By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Imagine walking down a wide garden path under a pergola held up by bright white marble columns. Tidy patches of herbs line each side of the path and a gentle breeze brings their many delightful scents to your nose. At the end of the garden path, the sky opens up and sunlight glistens off the water of a small pool lined with colorful mosaic tiles. In the center of the pool stands a large marble statue of the Goddess Venus standing naked on a large seashell. Rosemary and thyme spill out of ceramic urns along the back of the pool. This scene is what an ancient Roman herb garden would have looked like. What are ancient herbs? Continue reading for the answer, as well as information on how to create an ancient herb garden of your own.
Most of the common herbs we use today are the same herbs used by our ancestors. In fact, herbal remedies were once handed down from one generation to the next like family heirlooms. In 65 A.D., Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist, wrote “De Materia Medica” – a guide to herbs and their uses. Many of the herbs Dioscorides wrote about are still commonly used today and some have been scientifically proven to treat exactly the same disorders that Dioscorides prescribed them for.
In most cultures throughout history, the medicinal/culinary herb garden played an important role in daily life.
Although today we are not as dependent upon plants as our ancestors were, creating an ancient herb garden and using ancient herbs can “wow” your friends and neighbors. Besides common herbs we still use today, ancient herb gardens also consisted of plants that we oftentimes consider weeds or nuisances. For example:
When creating your own ancient herb garden, don’t be afraid to use some of these “weedy” plants. To guard against spread, simply grow them in containers and snip off flowers to prevent seeding.
Ancient herb gardens were designed differently in each culture, but perhaps the most beautiful and lavish were the ancient herb gardens of the Roman Empire. These were usually large elaborate gardens in full sun, with pergolas or little alcoves to provide shade for the gardener and shade-loving plants.
Roman herb gardens also consisted of wide paths through tidy, formal raised herb beds so that the gardener had easy access. Water features, mosaic patterns, and marble statuary were popular adornments in these ancient Roman herb gardens.
Many of the features of ancient Roman herb gardens might be a little pricey or impractical for today’s home gardener, but there are many life-like, lightweight garden decorations available at local garden centers or online. Pinterest and other crafting websites are filled with DIY mosaic projects or different colored and textured bricks, which can also create a mosaic look.
Tall cypress plants usually surrounded the herb gardens to divide it from the rest of the gardens or lawn. Cypress is a warmer climate plant, but northern gardeners can get a very similar look with arborvitaes.
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Video tour of the gardens of Cregneash where ancient medicine still grows as part of a herbal remedies garden
A hundred years ago a veggie patch was much more than a just a leisure garden. It was survival, especially in a place like the Isle of Man. These days the Island is quaint and modern and the thought of having to grow your own food is far from most people’s minds. It’s something that you do for fun, perhaps for mindfulness, but not a necessity.
Up until the middle of the 20th century there were still cottages on the Isle of Man with dirt floors. In the decades before that, this isolated rock in the Irish Sea had to be far more self-sufficient. If the boat doesn’t arrive with the daily delivery of food the local supermarket shelves empty with panic buying. In the past, you had to grow your own or have something to swap to be able to put fresh food on the table.
When it came to medicine, growing your own was even more essential. If you came down with a cough or sore throat, you would have soothing candies made of marsh mallow or white horehound. Broken bones would be treated with comfrey, and worts would be removed using greater celandine. The list goes on.
Comfrey was used in the past to help heal broken bones. Another name for it is ‘Knit-bone’
This way of life is preserved in the incredible Manx National Heritage site, Cregneash. A living folk village, Cregneash was once a small crofters community that scratched a living from the soil and the sea. Its picturesque stone cottages are to this day maintained in a way that is sympathetic with the past. Inside them you’ll find traditional furnishings, crafts, and MNH staff who explain what life was like. If you’re lucky you might even catch a demonstration.
Often overlooked, the gardens outside show the types of edibles and herbal remedies people would have grown. Last week I had the pleasure to interview Cregneash’s head gardener, Karen Griffiths to learn about them. Sitting outside Ned Beg‘s cottage we discussed the importance of the veg patches around the village. Each crofter would have had space to grow vegetables, soft-fruit like gooseberries and black currants, and of course, herbal remedies.
