Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden Gives Back

Once used only as a demonstration garden, the University's herb garden now produces hundreds of pounds of organic food and herbs each year that are used campus- and community-wide.

Nutrition student Ashley Ayers works in the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden.
Nutrition student Ashley Ayers works in a bed of purple cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra).

As the farm-to-table movement gains popularity across the nation, Bastyr University is among leaders with a medicinal herb garden at its Kenmore campus that nourishes students from the classroom to the cafeteria.

Although just 5,000 square feet in size, the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden produced 850 pounds of organic food last year that was used by students in the University’s whole-food nutrition kitchen, sold in garden sales to the Bastyr community, eaten by patrons of the Bastyr Dining Commons, and given generously to local food banks. In addition, nearly 42 pounds of medicinal herbs were harvested for students to use in the University’s botanical medicine laboratory.

“Gardens are about community,” says Garden Manager Jenny Perez, BS (’05). “They’re gathering spaces and community resources that are an extension of the classroom.”

On any given day, the garden attracts students and members of the public alike who want to learn more about medicinal plants, which are grouped in the garden by the body systems that they heal and support (i.e. cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system).

Meanwhile, students working with Perez learn about organic gardening and giving back to the earth, as they also harvest the fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used for further teaching in the classroom.

“Students learning to cook with whole foods here get the freshest foods available,” Perez says about the produce they give to the culinary classes through the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science. “We also harvest our medicinal herbs seasonally, so they’re available year-round for students in the botanical medicine lab.”

But that hasn’t always been the case, she adds.

Farm-to-Table Approach Didn’t Happen Overnight

“When I got here as a student, the herb garden was strictly a demonstration garden,” says Perez, who began studies for her Bachelor of Science with a Major in Herbal Sciences a decade ago. “It was started by students who wanted to see, touch, taste and smell the plants.”

Although the garden has always been celebrated as a relaxing refuge and a teaching tool, Perez saw a need to connect its bounty with other educational opportunities throughout the University.

When she took over the medicinal herb garden six years ago, Perez gradually added more edibles while also creating connections throughout the community, including the award-winning Bastyr Dining Commons and Hopelink’s Kirkland food bank.

“You would be amazed by the yield I can get from the 30 beds of food we’re cultivating,” she says. “With gardening, you always get more than you put in. I am humbled all the time.”

Expanding Beyond its Borders

Each year, the reach of the herb garden also continues to grow, as the source of these edibles expands beyond the garden’s borders.

Huckleberries, blueberries, strawberries and currants are heartily growing at the Student Village, where Perez notes members of the campus and public are invited to indulge in the fruits they find (eating is discouraged in the main section of the herb garden). Elderberries will soon be joining the crop after students in the Certificate of Holistic Landscape Design program planted elderberry tree "forest gardens" in spring quarter. (Read more in our article "Create Your Own Forest Garden with These 5 Plants.")

Earlier this summer, the herb garden received a new neighbor with the grand opening of the Bastyr University Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail, a mile-long trail that features native medicinal plants used throughout history in the Pacific Northwest. Part of the international Sacred Seeds Project, the project is still in its initial planning stages but already is being used as an educational tool for the public.

Additional expansions this year include an orchard, which will be located between the tennis courts and the Student Village. Perez is still working out the details of the orchard, but she’s hoping it will have a mix of common and uncommon fruits, such as Asian pears, plums, apples, mulberries and possibly nut trees.

It will take at least three to five years for the trees to produce fruit, but that just brings Perez back to one of her favorite, unattributed quotes: “Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.”

She adds, “You’re doing it without attachment to the outcome.”

How to Tour the Garden or Volunteer

Both the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden and of the Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail are open to the public for self-guided tours. However, you also may book a guided tour with a garden expert via our online reservation form.

Volunteers also organize through the Bastyr University Medicinal Herb Garden Guild, which holds monthly work parties and other opportunities to help out and learn more about the garden.

To learn more or to join the garden guild, email Cheryl Cuevas at ccuevas[at]bastyr[dot]edu.

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