The Wild Wisdom of Weeds
A Q&A with Katrina Blair
Did you know there are 13 plants you can find right outside your door that can help you maintain a state of optimal health with minimal cost and effort? The Wild Wisdom of Weeds (Chelsea Green, 2014) by Katrina Blair is the first book on foraging and edible weeds to focus on 13 plants found all over the world, each of which represents an essential food source and extensive medical pharmacy and first-aid kit.
Author Katrina Blair has spent months on end taking walkabouts in the wild, eating nothing but what she forages, and has become a wild-foods advocate, community activist, gardener, and chef, teaching and presenting internationally about foraging and the healthful lifestyle it promotes. Blair’s philosophy is sobering, realistic, and ultimately optimistic. If we can open our eyes to see the wisdom found in these weeds right under our noses, instead of trying to eradicate them as “invasive,” we will achieve true food security.
Shay Totten, Communications Director at Chelsea Green Publishing, sat down with Blair to talk about her new book and how these 13 weeds can help regenerate the earth and support human survival.
There is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in your book that says a weed is “a plant whose virtues have not as yet been discovered.” What virtuous uses do the 13 plants offer?
KB: The weeds’ virtues are vast and prolific—they provide important forage for the bees and other wild pollinators, especially as human development is encroaching on wild habitat. They help regenerate the soil and bring fertility back to land that has been disturbed or overgrazed. They often have deep taproots that pull minerals up from the ground into their leaves which compost back on the ground creating new topsoil over time. Their roots break up compacted soil and help aerate the ground for earthworms and other microorganisms. The wild weeds are exceptionally nutritious as protein-rich food sources. Weeds typically have more nutrition than anything we buy from the store. These thirteen weeds each have powerful medicinal qualities and, through utilizing them on a regular basis, they can not only help cure illnesses, but also prevent them from occurring. Weeds often grow in abundance so there is commonly little worry about over harvesting them, and they are generally free and widely available as an important survival resource.
What are the additional benefits we gain (aside from nutrition) – when we harvest weeds for food?
KB: Harvesting the wild weeds is not only useful for food and medicine, but also includes the benefits of increasing personal empowerment and connection to our sense of place. When we know the uses of the common plants growing outside our homes, we gain a sense of belonging and deepen our interconnectivity with everything in nature. The simple act of going outside to gather our greens for juice or salad or for making a recipes opens us up to the magic of the wild world co-existing with us even in the middle of the city. When we go outside to harvest, we participate in the giving and receiving exchange of nature. It allows us to notice what is happening outside, such as the patterns and the changes occurring throughout the seasons. This engagement brings us in closer connection with our wild home on earth. The wild weeds also offer an abundant resource that can be utilized for enhancing the health of our community. Gathering the plants, making recipes and providing them to your friends, family and neighbors is a great way to educate about their importance and create a community that honors the natural landscape. We offer a wild food CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to our community to educate and encourage them to get more familiar and comfortable with using the wild plants on a daily basis.
A fair number of readers probably already know about eating dandelion, clover, amaranth, and mustard. What are some less common plants that people might not know are edible, and what would be a good starter recipe to get their interest?
KB: Purslane is a very commonly found plant that is a delicious succulent with a mild and pleasantly sour flavor. Adding purslane to salads, sandwiches and soups is a fun and easy way to incorporate the wild plant into our life. Lambsquarter is another very common wild weed that grows around our homes and in and around our gardens. It can be used in meals just like spinach, either fresh in salads or steamed in other dishes. In the fall, the seeds become ripe and, after being harvested, can be prepared like the “pseudo grain” quinoa. The best starter recipe I would recommend is a simple green juice. Whether it is wild lambsquarter, mallow or purslane, a large handful of the greens can be harvested fresh and added to the blender with one chopped apple, half of a peeled lemon. Add three to four cups of water and blend. Use a kitchen strainer to remove the pulp from the juice if desired. Drink the juice fresh and experience the amazing energy and inspiration that comes from this regular practice.
One of the plants in the book is the thistle, which I think many readers may consider a plant to avoid touching given the prickly spines in the leaf edges. What’s the best way to harvest thistle, and what’s your favorite use and/or recipe?
KB: Harvest thistle from the back rib of the leaf where there are generally no prickly spines. You can also use gloves to harvest the leaves. One favorite recipe that I love to make each week for our farmers market in Durango, Colorado, is the thistle root Chai Tea. The recipe is delicious and the benefits of thistle root support the liver’s regeneration. It is fairly easy to dig up the root of the thistle. One or two thistle roots are enough. If possible, use a thistle that is younger in growth rather than one that has already gone to seed because the root will be more tender. Once harvested, wash the root and place it in the blender with an equal amount of fresh ginger root, and about one teaspoon each of chai spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper. Use one full blender full of water, blend thoroughly and strain out the pulp. Add the strained tea back into the blender and add one cup of cashews and one-half (1/2) cup of honey. Blend again until creamy. Serve over ice or warm on the stove and serve hot.