Plants and Reciprocity – more time with Robin Wall Kimmerer Sat 21.08 – Sun 22.08.2021

After a foraging walk with The Friends of the Glen

I just woke up from falling alseep listening to this

and listening again;

Hearing Kimmerer speak that gentle passionate word reciprocity – and her call for rematriation – a bringing back to mother earth, I am hearing about the evolution of maize, wife of the sun and mother of all things, and her symbiotic relationship with humans, whose ears need human hands to unbind the tightly packed kernels from their husks and leaves, whose male flower tassels dance and scatter pollen that can reach the female parts only by descending through the corn silks to the ovaries concealed within the ears, each silk is connected to one ovary which, if pollination occurs, becomes a plump kernel. I hear about Mexican ancestors who, 9000 years ago, shook the pollen from one ancient grass over another and so began creating hybrids from a single Teosinte – sacred ear of corn – and so mahiz – bringer of life – maize – evolved. Beginning with just a few stony kernels on each ear of corn, through time growing plump and soft and many rowed; a symbiosis of plant creativity and human technology. I hear from Kimmerer of today’s careful farmers practicing introgression, back-crossing modern hybrids with their ancient forbears – across time, across species, honouring reciprocity and knowing that in diversity lies security. I hear also the story of those Mexican forbears who heated the stony kernels dry, in ceramic pots encouraging the seeds to pop open and fluff out and popcorn was born, that this discovery was so appreciated by the ancestors that sacred garlands were made for ritual celebration of this new found food.

I must quote Kimmerer directly

Over the hill at the heritage farm, plants are respected as bearers of gifts, as persons, indeed oftentimes as teachers. Who else has the capacity to transform light, air, and water into food and medicine—and then share it? Who cares for the people as generously as plants? Creative, wise, and powerful, plants are imbued with spirit in a way that the western worldview reserves only for humans.
Western science makes the claim to pure objectivity and intentionally banishes subjectivity from its explanations in favor of reductionist, strictly materialist approaches. I’m trained as a scientist, and I honor the importance of this method. There’s good reason for it when the questions to be answered are “true or false.” But there are other, bigger questions, for which exclusion of human values may lead to unintended outcomes.
The four colors on my Red Lake flint cob are said to represent the four colors of the medicine wheel, which is a symbol of the holistic indigenous approach to knowledge making. Among their many meanings, the four colors remind us that we humans have four ways of perceiving and understanding the world, with mind, body, emotion, and spirit. There is no strict separation between subjective and objective but rather encouragement to consider what we might learn from using each of these powerful abilities. The combination provides insight into not only questions of “true or false” but also questions of “right and wrong.”
It’s a story of the dance between the plant’s unique gifts and the human gift for technology: not technology in the sense of autonomous machines that separate us from the living world, but a sacred technology, which unites us. Using indigenous science, the human and the plant are linked as co-creators; humans are midwives to this creation, not masters. The plant innovates and the people nurture and direct that creativity. They are joined in a covenant of reciprocity, of mutual flourishing.


And so I was drawn back to RWK after yesterday’s plant appreciation and foraging walk in the Glen. FotG invited botanist and herbalist Jo Goodyear, to lead us on a walk – no Usain Bolt, we covered100 metres in 2 hours. Rosa rugosa Rosehips; Brambles; Nettles; Ribwort and Broadleaf Plantain; Marsh woundwort; Brooklime/Water Speedwell; Marsh mint, Bulrush; Willow herb, Fools watercress; Wild parsnip – care with the umbellifer family – hemlock water droplet; Yarrow, Daisy (Bruisewort), Dandelion, Dock, Coltsfoot, Burdock, Whitethorn…..

some notes from the day, as a list:

Foraging succession – leaves – flowers – fruits – roots – some exceptions ‘son before father‘ – pick only what you will use on the day and no more than a third of what you see, do not over harvest, (remembering RWK – be polite speak to plant by name and ask her permission, sing to her) bark only from outer branches never from trunk, remember the seasons and cycles, tune in, Rosa Rugosa – hips – pectin combine with brambles (and other fruits) for setting jams and jellies, syrups and for soothing for the gut, rose hips fibrous itching powder, petals for a fragrant tea, for jam. Bramble leaves for tea, black and purple berries vascular health, circulation, Rosebay Willow Herb soothing tea Ivan chai – green teas lactic fermentation, nettles nettles nettles, whitethorn haws for heart, steep in brandy, no need to bruise flesh (as in sloe gin), burdock root. Generally yellow roots are purging, diuretic, laxative, antioxidant, anti inflammatory, blood purifying. All worts for healing powers

On Sunday I retraced our steps the next day, remembering about the mature seed heads of plantain and nettle seeds too for food, loving the distinctly different seedheads of Ribwort and Broadleaf varieties I was prompted to search and find there are many varieties… narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blackseed plantain (Plantago rugelii), blond plantain (Plantago ovata), bracted plantain (Plantago aristata), Chinese plantain (Plantago asiatica), buck’s-horn plantain (Plantago coronopus), woolly plantain (Plantago patagonica). This year I have fallen in love with the enormous broadleaf plaintains growing in my garden and left them all standing proud, perhaps its a year to sample their seeds. I also stumbled across another variety of dock, a pretty ‘Liquorish allsorts’ flower and tiny leaves, the lesser dock.

Seeing how the plants protect themselves, and manage to thrive side by side, in cracks or water’s edge, even the creeping buttercup has a role here to hold the banks and fix the nitrogen, keeping the river clear. Seeing the bees in the mint heads and remembering the way the forget-me-not and its lookalike companion the Marsh Speedwell which is not in flower here… I wonder at this exchange between small blue flowers. Remembering Jo mention the Alder in passing, as a source for charcoal for the furnaces in the days of production at the gunpowder Mills nearby, and thinking of snipping some twigs for charcoal for another use. Loving the statuesque proportions of the burdock and remembering Jo talk about its biennial flowering pattern, building up the strength and nourishment in its root before it produces flowers and then scattering seeds for the next cycle before it dies. I had wondered about the solitary stands of burdock in the Glen, now knowing where to look, and how to keep observing the patterns year on year. And here I ponder on how the seasons are so different from year to year, we had an early summer last year, with mountains of gorse blooming throughout and into the winter, this year the gorse is not flowering at all, the slopes are covered in bracken and there is plenty more broom, and I’m remembering last years bounty of Oak galls where there are none on the Mother Oak on the ridge in 2021….

On my walk I passed through the upper meadow and noticed again the gathering of yarrow around the cemented area, this formation strikes me as a meeting of druids, following mossy encroachments, enlivening the surface of the old yielding concrete, yarrow islands are forming and creating new maps, and new worlds, and forming a large piebald patch in the grassland, which was previously kept trim by council mowers but now at our request is slowly transforming into meadowland. In the meadow I see the big ash has no keys, after last year’s abundance, I realise 2020 must have been a mast year here. I recall as well that little patch of grass, not a stone’s throw away, in front of my house, which has several self-seeded birches, a nursery now as I am nurturing them in the spots they have landed, for the time being.

Published by @julforres

Julie Forrester, artist based in Cork City Ireland

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