Sentient Sidewalk: Lessons From New York City’s Wild Medicinal Plants by Nikki Scioscia

The cover of Sentient Sidewalk: Lessons From New York City’s Wild Medicinal Plants by Nikki Scioscia repeated a few times

On a recent Department field trip to a local bookstore (for our bi-monthly cultural enrichment outing and team-building activity), our visiting botanist-in-residence and eclectic zine expert, Bjorn, picked up an interesting book by Brooklyn-based artist, designer, and author, Nikki Scioscia.

Sentient Sidewalk: Lessons from New York City’s Wild Medicinal Plants is a striking risograph-printed and sewn-bound 7×10 booklet that invites the reader to take a closer look at the plants around them—many of which they might otherwise ignore or be oblivious to.

The book weaves a personal narrative of the author’s journey of finding her home in New York, with entries that resemble a scientific journal, emphasizing the taxonomy, growing conditions, and medicinal value of wild urban plants, trees, herbs, and fungi. Weirdly and pleasantly, there are numerous parallels to be drawn between the human condition and that of our botanical neighbors, which is highlighted through Scioscia’s perspective and personal story.

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Nikki Scioscia in Sentient Sidewalk: Lessons From New York City’s Wild Medicinal Plants

The temporal composition and architecture of the writing are particularly comforting. An entry for Datura Innoxia informs us where we can hope to find it in present-day New York City, then goes on to explain how Aztec shamans ‘consumed one Datura species to predict the future,’ and finally illustratively ties in the author’s own relationship with the plant.

I moved to New York to follow my dreams, and I found mugwort growing wild on my street.

Nikki Scioscia in Sentient Sidewalk: Lessons From New York City’s Wild Medicinal Plants

You can find this structure throughout the book, punctuated and carried by absolutely wild and beautiful risograph-printed illustrations on slightly textured matte paper. The illustrations have a woodcut-like quality to them and look great in black and white.

According to Scioscia, she bound each of the 400 copies herself, and so each contains an immeasurable amount of her own personal energy, time, and love—which is both impressive and quite apparent.

While the incredibly detailed and mesmerizing artwork is reason enough to pick up this book, the succinct but deliberate anecdotes about the commonality and usefulness of native wild plants and fungi would pique the interest of any concrete-pilled residents of the city looking to expand on their knowledge of our natural, local ecological microcosm. For instance, now I know exactly why I see my neighbor walking around foraging dandelion greens off the side of the street all the time.

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The Small Editions-printed book appears to be out of print at the moment, according to the authors website, which is full of other wonderful artwork. However, it might be worth walking over to the Printed Matter bookshop to try your luck for additional copies. At the very least, you could probably spot some Mugwort sprouting up through the sidewalk cracks on the way there.