  by Rebecca Lerner.

The Nettles & More... series from Deborah Freeman and Diana Mongeau, Common Threads by Sharon Kallis, and Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner.

A book that delves into the connections between human beings and the urban landscape is Rebecca Lerner's Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness. Lerner is a nature enthusiast, forager, educator, healer, and blogger - check out her excellent site, First Ways, where she has created a photographic plant gallery to help independent learners like me with plant identification. In addition to writing about urban foraging, she takes us through the history of the land by visiting the remnants of an ancient Chinook village in Washington State, participates in the post-mortem processing of a roadkill deer, meets a lifelong friend after placing a Craigslist ad for free weeding, and goes on a freegan adventure through local specialty store dumpsters. The book is not only centred around Lerner's deep encounters with plants, both as foraged food and as medicine, but also the people in her life that aid her in making this connection with the green world. In her words, the merging of plants and people yields a deeper understanding of the self:

When I first began foraging in the city, I viewed wild plants as just-in-case disaster insurance, something meant to stay on the fringes of my life. But what I learned over the next four years is that they are much, much more than that. Not only are wild plants food and medicine, but they also offer us a way to connect with each other, to build community, and to access our deepest selves. Foraging brings with it a consciousness-shifting transformation of vision that reveals hidden treasure. It leads us far beyond the limits of dualistic frameworks like human versus nature or city versus wilderness: We find the wilderness within. (Dandelion Hunter, p. 184)

A further exploration of plants and people emerges in Sharon Kallis's Common Threads: Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art. Kallis is a Vancouver-based artist who sources weaving materials from local invasive species such as English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, yellow-flag iris, and scotch broom. For a nice introduction to Sharon's work, see her blog or my post about weaving a bio-net from English ivy.

In Common Threads, Kallis describes her experience working on community-engaged projects using materials from the land. These projects include crocheted English ivy erosion netting installed at Stanley Park, a woven willow arbor structure built to commemorate a wedding, a spinning wheel sculpture constructed to honor a local textile artist who passed away, temporary mosaics made from seeds, petals, leaves, cones and other seasonal detritus, and linen spun from flax grown on city property. The book also contains interviews with other community artists and park officials, and has a section dedicated to weaving and materials processing techniques.

Kallis identifies a triangular connection between places, plants, and people as being the root from which local problem-solving can grow - one needs only to look at the example of the bio-netting installed at Stanley Park (a biodegradable structure made of uprooted invasive ivy to stabilize new native growth) to see how poignant solutions can stem from community brainstorming about the local environment. Another interesting concept that Kallis explores is the interplay between structure and space. She speaks about the advantages of ephemeral artwork as opposed to permanent installations, and the virtue of spaces (such as community gardens) that are built to with a sense of openness and an assumption that they will evolve over time. She also speaks of an unpredictable magic that occurs when community artists leave space in their structured projects for participants to interact, add stories, and share information while they work with natural materials.

The two volumes of Nettles & More... Holistic Healing Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Deborah Freeman and Diana Mongeau are a great stopping place to ruminate upon Lerner's "wilderness within" and Kallis's synergistic magic between plants, people, and places. The Nettles & More series contain simple, slender books, with each page dedicated to detailing the physical description, habitat, herbal remedies, and essence remedies of a flower. What are essence remedies, you ask? They are based on the concept that each flower has "an energetic template, and by imprinting that template, we are able to extract its ability to assist us" (p. 6). In other words, by creating a sun-infusion of a flower in water, it is able to help us with a specific emotional issue we may be having. For example, an oregon grape flower remedy targets "perfectionism - feeling unloveable [;] helps to transform feelings of self-criticism to self-love" (22). Trillium, which I recently posted about, aids in "transformation - helps us to return to our place of dignity. Assists us in death/rebirth, both physically and mentally. We can let go of [the] material plane [and enter] into a place of feeling truly comfortable in who we are. It shows us the beauty in our basic simplicity, in all aspects of ourselves" (40). If you are curious to learn more about essence remedies, do a bit of research into British homeopath Edward Bach.

Because I am a logical thinker, I'm not able to fully endorse flower essence remedies, but I do feel a great comfort in reading Nettles & More. I suppose my comfort is rooted in knowing, from my various encounters in the forest, that different plants do in fact coax from me different emotional responses, that plants and I are integrated. Even if I am resistant to flower essences as a method of healing, I can still support the thesis that there is a shared consciousness between human beings and nature.