Thursday, July 17, 2014

California Students Build Herbal Garden in the Desert

Student-led project creates oasis for learning botanical medicine.

Reinhart and son in garden and strawberry plant
Christina Reinhart and her son prepare fertilizer from Mexican bat guano. Photo Courtesy Namuun Bat.

Bastyr University California's two-year-old campus has passionate students, dedicated faculty, extensive clinical, lab, and culinary space, and miles of sparkling beaches nearby. One thing it does not yet have is a campus garden.

Four naturopathic medicine students set out to fix that by building a garden on a student's property in the nearby Santa Rosa Mountains. Their Peace Garden lets students practice their newfound skills in botanical medicine and nutrition. It lets them work with their hands to balance the work of their minds in the classroom. And it offers a community space for gathering around a shared passion: the healing power of living things.

"This is exactly what we've been needing," says student Christina Reinhart, who offered her property north of the San Diego campus for the garden. "It's another place to be together. And it's a place to escape from the busyness of the world, to fill ourselves with the quietness of nature."

Reinhart and four classmates broke ground in early spring 2014, developing plots for medicinal plants like chamomile, calendula and marshmallow and heat-tolerant vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, chard and cucumber. They planted melons suitable to the dry climate. In the center, they planted a heart-shaped garden with flowering cosmos bipinnatus and starflower. They planted a mimosa tree, the tree of happiness in traditional Chinese medicine. They planted ­holy basil, a plant used in ayurvedic medicine to balance the body.

At a work party in June, classmates and faculty from the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program came out to join them in planting and celebrating. They have more work planned going forward.

"It's been a great way to build community," says Jonci Jensen, ND, an assistant professor in the School of Naturopathic Medicine. "It's in this amazingly beautiful and fantastically energetic location."

Reinhart grew up gardening with her mother and grandmother on a farm in North Dakota.

"Gardening is something I've done ever since I can remember," she says. "It's part of who I am."

She earned a Bachelor of Science in Herbal Sciences from Bastyr University's Kenmore, Washington, campus in 2008, working in the extensive culinary and medicinal herb gardens. After graduation, she studied ayurvedic medicine in India and then worked at herbal medicine farms and companies in Oregon.

Moving to San Diego meant learning to garden in yet another climate. She draws inspiration from her three-year-old son, wanting to provide a magical space for him and other children to explore. She plans tunnels of jasmine and other "structures made of plants that evoke a sense of magic." She is collaborating with a neighbor who designs topiaries for Disneyland, exploring the possibility of similar creations on her two acres.

A group of first-year classmates — Namuun Bat, Christina Struble, Laura Hammil, Ruth Dana — joined her through their Naturopathic Theory and Practice class, which explores the philosophy and spirit of natural medicine. In the spring quarter, students choose group projects that enrich their community in some way. Another group prepared a lactation room for mothers on campus, and groups in Kenmore offered babysitting for classmates or lived in tents to raise money for homeless medical care.

"As students and doctors, we all have this desire to do something to make things better," says Dr. Jensen, who teaches the theory and practice course in San Diego. "For Christina, this was a really lovely way to give back to her community. And fitting, because she is an herbalist at heart."

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