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Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

4.59  ·  Rating details ·  6,722 ratings  ·  1,140 reviews
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the ...more
Hardcover, 391 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Milkweed Editions (first published 2013)
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Average rating 4.59  · 
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Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rowena by: Yasmin
Shelves: science
"What if you were a teacher but had no voice to speak your knowledge? What if you had no language at all and yet there was something you needed to say? Wouldn't you dance it? Wouldn't you act it out? Wouldn't your every movement tell the story? In time you would be so eloquent that just to gaze upon you would reveal it all. And so it is with these silent green lives."- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

In 2007, Yann Martel compiled a reading list for Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (
http://newwestminster.bibliocommons.c...). People on Twitter was discussing other books to add to the list to make it more diverse ( Our PM isn’t that great with environmental issues or indigenous issues, so this is one book I would recommend this book to him if he's not too busy meeting panda bears (

This is by far one of the most important books I’ve read this year. The author is a scientist but she is also a poet. Her writing is absolutely stunning and eloquent. Her love for the land, especially the land she grew up on, comes through very clearly in her writing.

There is acknowledgement that the previously ignored indigenous cultures and knowledge are absolutely essential. As much as I focus on indigenous research in my studies, this is the first time I have seen the focus being on science. This book was definitely a shout out to indigenous culture and knowledge, knowledge that is often ignored by academia, or seen as wishy-washy or not true science:

"My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide. But science is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer."

The book clearly states the importance of the land, for so many reasons: sustenance, healing, etc. While reading this, I thought of how my mother had had asthma as a child but my grandfather, who was very familiar with traditional African medicine (which was of course seen as backwards by Western medicine) knew which plant medicine to give my mother. She doesn’t have asthma anymore. My grandfather also helped with my sister’s anaemia (by boiling guava leaves in water and giving her the liquid to drink - this helps to replenish iron levels). What sort of knowledge is dying out because people aren’t interested in the land anymore? My grandfather passed away and I wonder who has the knowledge of the herb that cured my mother's asthma.

The author uses incidents from her personal life, as well as myths, to enrich her insight on nature, plants and the land. The book is relatively heavy on the science (biology) but I think basic high school biology knowledge is enough to understand most of the processes.

Also included in the book is the sad history of the Natives in North America, the death of language, the near-extermination of their culture and what it means to the world as a whole:

"In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us....It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be sold."

After reading this, I feel compelled to observe nature more closely, plant vegetables, look at possible relationships between plants, tap maple trees for syrup, something! The most engaging science book I’ve ever read and one I’d recommend to anyone.
Diane S ☔
Dec 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of my goals this year was to read more non-fiction, a goal I believe I accomplished. Never thought I would rate my last three non-fiction reads 5 stars. This was a wonderful, wonderful book. It teaches the reader so many things about plants and nature in general. Different animals and how the indigenous people learned from watching them and plants, the trees. tis is how they learned to survive, when they had little.

teaches us about thankfulness, gratitude and how often we take th
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an important and a beautiful book. We are discussing it here:

Rather than repeating all my thoughts I post the link.

On completion:

I don't give that many books five stars. They have to qualify as amazing. The author writes so you understand the value of nature, of the gift that is given to all of us. She shows us that a gift is tied with responsibility. Only if you understand that you have received a gift do you feel the responsibility to reciprocate. She opens our e
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
I feel I must justify my rating of this book as some of my peers would disagree with me. First, I simply did not enjoy the book stylistically. While I treasure creative nonfiction essays, I find Kimmerer's language over-reaching in its poetic pursuits. If this were my only qualm with Braiding Sweetgrass, I would be able to overlook it. However, Kimmerer's lengthy prose-poetry is coupled with an over-generalized critique of American/Western/Christian culture (often conflating all three instead of ...more
If there is one book you would want the President to read this year, what would it be? This question was asked of a popular fiction writer who took not a moment's thought before saying, my own of course. She is wrong. The book the President should read, that all of us who care about the future of the planet should read, is Robin Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass.

