Be an Urban Wildling: ReWilding YOUR Ecology!

So rarely do I find an idea that just zings with me like rewilding does, but ZING! Wow WOW am I ever excited about this. Let me back up and tell you what exactly I’m going on about before I go on any further…

I’ve been talking with the Urban Moonshine people, mostly because I love their bitters but partly because I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to be upset that I’m talking about them.  In any event, they were kind enough to send me this article, by their Chief Herbalist Guido Mase RH introducing the concept of rewilding our Urban spaces.  Not with big sweeping gestures, like knocking down buildings and tearing up pavement; but with the small gestures that gently nudge environments and ourselves back to health and balance.  The tiny things that will help our pollinators, help our soil health, help our internal health and maybe bring us all a little closer to wonderful.

A wild garden from ourhappyacres.com - rewilding at work.

A wild garden from ourhappyacres.com – rewilding at work.

Selected Rewilding Excerpts from Guido Mase, RH “Re-Wild Our Ecology This Spring”:

It’s always puzzled me that life and vitality even exist. After all, there is a vast amount of decay and destruction all around us. Many speculate that the universe will eventually end up a homogenous, barely warm field of force[i]. Yet somehow there is also this tendency everywhere for more and more complex beings to spring up, interact, and reproduce. These two trends seem to stand in opposition, two basic drives, somewhat of a paradox.




For us humans there is no escape from this basic fact. Some say we are becoming more and more separate from nature[iv], which of course is impossible (we are nature)

If you fail to recognize how important it is to fully interact and engage with the diversity of life, consequences inevitably follow. Less bees[vii], fewer flavonoids, more heart disease. Fewer monarch butterflies[viii], absent bitter compounds, more diabetes. That’s the thing: complexity works at all levels of the ecology, and our current culture has places where things aren’t as connected, aren’t as linked up. We may be fully jacked into the information stream, but our phytochemical stream has very low bandwidth. Maybe the best way to link up is simply to do as life does: increase the chaos, increase the diversity, open up access, re-wild within and without. It seems to me that the spring season is a good time for this. It’s when the ice cracks, and the seed breaks through the soil.

One strategy is to change the ecology, little by little. We can look to the parking lot, the lawn, the edge of the cornfield. Scatter seeds of resilient native plants – wild bee balm, dandelion, red clover. Leave some grass uncut – watch the trefoil, wild carrot, and asters grow. Leave thick buffer zones between your gardens, rich in weeds like St. John’s wort, mugwort, and chicory. These plants will attract pollinators, giving them a much needed source of safe food. They will change the chemical interactions of microbes in the soil[ix], affect patterns of bird nesting and reproduction[x], and speed the dissipation of contaminants[xi]. This will help our cities, gardens and fields link up.

In our bodies, herbal medicine is the best way to achieve similar diversity, and it may be the easiest as well (life, after all, appears to be the path of least resistance). While much of herbalism is devoted to specific constitutions, or well-defined patterns of imbalance, it also has a rich tradition of plants applied tonically, ritually, daily: planting a wild garden inside. The life-enhancing power of tonic herbalism is the exposure to an ever-changing cocktail of phytochemistry, enriching the internal ecology and helping us connect to seasons as they change.

This spring, try a simple version of the classic bitter tonic: gather dandelion leaves and roots and mix them with an aromatic plant like motherwort, mugwort, or mustard, the young leaves still fresh and vital. To these add something with a little hint of salt, like parsley or chickweed. Get your plants locally and, if you can’t find them, plant them. Chop the herbs up well and cover the mix with vodka, or even apple cider vinegar. After a few weeks, strain this mixture and take a little bit every day. Great on the tongue, this tonic wakes up and supports all the internal organs. It encourages vitality because it is vitality: life, diversity, complexity, efficiency. This will help our bodies link up.

Rewilding - The wild garden in the former churchyard of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Rewilding – The wild garden in the former churchyard of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

What Does It Mean – To Plant A Wild Garden Inside?

I *love* this imagery. I want to roll around in it and fill myself up with having a wild garden inside. Not a cultivated garden in neat little rows, but a wild, crazy, sprawling garden booming with life. My own internal rewilding. I imaging the idea of having a wild garden inside might be a little bit different for every person, but to me that feels free and alive and rich – like I would be filled to bursting with life and vitality and color. I agree we need a little more chaos and a little less cultivation – not only that we need to embrace the chaos more and to live into the changes rather than trying to avoid or control them.  There needs to be more native seed scattering and less lawn-mowing. I’m not just talking about the health of the earth here, I’m talking about for our own health, our own sanity.  I don’t think it’s normal to cultivate and tend and regiment everything down to well-oiled-machine status.  I think life is supposed to be a whole lot more than that.  It’s time to get out of those boxes and shake things up a bit. The wonderful thing is that rewilding can mean whatever you want it to mean – this can be your codeword for anything you want to make richer and more adventurous in your life. Any way you can nudge your own self back to balance.

Here’s a little list of ways I’m going to ReWild, and ways I’m going to nurture my wild garden:

  • Schedule fewer things so there’s time in the day to stop and smell the roses (or dandelions)
  • Appreciate more the richness and diversity of the “weeds” in my garden and worry less about keeping them out. I’m not just talking about the literal weeds – I’m also talking about the nuisances and hassles and personalities and minor chaos in life.  Sure – it’s there. it’s going to keep being there. That just adds depth and texture.
  • Make wishes and blow the dandelion tops when I see that they’re ready to re-seed, because bees and other pollinators need more dandelions, and I could use a little more child-like joy. I’m considering getting some kids bubble wands for the same reason.
  • Invest in some great native seeds from Native Seed Search and Native American Seed and scatter those in places that need to be made a little more beautiful. I’m also going to start to look at my home and see what there needs some metaphorical wild seed? Are there clothes I got because someone else thought they might look good (but don’t feel like me?) what about things in my home? Does my environment make me feel alive and wonderful or boxed-in and dreary? What about my living space can I rewild?
  • What about my routine is just routine? Where have I become stagnant and started doing the same things, not because they’re vibrant and wonderful but just because.  Am I in a rut with the foods I eat? With books I’m reading? Clothes I’m wearing?
  • Spontaneous road trips! Let’s have more of those. Just jump in the car and pick a direction. Why not?

I feel like rewilding is an idea that needs to pervade everyone’s life – we have become too domesticated and lost our fires and our sparks and our instincts.  Let’s work to rewild – to loosen and let go and shake things up. Life doesn’t need to feel like a cubicle job – it needs to feel alive and like a grand adventure that you look forward to every day.



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