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Building a herbal garden

The plan is to have a garden apothecary and to go outside and get medicated naturally, rather than buying pharmaceutical products in a box. Since medication is mostly derived from plants, we might as well go straight to the source!

When I had first watched an episode of River Cottage where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visits a herbalist of sorts, and she draws a bath for him using flowers and herbs from her garden, I was smitten with the idea of one day having a romantic looking garden full of magical plants and know-how. It wasn’t until I’d watched Grow Your Own Drugs by James Wong, that I had grown to realise how within reach that dream was; as long as I did proper research and tried not to be too ambitious immediately, that I would get there. It wasn’t as painful and clinical as I had always thought it to be; it’s kind of like cooking, isn’t it?

But where does one start?

James Wong’s book, also titled Grow Your Own Drugs, is not bad, I especially like his top 100 plant list, and succinct explanations on what they are good for, and I’m using his list as a guide to what to plant. Dan purchased his copy in Australia, and I’m not sure that it is retailing in Singapore. For those wanting to have a collection of medicinal plants, I would suggest growing plants that have soothing properties that one might occasionally need, for example, aloe vera for sun burn. Of course it is important for plants to be suited to the local climate, but if you can create a suitable microclimate for those plants, miracles can happen.

By looking around for easy recipes for minor ailments, you can narrow down the plant ingredients that you will need. The Nerdy Farm Wife has free e-books and recipes on her site, and if you need additional ingredients like beeswax and organic oils, you can order them from iHerb. In Australia, I prefer to grow my own if the season and patience permits, and in Singapore, I am more partial to buying dried herbs because its tropical climate makes it tricky to grow all the plants I’d like. If you find it too tedious to grow your own, Real Food and some other natural/organic stores carry Sonnentor loose leaf teas that you can use for making tinctures and infusions, and thankfully they have my favourite flower – Calendula. I have a prolific plant growing in Australia and I’m trying to grow it in Singapore at the moment. It can be used in many different ways, including as a eye/mouth/hair rinse, and be used to alleviate itching.

A great book resource is Neal’s Yard Remedies: Recipes for Natural Beauty. There are lots of photographs and is an informative read. I picked up my copy from Books Kinokuniya in Takashimaya, which has a good selection of books on natural remedies. It is located near the children’s section.

Other than James, another inspiration of mine is Venetia Stanley-Smith. I get excited every alternate Tuesday, when her 30-minute segment is screened on NHK World. She has a beautiful vegetable and herb garden, and leads a hand-made lifestyle. In this episode of At Home with Venetia in Kyoto, she makes shampoo with aloe vera gel.

I love aloe vera, and I’m trying to grow them all over the place right now, both in Singapore and Australia. I use it as moisturiser for my face and any itching. Recently I was bitten twice by an angry jumping ant, and used calendula tea as a rinse, frozen calendula tea to sooth the itch, and then aloe vera gel as a second skin soother. That combination did the trick, as well as the physical act of telling myself not to scratch. Certainly, I had episodes of itchiness but all I needed to do was run to the freezer or counter to grab calendula tea ice cubes and aloe vera leaf.

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Here’s a photo of a jumping ant in Dan’s home. This is the largest ant I’ve ever seen, and it has a spider in its mouth, in this photo. Can you imagine how big it is? When bitten, it feels like broken glass being rubbed into one’s skin, and one can even die from being bitten by them. The pain I can manage, but not the itch. I learnt this summer (a few times over) that I shouldn’t saunter in the garden in rubber thongs, especially when ants are so busy at this time.

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Also growing in my Australia and Singapore garden is lemongrass. Besides having it as a refreshing drink, I drink it to alleviate indigestion; mint, fennel, and dill are also good at relieving indigestion when made into an infusion and drunk.

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Watercress is another awesome herb to grow. James recommended in his above-mentioned book to steep watercress in hot water for 10 minutes, to be drunk twice a day for glowing skin. It helps remove toxins in the body, and it seemed to keep my skin clear – as long as I avoided the chocolate. Bad habit tskkk.

There are other plants that I would like to grow, including chickweed, to treat my eczema, and echinacea, for when I might have a cold. I hope I won’t have the latter and I’ll get to admire its pretty flowers instead. I am also trying to grow Viola Tricolour aka heartsease, for use on my eczema also. Hopefully this cool weather that we are experiencing in Singapore at the moment will be good for growing these herbs and flowers.

If you live in Singapore and you are interested in natural remedies to help with your health, you can visit this website that I’ve recently come across, Uncle Tan Herb Garden sounds very interesting! If you are looking for ready-made products using natural remedies, I’d like to recommend Four Cow Farm products. They have gentle products for babies, but I use them too. I especially love their olive oil body wash and calendula remedy. I recommended the latter to my grandmother who is suffering from psoriasis, and she loves it! She is going through her second tub now.

A word of caution though – if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a medical condition, and are taking medication, you might need a professional opinion. Best of luck!

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