How does Kimmerer use plants to illustrate her ideas in Braiding Sweetgrass?

Kimmerer uses plants to illustrate her ideas in Braiding Sweetgrass in order to emphasize the role of plants in Indigenous culture, not as objects to be bought and sold, but as equals and teachers.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Most chapters in Braiding Sweetgrass involve an anecdote from Kimmerer's personal and professional life in addition to a lesson that Kimmerer has learnt from another species. Some of the prominent plants in the text include the eponymous sweetgrass, the maple, the three sisters, and the strawberries. Each plant life has its own lessons to teach, either relating to their mythological significance or to their advanced biological techniques.

Some plants, such as lichen, impart simple lessons. Lichen is a plant that is made up of two separate organisms, an alga and a fungus, and can only survive in the harshest of environments. Thus, Kimmerer explains how the lichen shows us that when times are tough, it is only through interspecies cooperation that we can survive. Other plants, such as sweetgrass, offer more complicated lessons steeped in Indigenous creation stories and our relationship as a species to the earth as a whole.

Perhaps more important than any individual lesson, however, is the way in which Kimmerer frames plants throughout her text. Plants are not objects that Kimmerer uses in order to illustrate her own ideas, but rather sentient teachers who have passed down their wisdom to Kimmerer, who in turn is passing down that wisdom to the reader. By structuring her work in this way, Kimmerer resists the predominately Western concept of plant life as less valuable than human life and helps the reader to see the personhood and wisdom inherent within each plant.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial