Human Journey

All Plants Are Medicine; We Just Need To (re)Learn How

“All plants are medicine,” Dr. Raghubir Singh Rawat, the herbal gardener at Navdanya, exclaims proudly with a hint of mystery to his voice. Dr. Rawat bends down to examine a seemingly mundane but prolific weed, “this is used for eye health,” he says before popping the small white diamond-shape flower in his mouth. He stretches above his head to pluck a bright green fruit from a neighboring tree, “this is gooseberry, everyone eats this in India – for indigestion and rejuvenation.” It takes us one hour to cover just about 50 yards of different plants and their respective medicinal properties at Navdanya’s Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University) in Doon Valley, India.

I started working with plants somewhat by chance. A snafu of sorts at a local nonprofit sent me to work on an organic farm in Atlanta, GA for the summer as I took courses on nonprofit management and ethical leadership. That May, I graduated university, an accomplishment indeed, but also a very necessary escape.

Since puberty, my average emotional stasis bordered depression. Distraught, my parents sent me to therapists to figure out what was wrong. As I grew older, the feelings intensified, and with the stresses of university mixed with the bombardment of party culture, I found myself unhinged. I could cry for 24 hours, stopping only when – too tired, too saturated in salted tears – I fell asleep. Doctors offered varying views, some tried to unearth deep-seeded traumas, some suggested hormonal imbalances, all pushed pharmaceuticals down my throat.

Dr. Rawat, herbal gardener at Navdanya, explains the medicinal uses of the plants surrounding the farm – from guava, to marigold, to turmeric.

Not one physician told me to simply stick my hands in soil. But it is exactly what my body and mind needed. Working on the farm, I found myself with a smile stretched across my face, a spring in my step, my shoulders receded from my ears. Simultaneously, several studies reached publication regarding the happiness-inducing effects from soil. Certain strains of bacterium living in the soil trigger the release of seratonin, improve brain functions, and can help alleviate ailments caused by disease.

Surprised and impressed, I needed to learn more about the living environment around me.  Farmers became my teachers, my friends, my inspiration. I foraged alongside mycologists and herbalists who showed me where these medicines lived and how to prepare the plants as teas, tinctures, and salves for simple ailments. Herbs replaced pills, empowerment replaced overwhelming insecurity. Each person, each plant, each day enforced an awareness of a wisdom obscured by steel buildings and cemented expanses.

The Earth provides all that we need; we simply need to learn how Earth works.

Educators: check out this lesson designed by the Captain Planet Foundation for 6th-8th graders on Medicinal Plants!

  • Joanna Gerber

    Lauren, thank you for this article. I really enjoyed reading it. My experiences of working with soil, getting my hands dirty and spending time tending plants is that it is indeed healing on so many levels. Time goes, and a sort of zen zone ensues. I look forward to more articles and following these stories. Wow only 50 yards and you and Dr. Negi found so many beneficial plants.

    • Lauren Ladov

      Hi Joanna! Thank you and yes-so many levels! Weeding is my meditation. If you ever have the chance, try and go on a plant ramble with The Homestead ATL – I’ve been on a few and they are incredible. Atlanta is truly lush and full of medicine.

  • Zina AlDamlouji

    What an uplifting article! I think I need some gooseberry… do you know where to find it in the US? 🙂

    • Lauren Ladov

      Zina! I bet all Indian grocery stores would have it. And probably even somewhere like Whole Foods…It is also called Amla. Let me know if you spot it!

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