Saturday, April 7, 2012

Healing in the garden

I wrote this article when I thought I could make some money writing articles for Helium. It did get rated 6 out  of 66  articles on the same subject but it was just too darned difficult to make any money on that site so I have decided to use my articles myself. There will be no money in that either but at least they are in my own collection. 

Memoirs: Healing in the garden, how my garden helped me

POSTED June 03, 2008   Last Updated: June 09, 2008

When I was younger I didn't pay much attention to the "weeds" around me. I had been taught that they were just annoying entities that interfered with more valuable things like flowers and vegetables. They had to be dealt with severely.
Scenes of me helping my dad(both of us without masks)mix up the noxious chemicals that were required to keep his lawn and garden insect and weed-free, are like trailers from a horror movie.
My dad was a renowned gardener almost till the day he died. But I wonder how he would be perceived now. Would he refuse to recognize the dangers and far-reaching negative effects of the chemicals he used to control his unwelcome garden visitors? Or would he embrace the new/old knowledge of letting nature help him.
After leaving home and broadening my horizons it was with a sense of delight and wonder I became gradually aware that there were other ways to deal with so-called pests and weeds. Even more amazing was the fact that many of them might be embraced; like doctors for their healing powers or friends for their helpful ways.
I read voraciously and extolled the beauty and virtue of lady bugs, earthworms, dandelions, chick weed and companion planting. Still, friends and family looked on me as a love-able but benighted eccentric who was to be tolerated but never taken seriously.
When I became more militant about avoiding pesticides and cultivating helpful insects and birds by making the habitat welcoming, people changed the subject. They desperately hoped to steer me away from yet another diatribe on the decline of songbirds and native plants.
Anyone who would listen got my speech on grackles and starlings. They may not be the prettiest or most melodious bird on the planet, but they make up for it by eating their weight in bugs and caterpillars every day. I explained that they were far better garden allies than the beloved robin redbreast who busied himself with eradicating the life-giving, soil-enhancing earthworms from their garden patch.
Several years ago I moved to Ecuador where I spent many happy hours conversing with the farm ladies who still knew the ways of herbs and natural healing. It is common to see the ladies of the house returning from open air markets with their baskets filled to the brim with fresh local produce. Tucked into a corner is always a colorful bunch of "montes". This is a selection of "weeds" known for their curative and health-giving powers. Families would use one or more of these fresh herbs for whatever ailed them or simply make a refreshing tea out of a few of them. With sugar and lemon added it was a drink that excelled any store bought cola in flavor and certainly in healthful properties.
As I learned more about these beautiful and useful plants I started my own herb garden so I would always have them at hand. Now I am back in North America I still can grow many of the common ones prized by the ladies of Ecuador. Most, like Borage, Lemon balm, Valerian and Chamomile are perennials in my zone 5 garden, while beautiful deep purple Prince's Feather can be grown from seed each year. Lemon grass and Lemon Verbena are an experiment this year and will have to come into my warm dry living room for the winter.
While we have many varieties of Mallow like Hollyhock and Hibiscus I have not seen the tree sized one that saved me from blood poisoning in Ecuador.
After a minor surgery to have a toenail removed I came down with a virulent infection. As the infection spread so did my panic and I forgot helpful plants all around me in my haste to get to a pharmacy.
Many dollars, ointments and antibiotics later the infection was spreading up my toe and into my foot. The swelling and pain were excruciating and frightening. Then a neighbor pointed at a large tree growing by the side of my patio and said, "What about this mallow here? Have you tried it?"
I had known that mallow was good for coughs and bronchitis but she explained that it also had antibacterial properties. We brewed up a few flowers in a cup of water and used it as a wash for my long-suffering toe. Next morning, like magic there was no more swelling, no more redness and no more pain!
During my stay in Ecuador I had the privilege of living for a week with the Huaorani Indians on the River Shiripuno. My thirst for knowledge of healing plants was only whetted by trips through the teeming jungle while my friend pointed out one or another tree, bush or vine that his tribe used in all walks of their lives. I learned of the incredible properties of the Sangre de Drago (Dragon's Blood) tree. This tree, when nicked with a machete, bleeds a red sap that looks like blood. The sap can be used internally and externally and is one of the major health aids available to the Amazon tribes. The sap can be rubbed in the hand or fingers to produce a whitish paste that is then applied to wounds and bites or skin infections.
A garden is not just full of healing and healthful plants. It IS a healer in and of itself; a balm for the wounded soul. Here, with your hands deep in the earth you can forget your troubles for awhile. And as you smell the fragrance of the flowers and watch the fruits of your labor burst forth there is a great sense of satisfaction and peace.
Sadly as our modern life encroaches on the farm and the jungle and asphalt encroaches on our very garden spaces, the lore and the plants themselves are being lost. What a cornucopia of cures we have right at our feet if we only know how to use these wonderful healing plants. It is a credit to the plants themselves that in spite of generations of us trying to eradicate them they still persist. Perhaps they will endure even this assault.
So please, before you pull that "weed" or squash that insect, grab a book and see if you are about to kill a doctor or a friend.

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