Why Only 6 Plants?

Have you ever taken a college botany course? If not, it’s typical to be expected to learn 100 plants in a semester. How many of those do you think you would remember? Maybe 6, if youʻre lucky?

Basically, people always want more but don’t have the bandwidth to remember much. It speaks to the way we are wired, and how when there is a compelling story and/or we build a relationship with something, that we then learn and remember it. Another way we learn and remember is through direct experience, by doing. If the Savage Kitchen app covered 100 plants, what’s the likelihood that you would work with them by getting outside to identify, harvest, and then actually preparing them and eating them? Do you think you would learn all of them in a deep way, a way in which you wouldn’t need to do an internet search or use the app to validate? 

Although 6 plants are highlighted in this mobile app, it’s really more like 20 because several species or varieties are included under one name.

  • “Strawberry Guava” covers 3 distinct varieties, each with different shapes, colors and sizes. There is the red variety, whose botanical name is Psidium cattleianum var. cattleianum. There is the yellow pear-shaped, or pineapple-shaped, variety whose botanical name is Psidium cattleianum var. pyriformis. And, there is the yellow round-shaped variety by the name of Psidium cattleianum var. lucidum.
  • “Butterfly Ginger” covers 3 different species. There is the kāhili (Hedychium gardnerianum) which has yellow flowers with a red stamen and anther, white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) with a white flower and white stamen and white anther, and the yellow butterfly ginger (Hedychium flavescens) with yellow flower and yellow stamen and yellow anther.
  • “Spanish Needles” covers 2 species, the Bidens pilosa and Bidens alba.
  • “Wild Amaranth” includes a huge number of edible Amaranthus spp. around the globe, with at least 6 different edible species in Hawaiʻi.
  • “Haole Koa” is Leucaena leucocephala ssp. leucocephala, but there are several other Leucaena species which are similar and can be used interchangeably; like Leucaena x esculenta, Leucaena leucocephala x diversifolia, and Leucaena leucocephala x spontenaea in Hawaii. And, Leucaena leucocephala ssp. glabrata in places like Mexico.
  •  “Java Plum” is the easy one, with just a singular botanical name of Syzygium cumini.

When you let go of trying to learn all the plants around you, there’s the realization that there is so much to learn about just these 6. How to eat them, ways of making medicine with them, ways you can utilize the plants for other things like building materials or adornment or natural dyes. It’s our belief at Savage Kitchen that when you deepen your relationships by learning a few plants, and learning them well, that the impacts are greater and longer-lasting. These plants have been chosen because they are the most abundant, widely available, edible wild foods found in our ecosystems.

Even though the Savage Kitchen app focuses on invasive species, it is imperative that harvesting protocols be followed so that we don’t fall into the trap of disrespecting life. If you’re part of a coordinated conservation team tending to an ecosystem, and will be putting in replacement plants suited to the area after invasive species removal, then it seems logical to take away more than you will use. But, for most people, there is a need to develop the skill of learning how much to take first, and to begin understanding through direct experience how your actions affect the ecosystem. 

  • Are you 100% sure of identification?
  • Have you asked permission from the plant? And waited for a reply?
  • Did you come to the exchange with reciprocity in mind and heart? Gift-giving is personal; maybe a song, prayer of thanks and goodwill, biodegradable offering, or otherwise paying respects to this wild living being for its life that gives you life. 
  • Take only what you truly need. 
  • Ask yourself again, not only what you need, but how much energy you have to process/preserve/cook once you get home.
  • Double-check the area before leaving to make sure it looks beautiful, and that you haven’t left something behind other than your gratitude, blessings, and/or biodegradable offerings. 
  • Make a commitment that you will not spread seeds or other reproductive plant material. You might fall in love with these invasive plants and be tempted to plant them near your home, avoid that temptation! Make a conscious effort to avoid eating wild fruits and spitting seeds on the ground, clean soles of shoes and pull seeds stuck to clothing, only put remains of plants in compost if it is tended and make sure all butterfly ginger rhizome is bagged in the trash and sent to the dump.

It’s simple, but it takes real-time practice to walk in a good way on the land. When we learn to do that, collectively, there will be another 6 edible invasive plants lined up to focus on, and on and on.


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