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Book Review: Zombie Gardening

Zombie Gardening. Adam Kessel. Chicago: Sunflower Trail Publishing, 2nd Edition, August 11, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 68 pages.

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

After the big one, where only cockroaches and plants that most Americans consider weeds survive, leftover zombie apocalyptic people will need to survive. If there’s not enough flesh to go around, forage for weeds! In a tongue-in-cheek picture guide with room for field notes, naturalist Adam Kessel shows the rest of us how to make the best of pest plants.

Using his own photographs, the author has created a visually appealing book with notes about common and less-common plants that are generally considered nuisances. I recognized a great number of the nuisance plants from my first attempt to grow a yard in my new country home. I have the raw material to try a few of Kessel’s suggested preparation techniques. I appreciated the author’s gentle reminder that these plants came across the ocean with the settlers who had “extraordinarily little room” for their allotted cargo, but felt the need to bring these plants from home for their survival. “Each plant in this book has a story,” writes Kessel, an experienced ethno-botanist. “Use this book to rebuild those lost relationships.”

For each identified plant, like the common dandelion, Kessel provides a photograph including the Latin name, a note such as “dried dandelion root is a sub-par substitute for coffee, but it’s better than nothing,” a “uses” note, such as “leaves and flowers are edible,” and a foraging guide for searching in places like parks, abandoned lots, or alleyways. 

Plants fall into categories such as “Harvest Away” (for non-native invasive plants), “Harvest Sparingly” (plants that are native but can take over an urban environment), “Survival Harvest” (native species that are rare and may be overwhelmed by too great use), and finally, “Harvest Only if a Zombie is Breathing Down Your Neck.”

I experienced a few issues with the electronic version that made it difficult to read, and the print version is laid out similarly. The design is quite pretty, but the background decoration on the pages and the small, tight, informal font can occasionally make the words hard to read. 

The electronic version wasn’t set up with individual pages for each plant with a definitive header for the next plant, and the run-ons often forced me go back to see when the change took place and where the new notes started about the next plant. Each plant page was slightly different, which I liked; nevertheless, it was sometimes hard to match directions or notes with the intended plants. Overall, my reading experience would have benefited from improved navigational aids and a more structured layout.

Zombie Gardeninghas a companion Zombie Teaching Guidewith multi-level lessons for finding, identifying, and potential uses of, the plants in the book. My environmental studies teacher husband reviewed the book with me, and we found it useful and fun. While the teaching guide is a great tool to introduce botony, it should be used in settings where, for example, kids aren’t running around looking for poison ivy to rub on one another.

Each plant was generally well defined and introduced by name and use, including a few caveats where necessary—such as, stinging nettles will irritate your skin with an intense burning, which it does, but that probably won’t stop the undead. The “uses” notes provide medicinal purposes which allude to the story of the plant. The book helped me appreciate the plants, even if I still grumble about them.


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