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Decolonizing Weeds

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“On the whole people might be better off if they threw away the crops they so tenderly raise and ate the weeds they spend so much time exterminating.” ~ Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus

I have a fondness for weeds. For the forgotten, dismissed, and marginalized. Anyone who visits my garden in mid-summer probably wonders if I’ve let it go. And it’s true. I don’t tend to it all. The wild nettle patch is left to grow right next to the somewhat cultivated beans. Purslane wiggles its way between stalks of wavy squash. Lambs quarters lap up the sun that break through the canvas of tomatoes. During the early months, I do my best to give everything enough space. But once July rolls around, I mostly stay out of the way.

Last July, I saw a pair of monarchs in a field. The first I had seen all season. Summer nearly halfway over and not a single monarch! This is one of the consequences of colonialism and economies built on profit and endless growth. The loss of biodiversity. The erasure of the small, vulnerable, and unprofitable. I hope they make it, but we might be facing a near future with no monarchs at all.

When I saw the Gibbons quote above, I immediately thought of Monsanto and monarchs. How our own government quietly legislates the means for planetary demise. All the while, they tell us that it’s about food production and feeding the hungry.

The hungry. Yes, we are hungry. But most of us don’t even know why. The loss of connection to the very land we live on. The failure to recognize that many of the plants we call “weeds” have been used for centuries as food, medicine, and so much more. Perhaps the nettle tea I drank last night is prompting this post. Or maybe it’s the fresh dandelion greens I snack on regularly while I “tend” to the garden.

In my view, we cannot speak of things such as “environmentalism” or “decolonization” without remembering the weeds, and all the ways in which our lives have been tied together throughout history. My love of dandelions, for example, is also linked to the knowledge that they were one of the plants brought by my settler ancestors. My love of herbal medicine is tempered by the fact that white folks and privileged others continue to colonize and denature indigenous plant wisdom and healing practices. And my love of milkweed is propelled by a desire to keep the monarchs alive. 

Note: This post was also recently published at Life as a Human webzine. 

Truly loving weeds is a practice in discomfort. For every joyful story they bring there’s also the sting of other connections, historical and present day. The contradictions of stinging nettle, powerful medicine and painful invasive, cannot be mowed flat or made to line up straight. To love the earth is to love the weeds. Any environmental movement that forgets the weeds is missing the boat.

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