Cregneash village a hundred years ago, and today
In the video at the top of this page you can watch my interview with Karen. She takes us on a fascinating journey back to the past as we walk around the gardens of Cregneash. Karen shows us the plants that the crofters would have used for herbal remedies and some others as well. Sweet cicely that would have been used instead of sugar, and Weld, a plant brought to the Island by the vikings. You can also find the video over on the Lovely Greens YouTube channel. Some of the herbal remedies introduced include:
If you’re interested in learning to grow your own ancient medicine, pick up a copy of James Wong’s book, Grow Your Own Drugs. It includes modern tips on herbs you can grow and safely use for common ailments and beauty recipes. For more photos of Cregneash, head over to my piece from a few years ago called the Gardens of Cregneash.
You don't need a green thumb or a huge plot of land to reap the benefits of growing fresh herbs. Not only are herbs versatile and capable of lending great flavor to foods, and as natural remedies that benefit personal health and beauty, but the specific act of growing an herbal garden itself helps in many ways, especially for seniors.
Planting an herb garden is a wonderful way to enjoy the sights, smells and tastes of a wide variety of plants. Fresh herbs are often easy to cultivate and can grow in a small garden in the back yard, in pots on an outdoor patio or sunroom, or even in a window box inside a kitchen. Gardening is a terrific hobby and allows your senior loved one an opportunity to show his or her creativity. It is a great activity that can be shared with others like grandchildren, with friends in a club as a social activity, or even alone. Not only is gardening relaxing but it also improves hand-eye coordination, motor skills and self-esteem.
Herbs have many values but a few of the most common uses include aromatherapy, medicinal, as seasonings and flavorings in foods and beverages, and in salads. Many herbs are chockfull of cancer-fighting antioxidants, valuable nutrients, fat-free flavor, and more. Before beginning any herbal treatment, caregivers should check with their senior's doctor to make certain that it does not interfere with medications that he or she may already be taking.
The word Aromatherapy is derived from 'aroma' meaning fragrance or smell, and 'therapy' meaning treatment. This ancient herbal art can enhance health in many ways. It is a stress reliever and mood enhancer and can be successful in treating minor disorders. Some examples are to stimulate the immune system and strengthen your body's ability to resist disease and infections, to alleviate digestive problems like constipation and abdominal spasms, to enhance the respiratory system to treat coughs, sinusitis and tonsillitis, to ease muscular pain by promoting relaxation and toning, improving circulation and lowering blood pressure, combating stress-related disorders like insomnia and tension headaches, and even in treating anxiety, depression, and grief. Think of growing and using relaxing herbs such as chamomile, lavender or mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, chive and sage for this purpose. The herbs can be dried and used in potpourri, simmered in pot on the stove to release their fragrance, hung upside down and used as natural air freshener, wrapped in a gauze bag and used in a bath or even dried and steeped to make herbal tea.
In the medicinal world, herbs have been used for centuries to help with a variety of ailments. (Again, it's important to check with your senior's doctor before using any herbs for medicinal purposes.) 'Old fashioned remedies' are for the most part herb based and have been used for generations to help with conditions from upset stomachs to anxiety and even strengthening the immune system. The first apothecaries (pharmacies) were stocked with botanical ingredients. Garlic is considered to be good for the heart and cholesterol conditions and has been shown in studies to possess anti-bacterial an anti-viral properties effective in boosting the immune system and fighting all types of infections. Lemon balm, lavender, and marjoram can calm nerves and reduce anxiety. And peppermint is soothing and settling to a 'sour stomach.' 'The wise, old herbs,' as sage and rosemary are known, have been shown in studies to enhance brain function and may help to ward away Alzheimer's disease.
Seasonings are of course the most common uses of herbs found in any herb garden. Herbs add a lot of flavor to recipes besides providing various health benefits. No herb garden would be complete without basil, oregano, sage, thyme, chives or mint to season up dinner each and every night. Consider planting some lemon basil, lemon thyme, Thai thyme or another variation of any number of great herbs that offer different flavors. Use the herbs in cooking. You can add delicious, healthy herbs to marinades, sauces and soups. Herbal vinegars are not only decorative but mineral-rich as well.
Salads can be made with many herbs and are a special treat during the spring and summer months. Consider a borage with some mesclun lettuces topped with some chives, dill, oregano and basil. It doesn't have to stop there, many herbs lend themselves to being eaten in their raw form and add great flavor to any salad.
