Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire (Random House 2001)

Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire (Random House 2001)

I enjoyed this selection from Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, so I figured I’d share it here, though it doesn’t specifically pertain to eco-village gardens.

The book explores the history and culture of four plants that humans have shaped and that have in turn shaped humans. The plants are the apple, tulip, marijuana, and potato. This is a selection from the section on marijuana, starting from page 118:

I sometimes think that we’ve allowed our gardens to be bowdlerized, that the full range of their powers and responsibilities has been sacrificed to a cult of plant prettiness that obscures more dubious truths about nature, our own included. It hasn’t always been this way, and we may someday come to regard the contemporary garden of vegetables and flowers as a place almost Victorian in its repressions and elisions.
For most of their history, after all, gardens have been more concerned with the power of plants than with their beauty – with the power, that is, to change us in various ways, for good and for ill. In ancient times, people all over the world grew or gathered sacred plants (and fungi) with the power to inspire visions or conduct them on journeys to other worlds; some of these people, who are sometimes called shamans, returned with the kind of spiritual knowledge that underwrites whole religions. The medieval apothecary garden cared little for aesthetics, focusing instead on species that healed and intoxicated and occasionally poisoned. Witches and sorcerers cultivated plants with the power to “cast spells” – in our vocabulary, “psychoactive” plants. Their potion recipes called for such things as datura, opium poppies, belladonna, hashish, fly-agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), and the skins of toads (which contain DMT, a powerful hallucinogen). These ingredients would be combined in a hempseed-oil-based “flying ointment” that witches would administer vaginally using a special dildo. This was the “broomstick” by which these women were said to travel.
The medieval gardens of witches and alchemists were forcibly uprooted and forgotten (or at least euphemized beyond recognition), but even the comparatively benign ornamental gardens that came after went out of their way to honor the darker, more mysterious face of nature. The Gothic gardens of England and Italy, for example, always made room for intimations of morality – by including a dead tree, say, or a melancholy grotto – and the occasional frission of horror. These gardens were interested in changing people’s consciousness, too, though more in the way a horror movie does than a drug. It’s only been in modern times, after industrial civilization concluded (somewhat prematurely) that nature’s powers were no longer any match for its own, that our gardens became benign, sunny, and environmentally correct places from which the old horticultural dangers – and temptations – were expelled.

The eco-village garden has a couple of dead trees… maybe we should do a grotto too?