Posts Tagged ‘community gardens’

It was the kind of day I dream about. My family and I went to our neighbors’ backyard to check on the food we’d helped plant there in May. The tomatoes were peppy, the flowers were vibrant, the basil was huge, and the pepper plants stood tall and proud. The sun, rain, seeds, and all of our hopes had come together to create a garden. A lush, semi-unruly foodscape in the middle of the New York City concrete. It was just what I needed to see as we boarded the subway to go to the Bronx.

Brook Park in the South Bronx

I was headed to teach a workshop on creating herbal honeys at Brook Park. I would be reconnecting with youth who were taking part in the Padre Plaza Success Garden Summer Camp.

I’d last seen the kids and their garden in June when I taught a class on some of the herbs at Padre Plaza. I also met Jada then, an amazing ten year old gardener who planted most of the herbs we’d be working with. Imagine my joy when upon return, I found that the youths’ adoration of the herbs had grown as much as the plants had. Click here to see Jada’s interview.

Aresh Javadi, my friend and the inspired co-founder of More Gardens, and Kate Temple-West, a wise-woman, poet and gifted herbalist, brought huge jars of delicious honeys, lavender, sage, lemon balm, and wild mint. We then gathered some more fresh herbs from the garden. We returned to our gorgeous outdoor workshop space with armfulls of lemon balm, lettuce leaf basil, marigolds, mullein, and chocolate mint.

It was time to make herbal honey!

Little Honey Hands

Why make herbal honey? Because honey alone is one of the most delicious medicines I know of. It is antibiotic, antibacterial, mineral rich and able to ease coughs better than commercial cough syrup in a single bound. It’s also great on scrapes, burns and cuts. Once you team honey up with an herb, you have a fantastically healing combination. Honey preserves many of the medicinal properties of herbs and you can add it to teas, spread it on bread, take it by the teaspoon, add it to elixirs or use it on your skin. I’ve done all of the above with herbal honeys and have a cabinet full of them to testify to their goodness.

So here is what you need to make an herbal honey:

  • a jar
  • fresh herbs
  • honey
  • a chopstick or strong plant stems or a spoon.

You rip the plant material into small pieces and pack the jar with it. Then you slowly cover the plant with honey. It is important to use the chopstick or the plant stem (we used those in our workshop and had great success) to push the plant material down after you have poured honey over it.We do this to release air bubbles in the medicine and ensure that the jar is full of honey and herbs instead of air!

Once you have filled your jar with honey, cover it and put it away for six weeks. When you encounter your honey again it will taste like whatever herb you infused it with. I can’t describe how delectable this can be. You’ll probably forget it is supposed to be good for you.

A few of my favorite herbal honeys are: sassafras (leaf and/or bark), lemon balm, lavender,rose hip,and sage.

By the time our workshop was over, everyone was a happy, sticky mess. The beautiful jars of honey soaked herbs were cradled in the palms of the children. I left the Bronx elated: the future of healing is in wonderful hands.

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“In order to plant you have a have a free spirit,” my neighbor said to me recently. Something about the statement resonated. I am a born and raised city dweller. Working with the earth, honoring her seasons and cycles, knowing what grows and when it grows never seemed like a necessity. The supermarket carried peaches and apples all year round. carrots, greens and broccoli were always on the shelves. Organic? Local? Farming? Huh?

Last year I managed two farmers’ markets. During that time I ate what was in season, tried vegetables and fruit that I’d never heard of, tasted fresh tomatoes, took home greens that didn’t pass out as soon as they hit the refrigerator, and saw what broccoli looks like before all its leaves are cut away. It was an incredible education. I worked with the very people who planted, harvested, transported and  sold the food my neighbors and I were eating. I was amazed by their hard work, in awe of the flavors of the food, and saddened by how divorced I had been from the entire process of how food gets from the soil to our plates.

What does this have to do with herbs? Well, so many of our ailments have their roots in the supermarket. When I started paying more attention to what I ate, my first rule was that if I couldn’t pronounce something on the label, I’d put it back. Now I tend to say that if it has a label, I probably won’t pick it up.

Having children makes me even more conscious of the foods I buy. How can I expect my child to behave in a classroom if she had a bowl full of sugar with milk for breakfast? Why are people shocked at childhood obesity and early onset of pubery when the children are being fed regular doses of hormones in their meat? And what about the drinks labeled juice? Just water, high fructose corn syrup and red #40. This stuff is piled high on the aisles of the supermarkets in my neighborhood.

I’ve watched folks in my family turn to doctors for help although healing could have been found in the kitchen. Maybe the cure was at the farmers’ market. The prescription might have been planting seeds in a community garden.

A few weeks ago I was in a greenhouse carefully planting basil and bok choy seeds. I walked back and forth getting water from a creek to water newly emerging plants. It felt like a homecoming. That night I ate kale and bok choy harvested from a friend’s garden. She is able to feed her family because she has a close relationship with the earth and this seems to me like one of the ultimate freedoms.

So this year while I vow to keep learning about herbs and have my hands in the earth more, I also want to figure out how to help improve the health of  my community. My local farmers’ market is located between two fast food joints. I guess there is more than one way to plant a seed.

How do you plant seeds of health in your community?

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