When looking for a healthy remedy to help your senior stay engaged, active and healthy, a small herb garden can be just what the doctor ordered in more ways than one!
Benefits of a Sensory Garden Include:
• Improves fine and gross motor skills
• Encourages communication and social skills
• Stimulates sensory awareness
• Promotes “hands‐on” and “multi‐sensory” learning
• Helps reduce stress, anxiety, and frustration
• Helps reduce aggressive behaviors
• Can help enhance and support concepts taught in the classroom
• Adapts to many types of curriculum
• Provides opportunities for investigative learning
• Provides a non‐threatening environment
• Creates common ground between students
Tips for Your Sensory Garden:
• Make safety your top priority
• Make sure the garden is accessible and inclusive to all students
• Use tools suited to children or specially adapted tools for children with special needs
• Plan garden related activities often, but for short time periods
• Use plants that are durable and easy to grow
• Let your students participate as much as possible
• Design your garden to meet your student’s needs.
• Provide plenty of adult helpers
• Have plenty of fluids and sun protection available
• Partner special education students with mainstream students
• Allow time for children to adjust to the sights and smells of the garden
• Balance jobs tha thave instant results, such as weeding and harvesting with jobs that have longer term results,such as transplanting ors owing seeds.
• Demonstrate gardening tasks for the students before they leave the classroom and once they are in the garden
• How fast does dill grow? – Measure and graph the growth rates of dill plants, make size comparisons
• When will a seed germinate? Use seed catalog/seedpacket information and math to predict when a seed will germinate and how long it will take to mature, predict when a seed would need to be planted in order to be ready for a chosen holiday.
• Compare the sizes of herb seeds?
• Observe and record the air and soil temperatures in your class herb garden?
• Calculate the weight and volume of soil when it is wet and when it is dry.
• Calculate how many sage plants will fit into a 6ft. x 6ft. garden
• Use plants to help you learn about taking measurements
• Learn about fractions by using herbs for cooking
• Dead or alive? – use basil plants to compare the difference between living and non‐living things
• What is pH? – How does pH affect the smell and taste o fbasil, sage, and oregano
• What happens if I water thyme plants with soda or tomato juice?
• Why do herbs smell? – investigate what parts of herb plants cause them to smell
• Plan tidentification – press and label various herb plants ,draw and diagram the parts of a leaf
• Plan tlife cycles – plant seeds and learn about reproductive lifecycles as they grow
• What role have herbs played in the development of modern day medicine? –have the students interview a pharmacist or doctor about the role herbs have played in the developing of medicine ,have them write a written report or give an oral report to share what they have learned.
• Compare and contrast the facts and fiction about various herb plants.
• Write a description of the plants growing in your garden
• Write a letter to your local extension service or botanic garden asking a “plant‐related” question?
• Learn to use the library or internet by researching a certain type of herb or plant
• What role can herbs play in healthy eating?
• Can herbs be used to spice up vegetable dishes?
• Use herbs to learn about how to harvest and preserve food?
• Learn abou tcooking with herbs
• Learn about the role herbs have played in the development of medicine?
• What role have herbs played in different cultures?
• How are herbs used around the world?
• What role have spices played in ancient civilizations?
• Do herbs have economic uses? – examine the ingredien tlabels of various household products to determine if herbs are listed in the ingredients visit the grocery store and look for products that use herbs
CULTURAL ARTS – Music, Art, and Drama
• Paint or draw various herbs and plants
• Perform a play that depicts the life cycle of a sunflower or other plants
• Does Basil like Beethoven? – learn how music affects plant behavior and growth
• Make or decorate claypots for a school plant sale
• Develop advertising skills by designing marketing materials and plan tlabels for a school plant sale.
• Write the lyrics for songs tha tteach about the parts of a plant or the life cycle of a plant Perform the songs for your school.
• Decorate rain barrels for a school plant sale or for use by your school.
Mon–Thurs 9am–4pm Eastern
The Vineyard House is open by appointment
Copyright © 2015 The Herb Society of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
To put it simply, it’s a gardening space, in the shape of a spiral (no surprise there!). But don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of it. There’s so much about it that makes it special!
For a start, did you know that spirals are a common motive in sacred geometry? They are used to represent the center of the earth and our connection to it. This means that besides making your garden look gorgeous, it’s also honoring your connection to Mother Earth!
At the same time, the structure of this system allows you to grow multiple herbs in one place, even if they have very different humidity and drainage needs. Awesome, right?
