Time for a little herban renewal
Leave it to cleavers to bring me into the world of herbal medicine. (And back to the classroom.)
Before my family moved to Missouri in the early 1990s — my mom’s prodigal daughter-returning-home move — we lived in Florida in a suburb of Orlando.
That’s where I remember discovering the natural world.
My parents took us canoeing on the many spring-fed rivers throughout Central Florida. We splashed in creeks where crocodiles lived and floated close enough to manatees to see the algae growing on their backs.
But this is also where I learned about appreciating nature at home.
We lived in that house on Summerlin from the time I was a toddler until the summer after first grade.
My sister and I learned to avoid the corner of the yard where the sticky burrs grew. We watched the skies for those afternoon thunderstorms that stirred up the jasmine, whose sweet odor swelled in the humid sunshine that followed those quick downpours.
We were small enough to crawl into this small cluster of trees in our backyard that became our own secret garden. That’s where we made buckets of stone soup, using every dried spice we could find in my mom’s cupboard to mix with leaves, twigs, sand, grasshoppers, roly-polies and anything else we could find within the perimeter of that wooden fence.
I’ll never forget that last May in Florida because I spent the last two weeks of the school year at home with mono, which felt like an eternity when I was 7.
When I was finally healthy enough to go outside again, I remember laying on a blanket, looking up at the underside of the tree canopy that shaded our front yard and crying at how beautiful the leaves looked against the sky.
I’ve had countless experiences like that in the years since. Moments when I’m reminded that I, too, am part of nature.
As a food writer, this love of nature came in handy. My job gave me an excuse to swap out office flats for tennis shoes and head to some woodsy part of the state to interview farmers — and cheesemakers, beermakers, butchers and herbalists — fellow humans who love living in constant communication with the natural world around them.
I always knew I was one of them.
Just last December, I wrote a profile of the moringa farmers in Bastrop who run Miracle Garden for Texas Monthly. That conversation with Sunny Huang — which touched on grief, God and growing deep roots — shifted something inside me. Or planted a seed inside me. Or fertilized one that was already growing.
Last month, I signed up for an herbalism program at a local herbal medicine school. It’s a four-month program that might expand to eight, and I’m not sure exactly what I plan to do with all these tinctures and teas and infusions that are already starting to fill my cabinets.