Long before moving to the island I took a keen interest in identifying as many of the plants around me as possible. How can I tell what plants I need purchase when I don’t even know the capabilities of the ones growing naturally all around me for free?
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway is an excellent primer on Permaculture. (Permaculture is essentially using big picture planning with natural principles to maximize yield and minimize work (striving for as close to no work as possible)). It was already one of the most oft-reached for books in my library but once I began my work on the island its value expanded beyond measure.
One of my favorite aspects to Toby’s permaculture strategy: when making your plan for the land, leave a small section outside the plan: just leave it completely wild and let whatever decides to grow there develop unmolested. The key is to pay close attention to the wild zone and implement what you learn into the rest of your design.
Identifying as many of those plants in the wild zone as possible really excites me so you can imagine my enthusiasm at the prospect of arriving at a whole island of wild zone! In my experience, those plants that turn up in the zone end up providing exactly what is needed, sometimes long before that need is even realized. Here on the island our understanding has been building slowly and steadily. I just keep my eyes open, my next google image search list handy and I’ve been engaging as many local natives as possible.
It may seem overwhelming to take on the challenge of learning about every plant around you but just take each tidbit in stride and continue to expand the knowledge web. Start simple with the plants you actually can identify and then learn about them. Dandelions are a great place to start no matter where you live!
Always be ready with those plants you’re stuck on because if you are earnestly following this path, you will bump into people who can answer your questions. As your understanding deepens you’ll be amazed to learn that almost all the weeds that you exasperatingly pulled from around your garden, were more nutritious than the vegetables you were protecting them from!
For years I was tasked with pulling this obnoxious weed from between the cracks of my dad’s driveway. I can still recall the red stems and green paddle-like succulent leaves and how frustrated I got when mid-pull, those stems would break, leaving the roots embedded and ready to reconquer the crack. Imagine my surprise when I spotted my little nemesis decades later in John Kallas’s excellent book on edible wild plants. (Here’s some thoughts on Wild Food Books.)
That plant I had to pull from the cracks is called Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and contains more omega-3 fatty acids than just about any other green and that in addition to an absolutely delightful texture! Recently, whist enjoying a dish at a very fine restaurant I was thrilled to discover Purslane’s bright leaves and round stems had been lending their crunchy succulence to my meal experience.
RevolutionofThought1 adds this:
I have yet to spot this plant on the island but I see it almost everywhere I travel. If you focus on the edges and the cracks you will see purslane’s round red stems and little paddle leaves and if you’ve found a nice, out-of-the-way spot without lots of traffic or pollution break some off some and start to consume that wild energy!