The way to achieve that is to create the shape of the spiral with rocks or any other material that allows you to hold the structure.
Then, build the center of the spiral higher from the ground, and as the spiral unravels, it lowers until it reaches ground level. Many people include a small pond at the end, at the outer end of the spiral.
That way, the higher ground will have a dryer soil than the lower levels. Light and shade conditions will also vary on each part of the spiral, allowing you to cultivate herbs with contrasting needs in a single structure!
Now that you know how a spiral garden is built, let’s jump right into the fun part…
Find out how to harness ancient druid wisdom to supercharge the energy of your garden!
If you thought you already knew the elements, you’re in for a treat! You may master the vibes of fire, water, air and earth with your eyes closed but there are others…
That’s right, ancient druid wisdom brings to the table their own set of elements to help you harness all the spiritual power of your sacred garden.
Their three basic elements are the components making up each unique form of life, and they go as follows:
Nwyfre (pronounced NOOiv-ruh)
It’s ok, we won’t tell anyone if you made a funny face to pronounce it!
This element refers to the life force present in every living thing. It’s the consciousness, the spark of life and the “mind” within you (and your plants!). It’s associated with heaven and the divine design within every creature.
When it comes to your herbs, Nwyfre is the spiritual energy within them, the magickal divine essence that makes them come alive.
Go with the flow, baby! Gwyar is the element of change, growth and flow. It’s the essence of transformation and becoming something new each and every moment. It’s also associated with the energy of water.
This means the ever-changing nature of your garden is possible thanks to it: from sprouting, to growing and blossoming, there’s always wonderful evidence of Gwyar in your garden.
This is the matter of life, the tangible side of reality. The leaves, stems, petals of your plants are Calas, and so is the soil that supports them. Calas is the physical expression of spirit in the world.
As you can see, each element will manifest itself in every single one of your plants. So how can you consciously integrate them into your garden?
An easy and beautiful way to do this is by honoring them, creating an altar for the elements. Include an item representing each one: a bowl of water for gwyar, a stone for calas and some incense for nwyfre, for example.
Listen to your inner guidance while you choose the representation of the elements. They will be your symbolic connection to them, so it’s important that they feel very personal.
Use the element’s altar as a portal to accessing the sacred elements, acknowledging how their vital energy contributes to your garden and your life.
What would be a sacred herb spiral garden without the herbs? The stars of the show, you can mix and match according to your needs, planting more of the ones you reach for often.
Keep in mind that every herb has its own specific needs, so they need to be placed in the spiral accordingly: herbs needing dryer soil should be at the high spot in the center of the spiral the ones craving more humidity closer to the bottom.
Also, be mindful of your local environmental conditions when you decide which herbs to plant. You want them to be as happy as if they’re having margaritas by the beach! (or their “plant world” equivalent).
Of course, this is all about your magickal needs! So choose your herbs thinking about their properties and the kind of uses you will give them: are you more of a kitchen witch, or will you create potent elixirs with them?
Common powerful herbs include: mugwort, lavender, sage, chamomile. But remember it’s your green corner, after all. So let your inner wisdom nudge you in the right direction when you’re picking the perfect herbs for you!
3. Learn The most powerful and overlooked factor of a sacred garden
Now that you have the elements and the herbs down, it’s time for the last powerful ingredient of your sacred herb spiral garden: you!
As the caretaker of the garden, you’ll play a major role as the physical and spiritual provider of the well being of your herbs. Besides tending to the soil and watering them, deeply connecting with your plants will supply them with an extra TLC.
So remember to be very intentional when caring for your garden: talk to your plants, and visualize the water you pour them to be liquid positive vibration. Be mindful of how their energy is expressed every day.
At the same time, you can recite your intentions out loud when you’re making changes to the garden like planting new seeds or collecting the herbs.
Take a moment every week to connect with the element’s altar and be grateful for your garden. Let your witchy colors fly and create rituals that support your garden’s energy!
Because when you take an active part in the spiritual caretaking of your garden, you’ll see how beautifully your herbs respond!
As with anything, your intuition will be your most faithful guide. After all, using the ancient wisdom of the druids is a way to help you deepen your connection to the earth, and the powers within you.
So, are you ready to create a sacred herb spiral garden? Let us know which herbs you’ll grow in the comments below!
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