Plant what you will
Garden growth in temperate areas is slow but steady. We plant broccoli seeds all through the winter so there is a ready supply of this super health-giving vegetable. Yes, I do get a bit sick of broccoli, but like everything else in the garden it is there for a permaculturallysound set of reasons.
A permaculture premise is that there must be at least three good reasons for growing, doing, and establishing anything. For broccoli: • it grows well through our winter, looks great, and the bugs stay away at this time of year; • it’s versatile in the kitchen; • it’s always high on the ‘super good for you’ lists in health news.
I can’t see the point in growing food I’m not too keen on so you won’t see too many broad beans or leeks. Leeks are great in soup when blended with potatoes but otherwise I need them to be small, thin, and cooked with bacon, onions and garlic and butter. Growing a few broad beans each year means more variety in our eating and a wider pool of nutrients for our bodies.
Gardening requires commitment and consistency to provide a plentiful food supply and there is no point in wasting hard work, so my advice is to plant your favourites, stick to basics and relish the prepared and cooked results of your efforts. It makes doing the dishes worthwhile.
the herbal dispensary in Raglan.” My sister Margery was quite insistent.
This kind of thing wasn’t on my ‘must do’ list on a visit to Raglan, a seaside village on the Waikato’s west coast. I had a cruisy walk on the beach in mind, but an accidental walk-by of The Herbal Dispensary and the constant stream of customers piqued my interest.
Baskets of produce, fresh sourdough bread, and herb and vegetable plants were spilling out onto the wide shop frontage. A peek in the door suggested a cross between a whole-food co-op, a herbal dispensary and a gift shop, with organic dried goods, eco-friendly household products and giftware co-mingling. Through the open, back door there was a glimpse of a thriving herb garden.
When Bronwyn Lowe first opened a small dispensary in a former doctor’s office in 1996, she thought it was a good day when she turned over $100. “I didn’t have a clue about business.” Twenty years and seven moves later, she employs three qualified herbal practitioners and owns the building her store is in.
“I thought it would be good to open a shop, raise the profile of herbal medicine, and then retire to my garden. I certainly never expected to be here 20 years later!”
But instead of retiring to the garden, Bronwyn brought the garden to the shop. It is both a plant resource and a quiet retreat but you won’t find manicured beds, just plenty of weeds and evidence of harvesting. Customers come in wanting rosemary or thyme or lemon verbena for tea, and staff duck out the back and pick it for them. They also make ointments and creams, infused oils and tea blends, sourcing some of the fresh ingredients from the garden. Calendula flowers are made into infused oils and oregano is used to make bouquet garni.
Dotted among the plots are rows of salad greens – rocket, miner’s lettuce and lettuces – which are picked fresh and bagged up for customers.
Bronwyn has also found time to teach at Wintec (the Waikato Institute of Technology), at the local high school and to community groups. In 2010 her shop won the Top Shop Award in the Sustainable Retailing category of the Waikato Retail Excellence Awards and in 2015 she won the Waipa Network Business Awards for Excellence in Small Business.
You feel very impressed sitting in her green space, talking herbs, and it doesn’t seem like she’s going to retire anytime.
“To my surprise I really enjoyed it. It’s a fantastic community, and diverse. I found the one-to-one consults were really rewarding and so varied. I see a lot of people with gut or digestive problems, fertility issues, anxiety, lowered immunity function and lowered adrenal function from stress.”
Bronwyn says nine out of ten of her clients present with adrenal stress.
“Most people in our modern society will have exhausted adrenals at some stage of their lives.”
She describes the adrenal glands as being like the energy centre of the body and the key to the whole ‘fight or flight’ syndrome.
Dandelion is an excellent bitter herb for stimulating the digestive juices, and it’s also a diuretic, supporting elimination by the kidneys. How to use: finely chop leaves into a salad or dry and make a tea. To dry roots: dig the root, wash, chop and dry in a low oven (about 30°C), or dry for a couple of days in a dehydrator. You need to chop it first because you won’t be able to afterwards. Borage supports the adrenal glands. Traditionally it was used for courage by the Romans who made a drink of borage before going to war. How to use: chop very young leaves into salads. Put flowers and leaves in ice drinks, ice cubes and jellies. “It gives a nice cucumber flavour,” says Bronwyn. Cleavers is a good cleanser and supports the lymphatic system. This sticky, clingy weed grows abundantly in hedgerows in the cooler months and carries burred seeds, which stick to clothing (and your pets). How to use: pick a large bowl before the plants goes to seed, chop roughly and pour cold water over it (the foliage is too delicate for hot water). Let it stand overnight and drink over the next day or two, or use it to make a wild weed pesto.