Musings: It’s Time For a Return to Plant Wisdom
Art by Missy Cowan
A couple of years ago I attended a workshop on invasive plants at the Women’s Herbal Conference in New Hampshire and discovered, much to my surprise, that rototilling my garden was an invasive act! Soil hosts an entire world of microbes and networks of mycorrhizal fungal filaments that have intentionally layered the dirt in your garden “just so” for optimal soil health and plant growth. Tilling up the rich earth to give your seedlings a starting advantage actually destroys the intricate information and nutrient networks already established there, based on hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary wisdom. Who knew plants, roots, fungi — even dirt — were so anciently intelligent?
According to Dr. T. Herman Sissons in The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, plants are the original source of bio-intelligence on Earth. It is they who initiated species diversification, moving from water to land close to two billion years ago in an organized — and Sissions insists, intelligent — process of adaptation, survival and reproduction that transformed Earth’s biosphere for the millennia of all future populations. Does this make plants the origin of our species?
Herbalist Pam Montgomery thinks so. This issue in “Cared For and Loved By Green Beings,” she writes, “All our tissue comes from plants because we don’t make our tissue from sunlight — plants do. All our food comes from plants either directly or from an animal that ate a plant, and all our oxygen comes from plants. We are completely dependent upon plants for our daily existence.”
Yet plants receive perhaps the least of our respect and consideration in the natural world. We pull weeds and chop wilderness at our whims, and even pacifists, who refuse to kill animals for food, think nothing of chowing down a big plate of greens. We view plants like the background and scenery in our lives, rather than the substance of our very existence. Because we buy our food at the grocery store and prescriptions in pill form, we forget how essential plants are in producing our food and medicines.
As people gradually stopped growing their own food on small farms or in backyard gardens, industrial agriculture and processed food companies happily stepped in to fill the void. But as corporations, their goal is to be the biggest and most profitable businesses they can be, not to produce the healthiest food for people to eat. Decades later, we are eating genetically modified fruits, vegetables and grains because GMO foods are cheaper to produce and provide bigger profits. Twenty years after the first genetically modified food, the FlavrSavr tomato, arrived on the market, 90% of the corn and soy in our diets is genetically engineered and we don’t even know it. This is why GMO companies are determined to keep their products unlabeled; an uninformed public is much easier to sell their products to.
According to a Wall Street Journal blog on August 7, 2014, “There have been no human studies on the long-term health impact of consuming GMOs, just animal studies, as is typical in determining the safety of food…[yet] published studies say there are signs of toxic effects in animals that ate genetically modified crops…” Despite this lack of testing, and the growing list of countries around the world who are banning GMOs from their food supplies as unsafe, GMO companies are scooping up legal victories in seed patent protection, buying out their seed company competition, and little by little, owning the rights to control the world’s food and seed supply. This sounds like an absolutely awful idea to me.
From the plant’s perspective, all is not well, either. Genetically engineered by nature for hundreds of millions of years to nourish the biosphere, propagate and diversify, plants now find themselves being cloned and re-engineered into a predator species. Manmade genetically engineered plants, such as Bt corn, potatoes and cotton, sprout insecticides from within to make them naturally pest resistant (it splits open the stomachs of invading insects), but which also proves to be toxic to other species in that plant’s food chain including some bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects (humans unknown). Unfortunately, pests adapt quickly to survival challenges and within less than seven years superbugs developed resistance to the Bt toxin, so a new insecticide was added to the genetic code. Now it delivers a double whammy of toxins to pests (and possibly anyone else consuming the product).
GE crops are also designed to tolerate large doses of glyphosate, an herbicide most popularly sold as Roundup, which is now suspected to be linked to the massive die-offs and population disruptions in bees, butterflies and other related species, as well as in fish and amphibian populations, where agricultural run-off water collects. As with the superbugs, superweeds have cultivated resistance to glyphosate, resulting in even heavier applications of the pesticide. While GE crops are resistant to its poisoning, the soil and surrounding non-GE plants are not, greatly compromising soil fertility and predisposing plants, and those that feed on them, to disease and toxins.
Ironically, as we experiment with genetics gone wild on some plants, we still live in an age of marijuana prohibition. Especially in light of its medicinal and healing properties, criminalizing cannabis is as harmful to society today as was the prohibition of alcohol that empowered organized crime in the 1930s, notes cannabis reform activist Steve DeAngelo in his interview this issue. 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012 ruined twice as many lives, was enormously expensive to process, provided no financial return, and was entirely unnecessary in the first place. Legalize and regulate illegal drugs to disempower drug cartels and put an end to the violence sending drugs and people to our borders.
It’s time for a return to plant wisdom! May every family grow some food and medicine!
Carol Bedrosian is the publisher of Spirit of Change holistic magazine. Visit www.spiritofchange.org.