This is one of the most important books written on the environment since Silent
Spring. Kimmerer blends her scientific backgro
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book I cannot praise it enough. It is a vitally important read for humanity as we see ourselves, how we see the world, our relation to it and how we need each other. While she speaks of greed that chokes the world and ourselves she speaks too of positiveness and what we can do to heal the earth and ourselves. More than recycling bins, carpooling and composting in the garden, we need to reassess ourselves as children of the land. How important the earth is to us and how important we a ...more
David Joy
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I don't know what else to say. It left me at a loss for words. Read it. Just read it.
Richard Reese
May 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Science is a painfully tight pair of shoes. It perceives the family of life to be little more than a complex biochemical machine. It has created powerful tools for ravaging the planet’s ecosystems, creating a hard path for our descendants. It gives us knowing, but not caring. It’s not about wisdom. It’s about pursuing the wants and needs of humans, with less concern for the more-than-human world.

Robin Kimmerer is a biology professor. After being trained in the rigid beliefs of scienc
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This essay collection is a long meditation on the natural world and our place in it. The author melds her training as a botanist with the knowledge of plants gained through her Native American upbringing to create a more holistic view of the plant kingdom. This is a statement on the hubris of western thought and how it often fails to recognize indigenous wisdom. Although the collection is long and sometimes repetitive, what it has to say is valuable to our current understanding and our future un ...more
Wendy Feltham
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
It's difficult to rate this book, because it so frequently veered from two to five stars for me. Five stars for the beauty of some of Robin Wall Kimmerer's writing in many essays/chapters. Five stars for introducing me to Sweetgrass, its many Native American traditions, and her message of caring for and showing gratitude for the Earth. Five stars for the author's honest telling of her growth as a learner and a professor, and the impressions she must have made on college students unaccustomed to ...more
Kate Savage
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know how to talk about this book. I think it has affected me more than anything else I've ever read.

Each time I picked up this book, I sank into the world of plants and meaning, the slow vegetable world, seen jewel-bright from the underside. It was hard to do errands and think strategically. I thought how we use the word "grassroots" as a buzz phrase when applying for grants, to elbow our way into legitimacy, but Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds me that what the roots of grass rea
michael Tintner
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author while camping and hiking in a national park. As the book came to a conclusion I was returning to my camp with tears in my eyes, hope in my mind, and pain in my heart. As someone currently studying science at an online university I am often disenchanted by terminology and jargon of the language scientist use, however, this book is as much poetry as it is scientific. The words are heartfelt and intelligent, they connect the feelings of mind and em ...more
Emily Crow
This book contains one exceptional essay that I would highly recommend to everyone, "The Sacred and the Superfund." As for the rest of it, although I love the author's core message--that we need to find a relationship to the land based on reciprocity and gratitude, rather than exploitation--I have to admit, I found the book a bit of a struggle to get through. The author has a flowery, repetitive, overly polished writing style that simply did not appeal to me. I would read a couple of essays, fin ...more
This is one of the most singular and beautiful books I have ever read. This is perspective altering in the best way. We have so much to learn and heed from indigenous stories and traditions; their very thinking and language and reciprocity with nature that our colonial nation destroyed is desperately needed to save this earth. Notes forthcoming. There are so many post-its and bent pages I need to revisit.

"How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this book slowly because I'm savoring it and don't want it to end. Often I read it before bed to dream better. This is a wonderful book that makes me feel more connected to the natural world. I love her writing because she has the perspective of a botany professor as well as an indigenous perspective (she is Potawatomi). As an herbalist, I get both of those perspectives and love the author's way of connecting science and tradition.
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My new favorite book.
Dec 06, 2014 is currently reading it
I just started reading this and just finished the chapter on pecans. I really enjoy how she writes and I think this will be a quick read. It flows really nicely. So far I'm particularly struck by the way pecan trees reproduce. I'd never heard about that kind of reproduction. Nature is fascinating.


The chapter on strawberries brought to mind two things. First, it made me think about the wild spaces of my childhood. I grew up in a small town in a very suburban looking neighbour
This is not so much a single unified book as it is a series of essays that add up to exactly what it says in the title. Each essay reveals a little more about the author’s life reconciling modern science with her own indigenous culture. She seems to do a fine job of merging them.

