Because I love the bermed architecture of the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute and because I can’t resist a plant sale, we dropped urgent gardening tasks and drove out to investigate. I had diminished expectations of any lecture on native plants. Hoopla abounds in the breeding of more and more dazzling and talented plants, so it seemed that native plants would only be poor, deprived, pitiful cousins in need of some type of genetic infusion. However, I had gone so far as to become enchanted by bumblebees in the dead of winter and had a list of nine wild plants which are loved by them. The website Xerces.com sells a kit of the plants, but tracking them down seemed more interesting.
Upon arriving, one from my list (which of course I forgot), jumped out – Wild Bergamot. Another one just looked powerful: Great Blue Lobelia. Lobelia was the herb raved about by the herbalist Jethro Kloss in his book Back To Eden, the first herbal I ever read. Everyone but Mr. Kloss had a deep fear and dread of lobelia instilled by powerful war volleys put forth by the makers of the War On Nature. But Mr. Kloss could cure just about anything with this potent herb (including suspended animation). So I bought that one too. What bee wouldn’t want to revel in this herb?
We sat in the back at the lecture in case a quick exit was necessitated out of boredom. But I was shocked to have been immediately gripped by a new fever for the pristine, the unadorned, and the utterly natural world of native plants. The earnest and learned lecturer, Vern Stephens from Designs by Nature, began by explaining the advantageous nutritional value of native seeds and berries for the birds. Similar plants hybridized for other characteristics such as color or hardiness don’t have the high quality amino acids and proteins possessed by native plants. Birds who eat them often cannot fly fast enough to escape predators or lay fewer eggs. Some birds will not even eat non-native seeds and fruits. Native plants have a crucial position in the woven tapestry of interdependence between plants, insects, and birds.
Seeing myself as at least somewhat bird-like, I couldn’t help but think about my human diet as well – that perhaps I am lacking in wild native foods too. Aside from Chaga mushrooms, I am not eating that many wild foods. I think I am surviving – but surviving may be more than walking and talking. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we are all still in a game of survival. We have crude “foodstuffs” but do we have foods that can help us to survive on a higher human level……was the question. We perceive that we are safe, but what about higher human functions – the idea that never emerged, the mental retreat, the smile that never found its way from our brain to our face?
Since humans ideally bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual, I suddenly found myself engrossed in the idea of spiritual ecology. Could there be foods that can help us break barriers between physical and spiritual realms, that can help us fly away to a safer place? The idea that our gardens and yards can help us survive on a higher level seemed worth exploring. Gardening always leads me to see relationships I never knew existed, and this lecture sparked new avenues and threads I’ll fly off to……if I can find the right amino acids.