Led by Belle Benfield, herbalist and illustrator of The Sensory Herbal Handbook, founder of heARTfelt herbs and Shumaisa Khan, yoga health coach and community herbalist,
Phytology @ Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton St, E2 9RR
-Intro and Tea Ceremony
-Elemental observation and introduction to elements through Ayurveda and Sensory Herbalism
-Botanical drawing in the Phytology Medicine Garden and surrounding woodland
-Making plant medicine
-Bring & Share lunch
-Drawing the elemental influence of Autumn, with technical botanical drawing guidance and tips
-Free drawing – make your own botanical drawing of the plants that you're drawn to
-Closing ceremony and medicine bottling
Investment: £60 general
Concessions tickets available – please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Location: Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton St, E2 9RR
Tube - Bethnal Green (Central Line); Overground - Cambridge Heath Rd Station; Bus - 55, 26, 8
Sunday 25th August from 11 – 6 is a rare opportunity to explore an amazing network of community run gardens, from The Garrett Centre to Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Rocky Park Garden, Keddleston Community Centre and beyond in East London! I'll be running a wellbeing space at the Phytology medicine garden at the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, among lots of great activities happening on the day - see below for more info.
Pick up a free map from the Garrett Centre - 117 Mansford St E2 6LX, made by the artist Soofiya – and follow the trail through the gardens to find and collect stories, poems, and written treasures by local residents, artists and growers hidden along the way. There will also be opportunities to share your own stories, make a found poem or sow some seeds.
Each garden will host different activities, workshops and skill shares suitable for all ages. These include: a creative nature connection workshop with local environmental educator Shaira, a billboard making workshop with Saif Osmani from the Bengali East End Heritage Society, Henna by Hafiza, free herb harvests, a tea and wellbeing space with the Mobile Apothecary, including Ayurvedic mini-consultations, music making, food by Bethnal Greens and Middleton Meals, face painting and much more! Pick up a programme on the day for more details.
After the trail, from 6:30 – 9pm, join us at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve for a feast and open mic. Bring a story, instrument – or tell us about what you found on the trail.
The Open Gardens Treasure trail has been co-curated by Earthlings, a partnership between poet Katherine McMahon and community gardener, Hari Byles – in collaboration with Teesdale and Hollybush TRA, Phytology/ Bethnal Green Nature Reserve and the Bengali East End Heritage Society.
Commissioned for the Garrett Centre Commission and Supported by the Live Art Development Agency (LADA). Supported by Mayor of London: Culture Seeds. For more information or to get involved, write to email@example.com
Preston Park, Brighton BN1 6SD
Sunday April 28th 2-4.30pm
Wild plants serve important functions for insect and other wildlife, but many can also serve as food and medicine for us! Come along to this walk in Preston Park and skill up in another way to reduce waste. Some of the plants considered weeds, and sadly subjected to pesticides, have traditionally been used as food and medicine around the world. The fact that they are so abundant and resilient means that with care and respect, they can be responsibly harvested. Some are like vitamins, which could replace the supplements that comes in packaging and don't offer the bioavailability that fresh whole plants do.
Even just small amounts of wild plants into our food and drink injects some more vitality, or prana, into us, and at this time of year is really important to do to break up the heaviness of winter. We'll also look at some useful medicinal plants, and explore the elements and how they shift with seasons, and how we can shift accordingly to stay more balanced. Ayurveda is about living in alignment with nature, so connecting with the local nature we are a part of, and seasonal changes, is key!
The meeting point is in Preston Park - location details will be sent to registrants. There are pay-it-forward options to help fund the same types of walks for a group of local refugees with an interpreter. You can book here.
Other events will include similar plant walks at different points in the year, and also rituals to connect more deeply with plants. Sign up here to stay updated.
On a related note, stop by Infinity Foods as soon as possible and fill in this postcard by Pesticide Action Network to tell all candidates in the local election to make Brighton pesticide-free! You can leave the postcard in the box at the shop, so super easy.