Mixed in with the science are indigenous stories and anecdotes from life, all of them with the lessons to teach us about our relationship and attitudes toward the Earth. Much of it is an impassioned plea for
Blake Charlton
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
an interesting examination of botany, history, and society through an indigenous lens. many valuable observations and important criticisms about today's society; however, also a bit long and drawn out. characters that disagree with the author are flat, more often then not, made of straw, but this is more than compensated by the lovely character examinations of friends and colleagues. recommended.
Meghan Hughes
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a gift this book is to my life & the world. I have never read nature writing so beautiful, potent with detail, & immersive in content. I felt reading this as though I spent a walk in the woods with Kimmerer. She is a pure talent, a student & teacher of the land, & a new favorite author of mine. This book took me some time to get through, but I thoroughly enjoyed each time I picked it up. I read this to friends gathered on porches, in hammocks, on couches... Friends who shed ...more
Oct 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
A wondrous journey into First Nation mythology, the inter-connectedness of plants, trees, and animals with the human community, and how we learn our best knowledge from the natural world. Kimmerer grants a new, but ancient, philosophy about the land and our mutual responsibility.
Andreea (Infinite Text)
This is probably the most beautiful nature writing I've ever read.
Full review here:
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I read this for my Tiny Book Club. The subtitle is Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. It was a revelation.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a descendant of the Potawatomi Nation, raised on the stories of her tribe. She went to college and trained as a botanist because, as she told her advisor in her freshman intake interview, in answer to his question, "So, why do you want to major in botany?": "I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters an
C.E. G
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recently, I have been generally reserving 5 star ratings for books that I feel change me in some way (or sometimes just really flawless fiction). This book was definitely a reorientation to the world I live in. Robin Wall Kimmerer points out that many environmentalists say they love the Earth, but many are taken aback when she asks them the question "do you feel the Earth loves you back?" This book was the perfect blend of science and spirituality with sprinklings of history. She speaks not only ...more
Mary Anne
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The subtitle says it all: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. This was a very enriching book in the company of a very compassionate woman who cares greatly for the land. It is not a book to be rushed through but always to enjoy at leisure with a nice tea and some free time.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I think I like what she was going for more than I like what she actually put together. There is a lot of good stuff in here though, especially if you live in "Maple Nation" (the bioregion of the northeastern U.S.). It's just a little too carried away with the romanticism, almost being mawkish at times even. It's also pretty repetitive, making it a lot longer than necessary, and the solutions are left way too vague. I can't stand New Agey justifications for "appropriate technologies" like when sh ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. It puts into words a relationship with the land and with each other that I have always felt and strived for but never have been able to articulate or even seen articulated so perfectly and completely as Robin Wall Kimmerer does.
Peter Mcloughlin
This book carries a very different perspective than I am used to but I enjoyed it and got bits of wisdom from it. The earnest and reverential tone was a minor hurdle for me. I am used to a little more snark in my reading but it is beautifully written and its value and aesthetic would probably be worse if the work had my cynical edge. It combines science with some deep ecology and native American wisdom. I think it is a valuable work because it puts values long neglected in our current culture f ...more
This took me a long time to read, but it was REALLY powerful. I ended up buying the print copy and the audio book, and will be teaching bits of it even in my Native Art and Literature co-taught course in the Spring (because, hey LIBERAL ARTS includes the sciences! :)). I'm especially enjoying the Potawatomi and Haudenosaunee connections, since our college is on Potawatomi land and I grew up in Haudenosaunee country.
Victoria Simpson
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's no way a few words will do justice to this book. Suffice it to say, I loved it and highly recommend it!
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
HOMESONG Book Club: Teachers 1 75 Mar 31, 2019 12:26AM  
Literature of the...: First meeting for discussion 1 6 Nov 10, 2017 11:03AM  
Nature Literature: Braiding Sweetgrass discussion 14 62 Jun 05, 2016 06:58PM  
Healing in Nature: Slow reading 1 16 Nov 03, 2015 10:41AM  
All About Books: Group Read (December/January) Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin W. Kimmerer 88 344 Dec 28, 2014 01:09AM  

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Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (also credited as Robin W. Kimmerer) (born 1953) is Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). She is the author of numerous scientific articles, and the book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She is Potawatomi and combines her heritage with her ...more
“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” 82 likes
“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.” 61 likes
More quotes…