“Seeds are software, and we have the seeds” -Representative of the chemical giant Seminis, just before selling out to Monsanto
Usually, plantain is a quiet, unobtrusive little plant. She is known for her excellent healing properties, her usefulness as a spit poultice, and her excellent nutritional properties. She is generally soft spoken, and most people are surprised to notice she has been underfoot all along. She is like coffeeshops in Vancouver: ubiquitous. But lately plantain, sometimes called ‘white man’s foot’ for the way she has followed our footsteps across North America, has been shouting at me. She is poking me with her seed spears. Every time I turn around, there she is. Usually when this happens it means the particular plant that is ‘shouting’ has some particular medicine I need to pay attention to. My resistance is generally high. You think I would actively cultivate some sort of porosity towards these sorts of encounters, but no. When a plant is trying to get my attention (or most things, for that matter) my first response is resistance. When I finally let plantain in all I do is look at her for a moment, but that look takes a photograph that embeds her in my mind and from there she begins to communicate with me.
Because of the way the summer has gone- hot and dry- Plantain is setting seed earlier than usual, and with an abundance I did not notice last fall. Perhaps she is foretelling the future, but it is more likely her actions are a reflection of the present. (When a plant is stressed, their seed production tends to be prolific. Cue the fallen black cottonwood I stood in the ruins of this past spring, who released her white parachute fluff designed to float her future progeny over the entire province OVERNIGHT WHILE SHE LAY DYING ON THE GROUND, while most of the trees were barely starting to open their little seed casings.)
But that is not what I want to tell you. What I want to tell you is that I want to cry. Each time a Plantain seed spire touches my ankle it is a reminder that things will never be the way that they were. A reminder that I do not have the time and that I am doing too much, too fast, to really listen, to really hear, to really feel any of it. There is grief in these too-early seed spires. Grief that the world is burning; that part of the morphic field of these seeds will always contain the memory of smoke.
I believe a plant is a part of a specific ecosystem’s innate intelligent awareness made incarnate, and that a seed is the plant’s answer to the questions of its times. And the answer will be different, even among similar species, if they are growing in different locations. A seed is this wild intelligence made portable, designed for dispersal, a portable currency of consciousness.
So if we really want to rejoin the dance, if we really want to be a part of what is going up in flames around us, what is burning and the new seeds that will be born out of this fire, we need to eat of the wild, NOW. We need to take a little of the otherly intelligence that is the essence of the natural world into our bodies so that we can start to belong to the place in which we are standing. Perhaps this is the beginnings of true reconciliation. Or at least the seeds with which to begin.
Please don’t think I am being trite. I am not making small of atrocities that have been committed both by and against humanity. I am not saying that by taking yet another thing from the wild we can heal from the many woundings of the entitlement we have been taught to assume. I am saying that we need to begin to build a bridge to another way of being, of living, of feeling, and that if we can ingest the local wild plants that are doing that all around us in the places where we live, who have not cut themselves off from the responsiveness of the wild innate intelligence of their own sovereignty, then we begin to take those transforms of meaning into our cells, and that begins to alter us.
Do you remember at the beginning when I said Plantain shouted at me? Well obviously she didn’t, at least not in words. But when I started to pay attention- when I started to unravel the thread of meaning she held for me- she led me here. When I went out to shoot the pictures for this post I stripped a handful of her seeds from their spire, winnowed their husks away by breathing into my palm, put them into my mouth and chewed. They popped between my teeth like chia seeds, and had a similar mucilaginous texture. They didn’t really taste like much but maybe that’s a good thing. Something about pulling the seeds from their stalk felt familiar, the way I sometimes recognize the face of a stranger I have not known in this life.
Beside the Plantain (and remaining mostly quiet all this time) was a stand of Dock, with seeds also ready for harvest.
So here is where we get to the practical and super-actionable and amazing part of this post: you can make flour from both these seeds. Yep, that’s right. SUPER SOVEREIGN INTELLIGENCE WILD MORPHIC FIELD FLOUR WITH BONUS SUPER NUTRITION! (Or as we more quietly call it, Plantain/ Wild Dock Flour.)
Plantain/Wild Dock Flour
- Simply go out and gather as much Plantain and Dock seeds as you have the patience for, checking that the ground the plants grow in is free from contaminants and roadside pollutants. There is no need to winnow (separate) the seeds from the hulls as from both kinds of seeds’ hulls are edible and add extra fibre to your flour, as would happen if you added rice bran. If the seeds do not pull off the seed heads easily when you are harvesting, they are not ripe yet and should be left on the plant to mature. As with all wildcafting/foraging, be considerate of the plant’s needs to reproduce and other animals who may depend on the seeds as a food source. (A good rule is to not harvest more than 25% of the yield of a patch, but in the case of weeds like Plantain and Dock (which are prolific) you can sometimes take a little more without ill effects.
- If you wish to increase the nuttiness of the flavour of your flour (OR if you are worried about bugs, OR if you are not sure your seeds are completely dry) you can roast your seeds on a cookie sheet in the oven, stirring several times at 200 degrees until seeds have darkened slightly.
- Store whole in airtight containers until ready for use. Grind seeds and hulls in a coffee grinder until they reach a flour like texture. Substitute 1 for 1 to replace up to 1/2c of flour called for in the recipe to add extra nutritional value and wild intelligence to whatever you are baking.
Author’s note: The seed harvesting in this piece was originally inspired by Katrina Blair’s book ‘The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival” which is an excellent resource for anyone wanting an accessible way to learn to incorporate edible weeds into their diet!