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Reading Weeds


On Going Back to the Land with Style, with Computers


In the days of my becoming socially aware, one of the popular slogans was "get back to the land." To us, rebelling meant ignoring the rest of the world and doing what seemed appropriate to mother Earth. We went back to the land, either trying to farm in the country, or living in a community that was actually developing a harmony with Nature.


When we arrived at Nature, we looked around and asked "what's this?" We found that children raised in the city had little experience to help them organize the vast amount of sensory information around them, while children raised on farms were more in touch with the cycles of plants and animals.

This feeling of lack of connection to natural cycles concerned me. Thus I began to look for a way to help people become sensitive to the signs that Mother Nature shows us. Signs that tell us about her workings on subtle levels not always visible to our eyes.


Knowledge of signs and cycles has traditionally been passed down through generations of people living on the land. Now this link has been broken, and 97% of us depend on the 3% who are farmers to grow our food. We plant exotic ornamentals around our houses, look at blooming wildflowers on the roadside as we speed by in our cars, and that is all we know of the land.


In the city, children learn to interpret designer labels on clothes, identify cars by their grill and tail light patterns, and find their favorite candy bar by its package design. Here, being able to recognize a fast-food sign from down the block is a survival skill. These skills and reading a natural landscape are of equal value in their separate worlds.


The process of developing one's senses, educating them, and extending them remains the same, only the context is different. Many people raised in a city would now like to move more easily between these worlds or to integrate them. It is for them that Reading Weeds was written.


For the farmer, the ability to read the soil is essential for producing high-quality crops and good yields. This detailed environmental knowledge has traditionally been passed on from elders to any young ones who would listen. This oral education covered the ways of the land, the signs of the seasons, what a each plant tells about its surroundings, and everything you should know about that plant.


No more is the knowledge passed down from the father to his children. We no longer use our Elders to pass on the wisdom of the land. Traditionally we would go to an Elder to find detailed information and enlightening perspectives on living in harmony with nature. But now we are retiring our Old Ones to old folks homes. The kids are moving to the cities for jobs and excitement.


It is said that Elders skilled in this knowledge could walk a piece of land, and from the weeds growing there, tell many things. Apparent from the weeds were the number of years since lime was applied, and how fine it was; the amount of manure or fertilizer used, the crops grown and something of the rotation used, the kind of plow used and the areas that were too wet when plowed.


I believe this knowledge is important and should be preserved. Fortunately, some of the wisdom of the Elders was passed to young people who grew and became researchers at colleges. They tested the plant and soil interactions and published their results, which I have collected and organized in a database. The next phase will be finding Elders and listening to what they say.


When I began collecting information on weeds I tried organizing it in various ways. Then the microcomputer happened. I acquired one of the personal ones, studied database programs and learned how to use them. After many hours of pecking at a keyboard I generated the database that comprises the bulk of this book. It is wondrous to watch a computer find relations between many different pieces of data in just seconds... after hundreds of hours of entering data!


This knowledge is yours by opening this book or accessing this database on your computer. Now as you walk the fields near your house you can imagine an Elder walking with you to tell you how to read the landscape.


Nature is all around you. You see plants in a parking lot, in the grass strip next to the sidewalk, in a city, in a suburb, on a farm, or in the middle of a wood.


I have wanted to "go back to Nature". Now, God willing, with this bit of technology, I can enjoy it and appreciate it more fully. My hope is that you also will learn to enjoy more deeply the world around you.

There has been a lot of discussion about selecting information tools that will help in your mental and spiritual development without getting in the way themselves. Computers and even books can be dead-ends or distractions that divert our attention from the path of knowledge we have chosen. What carefully selected means to you, is something you will need to feel through. For me, computers, databases, and word processors are tremendous aids. But you must decide for yourself, picking the form that is most comfortable for you.


This is the first edition, a beginning. I will continue to add information to make an even more useful reference. We need to list more weeds, more qualities, and more information to make it valuable in more places.


When you find some information that you feel should be included, email me at or send information to Ron Whitehurst, PO Box 2506, Ventura, CA 93002. Also let me know if you disagree with any information in Reading Weeds or think that it should be clarified. People's experience of plants will emphasize different qualities. Since honest people disagree, and the area of plant indicators complicated, conflicting reports are occasionally published. I value your contribution no matter how small it may seem to you.


One of the marvels to me is that this data represents the distillation of millions of person-hours of work. This research took place around the world, during the past one hundred years. I merely organized it, so I feel a deep debt of gratitude to those who made the observations on which my work is based.

I hope this work illuminates your corner of this glorious planet Earth.


Ron Whitehurst

Ventura, California, 11-26-2001



I would like to thank all the people who helped with bringing together all the information used here. I stand on the shoulders of many researchers, observers, and writers that came before me. I thank my first wife Pam (Scottie) Keller for her many years of patience and support. I appreciate Jan Dietrick, my wife, for opening doors and inspiring me to finish this work. I humbly acknowledge my teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, for enabling me to fully enjoy life and clearly see the workings of nature around me.