Katrina Blair loves all plants equally, a passion that led her to write a book, start a nonprofit and teach internationally about edible and medicinal weeds.
She was 11 when she discovered her love for plants paddling on an air mattress across Haviland Lake. She had paddled out of view of her family, when the plants on the shore seemed to call her over.
“I crawled barefoot through the muck and sat down with these plants and got totally euphoric,” she said.
Right then, sitting with the yarrow, bluebells and grasses, Blair said she felt commissioned to go to work for the plants. Her work has included writing “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds” to educate readers about the benefits of 13 wild plants found around the world; starting Turtle Lake Refuge, a Durango nonprofit group that celebrates the connection between health and wild lands; and advocating for organic land management.
Her focus on organic practices started long before the potential dangers of chemical herbicides gained widespread national attention through high-profile litigation.
This year, a California man was awarded $80.27 million after alleging the active ingredient Roundup weedkiller, glyphosate, was responsible for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Last week, the award was reduced to $25.27 million by a federal judge, according to Reuters.
Blair sees no need to use chemicals to manage weeds because they are serving a purpose in the environment as pioneer plants. Dandelions, thistles and other weeds have long tap roots that allow them to thrive in soil disturbed by compaction, such as construction, overgrazing and natural disasters, she said. As the years pass, the weeds help to rebuild the topsoil and allow other plants to move in, she said.
“It’s a little ironic that we are using an herbicide, which is a huge disturbance in the earth, to try to get rid of (weeds) because nature is only going to bring them back, because that’s what nature does,” she said.
Blair’s nonprofit, Turtle Lake Refuge, uses an all-natural approach to manage weeds in Telluride, Electra Lake and Mancos that has proved to be effective.
The nonprofit removes weeds manually, overseeds the area with grass and flower seed and spreads compost and other material to regenerate the soil.
“We are just assisting nature in the regenerating of disturbed lands,” said Blair, who has degrees in biology and health education.
Turtle Lake Refuge employee Brian Barnes was skeptical about the approach to organic lands management because it is a big time commitment that can require lots of labor up front. But he has seen it lead to a long-term shift across the landscape, he said.
At Electra Lake he’s observed a 75% reduction in thistles over five years and as time has passed, the land requires less management.
He appreciates that Blair rejects “quick fixes” promised by chemical companies and focuses uncompromisingly on long-term health for land and people, he said.
Blair’s interest in health was inspired by her mother, Pat Blair, who was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis when she was 17. For 12 years, she relied on Western medicine to treat her condition.
She endured years of “absolute agony” before trying a juice fast that eliminated her pain in a few days, Pat Blair said. A shift in her diet to whole unrefined foods allowed her to swim and ski again and inspired her to become a nutritionist and teach others about its benefits, she said.
“There’s no hype around it it’s just enjoyable food,” she said.
To promote her own health, Katrina Blair walks to Telluride over eight mountain passes every year and eats all wild food along the way, she said.
Transitioning to eating plants, leaves, roots and berries can leave Blair with a little bit of low energy for the first three days. But once she has transitioned to the wild diet, she is left with an infinite amount of energy because she is eating food at its “highest octane of vitality,” she said.
She teaches others about the edible and medicinal value of wild plants through Turtle Lake Refuge and travels internationally to teach as well.
It’s a shift in a person’s diet that can eliminate the pollution caused by industrial food systems and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
“The baby step is just to go out and put a dandelion in a salad,” she said.