A Review of Braiding Sweetgrass

Finishing this book was like Leaving an Inspiring Mentor…

A review of the audiobook version of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

  • Book Title — Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
  • Author’s name(s) — Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Publisher — Milkweed Editions, 011 Washington Avenue South
     Open Book, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55415
  • Year of publication — 2013

Braiding Sweetgrass is a series of stories about combining Native American botanical knowledge with Scientific knowledge. The stories told by Robin Wall Kimmerer are sourced from her personal experiences and detail her struggles to align her two world views. From her first forays into scientific study to the experiences of her ancestors being forcibly removed from their native land to her daughters’ interactions with the botanical world there are a wealth of experiences to explore through story.

The stories are about humanity, history and how our experiences change the way we see the world.

This is not a traditional gardening book, but it helps the home gardener understand a larger context and revelations about interactions between species are fascinating.

I loved this book. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that discussed scientific study of Sweetgrass itself and the relationship between the author’s family and an elderly lady that functioned through gardening and plants.

The study of Sweetgrass populations revealed an integral connection between human interaction and the health of the species. A reciprocal relationship that ensured that both parties thrive. Indeed, the concept of reciprocity is a cornerstone of this book and one that helps the home gardener reflect on their own relationship with botanical friends.

The relationship between the author’s family and the elderly lady not only reinforces what most gardeners know, that is that plants facilitate connections between people and the land, it also reveals some fascinating insights into particular species, such as Witch Hazel.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story and it’s inspired me to seek out a print copy. The writing is a delightful blend of informal storytelling and scientific understanding. The author narrates the audio version herself and her voice is pleasant and even at times hypnotic. Her passion for her subject is consistently evident. I found this audio book relaxing as well as thought-provoking.

The author’s relationship with her heritage as a Native American is fascinating and the contrast with her desire to function as a scientist is equally spellbinding. The richness of her culture is discussed openly with reference to both highs and lows in her own experiences and those of her ancestors. The native wisdom that she shares is useful in its facilitation of understanding how to garden sustainably as well as interact with wild spaces.

Finishing this book after 16 hours and 44 minutes of listening (the print version is 408 pages) was bittersweet. It was like saying goodbye to a mentor who has inspired and enriched your understanding of the world. The only compensation is that it can be read again. Indeed, this book is so full of rich information and experience that I am sure it will reveal more insights on repeat readings or listenings.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in botanical science, sustainable gardening and native wisdom.

This review was originally published by the same author in Tea with Mother Nature.

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