How sweet is this baby, slightly scraggly wild garlic (aka ramson) arising from the decomposing leaves of last fall? Every year, I mean to come look for it before it's out in full force in Preston Park, but never get around to it. This time I managed to. One week you can't see anything, and then suddenly these have erupted! I never fail to be awed by the seeming suddenness of spring growth. Of course, all kinds of activity goes on underground before our senses delight in the different shades of green and heady aromas of spring.
This photo is from a few weeks ago - I've been caught up in travel to the US to spend time with family - the wild garlic in Brighton is probably more lush now. It has been interesting to witness the drastic climatic differences between the NY metro area and Brighton - the snow here in NJ finally melted off the other day. In my 12 years of living in England and visiting the US, I hadn't yet come at this time of seasonal transition.
Alliums - the garlic and onion plant family - are somewhat polarizing in the world of Ayurveda. Ayurveda, like most herbal medicine traditions, recognizes the medicinal value of these plants (see below), but discourages consuming them as food. The reason being that they have certain properties which affect the subtle anatomy in less desirable ways. Garlic and onions, which are quite potent in flavor and smell, are thought to disturb the energy of the heart in particular. Whereas the ideal in Ayurveda is the state of sattva, or calmness and purity, garlic is considered rajasic - fiery and stimulating, and onions are considered tamasic - dulling. Most people are familiar with the sensory residue left after consuming alliums, which doesn't occur with other foods. However, some within the Ayurvedic community feel that there isn't a need to completely refrain from using garlic in food.
According to this pharmacological review, wild garlic, Allium ursinum, has many of the same properties as cultivated garlic (A. sativum):
- Reduces blood pressure (one study shows it's more potent than A. sativum)
- Inhibitory effect on cholesterol synthesis
- In vitro studies showed antimicrobial activity of A. ursinum extracts against:
Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, Salmonella enteritidis, and fungi: Cladosporium sp., Aspergillus niger, Rhizopus nigricans,
Geotrichum candidum, Penicillium expansum, Candida lipolytica, Mycoderma,
The highest amount of sulfoxides occurs in March & April, and the amounts of individual sulfoxides vary at various times in its growing season.
Traditionally, wild garlic has been used for:
- stimulating digestion
- antimicrobial action
- removing toxins
- preventing cardiovascular problems
- wound healing and chronic skin problems (applied externally)
My take on alliums as food
I think that one can use personal judgement and not be dogmatic about it. Certainly, if someone is feeling fiery in their psyche or body, then they might benefit from eliminating garlic (and maybe onions, too) and seeing if that helps calm things down. It may also be worth minimizing if doing some intense inner or spiritual work - most spiritual paths discourage garlic and onion consumption, understandably. You can also pair it with things that counter the stimulating, fiery aspects, like yogurt (plant-based or dairy).
To me, wild garlic seems somewhat less intense than garlic bulbs - I suspect it would take a lot of wild garlic to approach the rajasic level of cultivated garlic bulbs. On the other hand, subtle is, well, subtle, and I suppose if one really wanted to discern how this group of plants affects you, it would be useful to completely eliminate for a period and then reintroduce. I personally haven't yet done an experiment to see what happens - perhaps some day. It may well help to calm my somewhat fiery temperament! However, even if you choose not to consume garlic as food, it's lovely to walk into an area with wild garlic covering the ground and smell the distinctive, sulfury odor.
Apparently, one of the stories behind it being named Allium ursinum is that bears go for it when emerging from hibernation (ursus means bear in Latin). I don't know whether that's true, but it's fun to imagine.
Identification & ways to use
Wild garlic likes shady areas, and you'll often find it covering the ground in wooded areas. Make sure to gather the leaves from pollution-free and dog-free areas, taking a little and not stripping an area bare. Also be sure about the identity, as it can resemble the leaves of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) and crocus (Colchicum autumnale), which are toxic. In an area where it covers the ground, you should be able to smell the garlic in the air, but where less abundant, pick a piece and smell it to check. I like to blend wild garlic into pesto or add to salads and soups. You can find lots of recipes around, and Robin Harford has some great ones you can check out here.
Sobolewska, D., Podolak, I., and Makowska-Was, J. (2015) Allium ursinum: botanical, phytochemical and pharmacological review. Phytochemical Review 14(1): 81–97.