Braiding Sweetgrass: Learn to Love Plants with Robin Wall Kimmerer


If you like plants, or if you’ve wanted to develop a stronger relationship with the natural world, then check out Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. 

Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Readers appreciate her ability to intertwine science with creative writing and indigenous knowledge. Her approach charms and touches many modern readers, even those who feel disconnected from the natural world.


Braiding Sweetgrass offers a variety of essays, all of which combine Kimmerer’s ecological observations with an indigenous understanding of the value of plants. Underpinning many of these essays is the idea of reciprocity, a reckoning with the gifts we are given, particularly gifts given by the Earth. 


In “The Gift of Strawberries,” Kimmerer describes gathering wild strawberries as a child and extends this story into a lesson taught by the plant: “A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears. Your only role is to be open-eyed and present.”

This idea of receiving undeserved gifts and then realizing your own responsibility to give back recurs throughout the book. While Western readers may find this redefining of gift-giving a bit off-putting at first, Kimmerer’s ability to work this lesson into everyday interactions with plants helps the reader engage and put these insights into practice.

You might find yourself asking: What am I being given? And how can I give back?

Storytelling as a Communal Healing Practice

Kimmerer conceives of the book’s layout as “a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world,” likening the literary process to the physical braiding of sweetgrass. She reminds us that physical braiding requires cooperation; we take turns holding the end of the sweetgrass bundle while the other person braids. 

Braiding, and storytelling, cannot (or should not) be done alone; each requires community.

As a community-oriented book, there’s truly something for every reader here.

Some essays share modern parenting or teaching stories, while others share Kimmerer’s attempts to practice traditional arts like collecting materials for and weaving a black ash basket.

And Kimmerer is not afraid to challenge the reader. In “Allegiance to Gratitude,” she relates a story of her daughter refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. She contrasts this approach with that of an Onondaga school that bookends the school week with the Thanksgiving Address. This Address puts gratitude towards the Earth and all that sustains life as its priority, and it asks the listener to reflect as it lists each type of gift we receive. 

These days, expressing gratitude is trendy, so the Thanksgiving Address may not seem revolutionary, but Kimmerer calls it a “radical proposition” because it reminds the listener “you already have everything you need.” This mindset undermines a consumer economy that “thrives on creating unmet desires.”

Braiding Sweetgrass abounds with such reflections, but they do not weigh down the book. Some essays, like “The Three Sisters,” which reflects on indigenous polyculture growing techniques, can offer practical tips for the modern gardener. These tips blend with metaphorical reflections that liken The Three Sisters to human family members, creating a charming reflection on plants that gardeners in particular will enjoy.

And while, yes, there are plenty of lessons here, Kimmerer is a deft writer who’s not afraid to pivot and get silly. In “The Honorable Harvest,” she confesses to feeling “full-blown chlorophyll envy,” so that photosynthesis would allow her to do the world’s work simply by being alive.

What a beautiful image: taking in the value of the sun to provide for others. 

Again, reciprocity.

Again, community.

But above all, the value of caretaking. 

Take care of the Earth and take care of each other.