Robin Kimmerer invites the reader to accept from her a sheaf of sweetgrass. She gives its scientific name, Hierochloe odorata, and its Ojibwe name, wiingaashk, and describes how weaving it into a braid can be a communal activity. Again addressing the reader directly, she asks if they can help each other braid sweetgrass together. The braid of the book that follows is made of three parts: “science, spirit, and story.” She hopes that it might inspire a different kind of relationship between people and the earth.
The preface to Braiding Sweetgrass introduces several of its main themes, all brought together through the symbol of the braided sweetgrass of the book’s title. Kimmerer introduces the plant using both its Latin and Ojibwe names, bringing up the theme of mixing scientific knowledge with Indigenous wisdom, and she prefaces the theme of reciprocity and communalism by describing how braiding sweetgrass can be a practice of communion with other people. This section also prepares the reader for the hard-to-classify book to follow, which is part memoir, part history, and part science writing. Finally, Kimmerer reveals her main goal: to change the way that the reader thinks about their own relationship to the earth.