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“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer


Nowadays, ecological issues are acquiring more importance, and people all around the world are aware of global warming, endangered animal and plant species, ocean and air pollution, deforestation, and other environmental problems. The reason for all of them is humanity’s attitude to nature, which may be characterized as unappreciative, egoistic, and consumerist. A Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote a book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. In the book, the author observes the flora through the perspective of Native American and Western Scientific traditions. Robin Kimmerer provides readers with a deep insight into the plant microworld and transmits a conscious attitude to nature and the planet. This way, the book contains major instructive ideas regarding treating the environment, and they are supposed to be observed in this paper.

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Brief Description

The leading role in the book belongs to sweetgrass, one of the sacred plants of Native Americans. Its scientific name is Hierochloe data, which means “the fragrant, holy grass”, but in the language of Native Americans, sweetgrass sounds as “wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth” (Kimmerer 10). Braiding Sweetgrass consists of five sections, which match different steps and methods of using this plant. The first part, Planting Sweetgrass, is divided into six chapters and highlights the experience of the conscious relationships between nature and the author’s indigenous family and culture. The Professor introduces the giving-gifting and reciprocal concept, and a grateful attitude to the environment.

The following section Tending Sweetgrass explores the relationships between humanity and the planet more closely and deeply. The author compares the earth to the mother in the context of the endless number of amenities and gifts it gives to its children, namely people. The primary question of this section is whether humanity can express gratitude to their common mother, which it needs desperately, and take care of the planet in the way it cares for all living creatures.

Responsibilities of humanity about the earth are described in the third part, titled Picking Sweetgrass. After stating the necessity to appreciate the gifts of nature and return the favor, Robin W. Kimmerer presents human’s responsibilities as escaping from a consumerist attitude and adopting the value of gratifying the earth’s bounty. In the following piece, Braiding Sweetgrass, the author dwells on establishing a healthy and peaceful relationship between people and the planet. Moreover, she gives insights into changes that appeared between generations in their views, and attitude to the earth and location they live in.

Burning Sweetgrass appears to be the consummation of the book and addresses the current condition of the environment. The section represents a picture of destruction, pollution, deforestation, and other ecological problems caused by human beings. This way, the author invokes people to be more intelligent and participate in preserving nature personally in any possible way. Again, Robin W. Kimmerer approaches the necessity to be reciprocal and grateful. After reading the book, it becomes possible to outline the key ideas, which are intended to communicate to readers.

Major Ideas

The first aspect, which becomes evident at the beginning of the book, is the clash of cultures. The author outlines the differences between Native American and modern habits, beliefs, traditions, and views. Robin W. Kimmerer’s grandmother was a member of Potawatomi, who received citizenship. Being a child, the Professor spent a great amount of time with her, and the main difference between cultures that the author learned is the way of treating nature, especially the food it supplies. Robin W. Kimmerer remembers occasions when she used to pick up and eat strawberries in the field after school. The author interprets such an offering as the world’s gift economy, which implies giving without interested motives. Moreover, it appears to be an essential part of the Potawatomi culture to gratify the land for such a gift by finding seedlings and preparing the land for a new harvest. On the contrary, while earning money by picking strawberries at a farm, she encountered the prohibition to eat berries without paying the owner for them. This way, modern people do not practice gift economy and concentrate only on their particular interests.

The indigenous culture appears to be extremely educative and insightful even in the current conditions, and the most critical aspect, which the author regards throughout the entire book, is reciprocity. It exists both in human relationships and in the attitude to nature and creates the infinite circuit, which is inherited from one generation to another. In addition, it is essential to spread such loving and non-indifferent relationships among people. Today, human beings lack such behavior regarding each other, much less flora and fauna. This way, Robin W. Kimmerer encourages humanity to revise their views and behavioral models on behalf of reciprocity between each other and the environment.

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The following idea results from the previous one and determines the global goal of achieving a sustainable environment. Until the 21st century, people did not take care of nature seriously and stuck to a consumerist attitude without thinking of probable consequences. For instance, having reached America, European colonists could not understand the native population when they left half of the rice crops unharvested. This way, Native Americans could express gratitude to the land and provide animals with some meals. They took only such an amount of rice, which they required to survive. This measure is called an honorable harvest, and it was unfamiliar to Europeans. It does not appear to be a law, but a moral principle, intended to maintain the harmonious relationships between the whole creation.

The author also attempts to instill in the future generation the consciousness and awareness about the necessity of taking care of the planet. To mitigate the consequences of ecological disasters, such as climate change, it is essential to change humanity’s priorities urgently. The probable solution lies in upbringing children addressing this topic. Both parents and schools should contribute to inheriting children an attitude, which would motivate them to change the world, reserve its gifts and make it a better place.

Personal Opinion

It is incontrovertible that humanity needs to improve its relationships with nature, though this process is not easy. People do not encounter serious ecological problems in their everyday life, or the consequences are not significant for them. For this reason, they use natural resources excessively and underestimate the necessity to take appropriate measures. The book written by Robin W. Kimmerer not only addresses these hot-button environmental issues but also provides bright illustrations. Furthermore, she shows the right and harmless set of actions about the earth in detail. The author draws a contrast between the grateful and a consumerist attitude, between healthy and toxic relationships with nature. After such illustrations, it is impossible to stay indifferent to these global problems. In addition, this book regards the topic of consciousness and humaneness, which people seldom think of.

This way, as for me, the book appears to be extremely inspiring and makes me think about elaborating some method of benefiting the planet. I strongly believe that as many people as possible should read this book. Consciousness, awareness, and gratitude are likely to make a visible difference. That is why it is essential to promote the aforementioned principles and install them in the next generation. This is the only way to ensure harmonious and happy life for the whole planet.


Being published in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants has received a significant number of positive comments and support. It is unsurprising, as the author manages to unravel the pressing concerns and draw attention to them. Depicting the contrast between Native American and modern culture, she dwells on the correct attitude to nature and methods of preventing the current ecological problems. Surprisingly, the author shows that ancient traditions and habits should not be forgotten and appear to be more righteous than the current ones. Moreover, she managed to demonstrate it, telling a story of using sweetgrass, a sacred plant in Native American culture. Respect, gratitude, and reciprocity are the aspects that, according to the author’s point of view, should be taken into consideration urgently and comprehensively.

Work Cited

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

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