Book Review: Iwígara by Enrique Salmón

I recently picked up Iwígara  by Enrique Salmón while I was browsing through an independent bookstore.  I fell in love with the cover art and the promise of what was inside: “the kinship of plants and people.”  While I didn’t purchase it (because I had already picked up two other books that edged Iwígara out—I have to set limits), I did check it out of our library.

About the book:

“A beautiful catalogue of 80 plants, revered by indigenous people for their nourishing, healing, and symbolic properties.” —Gardens Illustrated

The belief that all life-forms are interconnected and share the same breath—known in the Rarámuri tribe as iwígara—has resulted in a treasury of knowledge about the natural world, passed down for millennia by native cultures. Ethnobotanist Enrique Salmón builds on this concept of connection and highlights 80 plants revered by North America’s indigenous peoples. Salmón teaches us the ways plants are used as food and medicine, the details of their identification and harvest, their important health benefits, plus their role in traditional stories and myths. Discover in these pages how the timeless wisdom of iwígara can enhance your own kinship with the natural world.

What I thought…

As mentioned above, I was excited to get into this book.  I am not one to skip an introduction and I must say that Salmón almost lost me there as he wrote about this scholarly paper and that scholarly paper and his thesis.  Then, he luckily penned:

Ethnobotany is an area of study that interests both academics and laypeople. Unfortunately, most ethnobotanical texts are written by and for academics. The layperson, even one who is keenly interested in ethnobotanical knowledge, may not wish to decipher the esoteric jargon and not-so-engaging writing styles of professional ethnobotanists. (11)

Luckily he quickly explains his aim is to do it differently.  He honors his ancestors and teachers but he updates the information with a modern slant.  All the vital information (uses, harvesting, etc.) are listed along with the “spirit and character” of the plant.

“All Native Knowledge is Local” opens the book.  He reminds us all that “American Indian traditional knowledge is tied to the landscapes they called home”(13).  In this section, he briefly talks about the landscape, origin myths and world views of the Southeast, Southwest, Great Plains, Mountain West, and Southwest, Pacific Northwest and West Coast tribes.

Salmón then lists plants.  It’s a long list. Know that this is  not a home-remedy book.  While he lists a description, a few photos, uses, harvesting tips, and health benefits, it is more informational than comprehensive.  It’s a good starter book or a nice coffee table type book.  I totally understand why Salmón would not publish a how-to book—too much liability.

I did enjoy this book, especially the Native American myths, legends, and beliefs that are woven through the work.



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