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Book Report – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and The Teaching of Plants

By April 30, 2023Beet 2023 05 May

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and The Teaching of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Last July, at the OSU OMGA Joy of Gardening Conference, in Corvallis, OR the Program listed Dr. Samantha Chisolm Hatfield as one of the Keynote speakers with a presentation titled What is TEK? I had no idea. I had never heard of the term TEK. After listening to her for an hour, I not only understood what it meant but my soul soared to learn that this was a subject being taken seriously at the university level.

The definition of TEK is: Traditional Ecological Knowledge.  Once I leaned the definition, I instantly thought of the Three Sisters, a gardening method many non-Native Americans have learned, practiced, and passed down without acknowledging where the idea came from. My farming grandparents used this approach in Oklahoma when I was a child.

There was several veteran Master Gardeners at my table and after Dr. Hatfield’s talk, I asked where I could find more information like she had discussed? One of them mentioned Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

After reading the first chapter, I convinced my online book club to make this a selection that I would facilitate. Only 7 people attended that month, but our discussion went 30 minutes overtime.  That was the first time in my experience with this club that happened.  I ask how many in the class had heard of TEK. Only two of us had.

This is a book about indigenous wisdom and also the struggle to have non-Native Americans take seriously indigenous wisdom’s keen observations with intent to learn and understand. The book is poetic and scientific, and introduces us to Native American folk lore – all in one magical read. Each chapter leaves you with a lesson that we can incorporate in our own knowledge base, not only as Master Gardeners but as good stewards of the land and a citizen of this planet.

Our OSU 2023 class had to watch many online modules on growing vegetables.  There was one slide about the Three Sisters. That one slide is a beginning.  I look forward to many more methods to learn about and to “acknowledge” those ancient care takers for their contributions.

An engaging and delightful read, both beautifully written and scientific! WOW, what a combination.


  1. Kimmerer is a Professor of Botany and an enrolled Citizen of the Potawatomi Nation.
  2. There was an endorsement by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, who said, “she takes us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as scared as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.”
  3. Jane Goodall, author of Seeds of Hope states, “Robin Wall Kimmerer shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. It is the way that she captures beauty that I love most – the images of giant cedars and wild strawberries, a forest in the rain and a meadow of fragrant sweetgrass will stay with you long after you have the last page.”

I agree with these two excellent authors completely.