What a Wonderful World

Two years ago I was struck by the beauty in the idea that nature provides targeted healing via medicinal properties of the wild plants that thrive as our neighbors. It may sound ridiculous that there is any cosmic intelligence behind why one family's yard is overrun with red clover and mugwort, while right next door is brimming with common mallow and plantain -- but it's quite comforting (to me) to think that the universe is trying to heal you everyday by popping up the "pills" you may need most, that there is such loving method behind the madness of the urban wild.

Park As Pharmacy was based on my belief that these weedy, all-over-the-place plants could help revive cultural memories/practices (and ecological perspectives) for the generations following the waves of immigrants who brought many of these species as foods and medicines to help them recreate a home in new lands.

Recent reads are refueling my admiration for so-called invasive species, some of the most culturally/ecologically/chemically powerful city flora (eg. Japanese knotweed, Japanese honeysuckle, mugwort, kudzu). The New Wild by long-time environmental journalist Fred Pearce explores the idea that rather than causing damage to native species and ecosystems, invasives actually act as nature's front line of defense and long-term recovery for disturbances from urbanization to industrial pollution to wildfires. Pearce contends that conservation ecology for too long has assumed a model of nature where ecosystems reach towards a point of stability and complexity through millennia of co-evolution between local species. In this model, non-natives are inherently disruptive, throwing off the sacred balance and always seen as bad guys. But in example after example, Pearce demonstrates that not only are non-natives typically not the cause of declines in natives, they can actually restore conditions needed for natives to return with any massive "invasion" tending to taper off once source problems are addressed (eg. raw sewage being emptied into a body of water). So many species have served as scapegoats (like the salt cedar, purple loosestrife, and even actual goats) for problems we created and then freaked out over, leading to incredibly expensive and destructive campaigns against the very species that may be symptoms of resilience and healing.

So those little bits of green lining our sidewalk cracks, garnishing our aging infrastructure? They're basically superheroes (whether they've been around here for 2, 20 or 20,000 years). It's cool enough that they eat sunlight and CO2, but the thought that they also catch pollution, absorb storm water, dig up nutrients, create nutrients from thin air, build up rich soil, feed bugs/birds/foragers, produce medicines used today and ages ago, and look so darn pretty all at once, that blows my mind. To be part of such a wonderful world overwhelms me with a love so encompassing and a peace so deep that I feel almost alien sometimes, because I don't know how to share this personal source of resilience, and I can't solve others' troubles with bouquets of wild carrot or yellow woodsorrel (try as I might).

Point is, wild urban plants are your friends. Say hello sometime!