The old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, here’s a new one: When life gives you invasive weeds, make cocktails.
Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya Levy, two Philadelphia-based artists/botanists (a surprisingly common title in Philadelphia, apparently), have created We The Weeds: “a botanical arts and outreach project aimed at expanding knowledge of the wild plants of Philadelphia.”
Part of what they seek to educate people about is invasive plants—those that are not native to a specific environment but have begun to thrive there after being introduced by humans. Many see invasive plants as problematic because they unbalance the natural order of an ecosystem, but We The Weeds wants to encourage a more open-minded way of thinking about these “weeds.” “The conversation is dominated by doomsday sensationalism,” Levy was quoted as saying. “Invasive plants are a response to our way of living. They’re not bad plants that marched across the country to get us.”
One popular method to help locals better understand these plants is to put them to use especially in cocktails. “You can tell people about invasive plants, but without a sensible, tactile experience there’s a layer of separation,” Levy says. “Who doesn’t love to enjoy a fine drink?”
At a recent event at the Schuylkill Center for Environment Education, they served up two invasive plant drinks dubbed “The Native” and “The Foreigner.” The Native is a vodka-based cocktail infused with hawthorn berry and staghorn sumac fruit—two aggressive growing plants from the Northeast. The Foreigner centered around bourbon and the perilla leaf, a mint that migrated to the US from East Asia.
Turning bad plants into cocktails seems like a great way to help people rethink the way they define weeds. In fact, I may never complain about having to weed the garden again.