dinsdag 19 juni 2012

Edible plants of the wild west

Muriel Sweet's 'Common Edible Plants of the West' was first published in 1962 and deals with plants found in the west of the US. My version is an undated zine reprint, your version could be a PDF from Archive.org. The book covers 116 plants, with a clear line drawing for each plant. I have not yet been able to find more about the author but given the publication date, the accessible format and the many reprints I guess this was once a common book in hippie backpacks. The blurb at the back presents Sweet's book as a kind of subsistence re-enactment guide, showing you what plants were used for food and medicine by native Americans and early settlers. This makes it an aid to acquire the knowledge needed to ground yourself in a new locale by studying the people who came before you, as advised by Gary Snyder
It is my hope that this small volume may prove to be of use to many who are interested in a short history, in non-technical language, of some western plants, and of their uses by the Indians and others as food as well as medicine. To describe all the useful and edible plants of the west would take a volume many times this size, but described here are those I consider most important or interesting and certainly these would be those, in most cases, most often encountered. 
For me, in the old world, the practical value of this book is limited but not entirely so. There are a number of plants that mentioned that are species introduced from Europe. In a few cases (watercress, curly dock) Sweet mentions it, but in others (cow parsley, white clover, shepherd's purse) she doesn't. It's one way of showing the invisible face of biological imperialism to use Alfred Crosby's term once more. But what is more interesting is by what process the various Indian nations found out the medical uses of plants that were new to them. And in fact, as far as I can make out from this book, the invasive species were mostly used in the obvious ways, as food and not for their herbal properties. Sweet doesn't entirely stay true to the mission of presenting the plant life as it may have be known to the Indians, she does occasionally cite ancient Greek and Roman sources to. Where it wants to instruct you on local traditions, the books end by being confusing you with a wikipedia hodgepodge of information. Back to the Land Postmodernism.  

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