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  • Writer's pictureGeetanjali Chakraborty

The Garden that became a Forest

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

I had been working from home since the birth of our younger one last June. My workspace at home is our dining table that faces the green garden where we have what I think of as our extended family -- which includes Tulsi, Gotu Kola, Brahmi, Curry Leaves, Marigold, Ashwagandha, Aloe Vera, Hibiscus, Sunflower, Rose and others. Before leaving for India this summer, I had carefully arranged for a drip irrigation system so that our extended family would thrive. I ended up staying in India for three and a half months due to my grandmother's illness and passing (see my post on that). Wondering how our garden was doing, I asked my spouse to describe it. He told me, "the Hibiscus and the marigolds are almost as tall as me. The garden has turned into a forest!" He is close to six feet tall and I couldn't believe it! So I asked him to show me. And here is the video he made (at night).

Apart from being astonished at the forest that had emerged in our little garden patch, I was even more delighted to see each member thriving in the photos below taken in daylight.

To appreciate how big of a deal this is for me, let's take a step back in time.

My Own Ayurveda Healing Journey

About 16 years ago, on my birthday, a friend had sent me flowers. I was disappointed to receive these flowers, as I would now have to take care of them and keep them alive. Sadly, I had trouble even keeping a cactus alive. Fast forward eight years, and I became a student at Vedika. After two months in Vedika’s Ayurveda program, I felt a lot had changed inside and outside. I looked healthier and felt better. Over the next few years, my student journey equipped me with tools to pause my habit patterns and reshape my life-skills. My stamina for engaging with life’s challenges greatly increased.

While taking those classes, I started planting some garden herbs we learned about in Acharya Shunya’s Ayurveda Ancestral teachings. The act of planting and observing these plants grow slowly and gently created a shift in me that, looking back, feels seismic. I actually have a garden where my plants (many of which are gifts from our Vedika community) not only survive, but thrive. And, I proudly share with my friends and students that my biggest accomplishment in the last 2 years is keeping my orchid alive and that it bloomed a second season. I now feel a deep connection with my plants, as though they are honored members of our family. My garden is really an extension of my kitchen and, my kitchen is not limited to cooking -- it is where healing happens for me and my family.

Kitchen as a Healer

Our dining space connects with our kitchen as one undivided space. I have spent hours in this space working, contemplating, having meetings and deep discussions at our dining table while sipping chai or meals cooked with love. We've had a similar set up in all our homes as far as the kitchen and my workspace goes but this time, we have been blessed with a garden that is separated from the kitchen and the dining space by just a large glass door and large glass windows. While cooking, I can gaze at the live sprouting in our garden as an extension of the life sprouting in our home. I can observe how nature works its magic when the conditions are right, and bring that understanding from the garden straight into the decisions that I make in our kitchen. The garden is in fact my extended kitchen, supplying not just rare and potent herbs but also an intuition and a laboratory for understanding how nature works.

I actually see our Kitchen as a Healer that is our family's first line of defense. I feel nourished and love to nourish others through our wonderful kitchen. This was reinforced in the last few days as my 18-month old had a bad throat and chest infection with fever. My spouse and I helped him heal through our Ayurvedic kitchen. Food as medicine was delivered through delicious Barley crepes that had in them freshly- and gently-plucked tulsi leaves from our garden, pepper, ginger powder, salt and turmeric. Light khichdi and lentil soup for a few meals and he has returned to his playful self.

Bringing the Kitchen to my Clinic Work

A big blessing in my clinic work has been the moratorium on herbs and the exclusive focus on diet and lifestyle. That has allowed me to turn the heat up very sharply on food as medicine. I encourage people to eat locally and source their food from farmer's markets as much as possible. This helps the development of an understanding on what is in season locally and creates an opening for constructing diets and lifestyles that bring us into harmony with nature.

For instance, wild amaranth (Latin: chinopodim album), which grows as a weed in California is an extremely medicinal plant in Ayurveda. It is called Bathua in North India and in the source texts of Ayurveda, it is known as वास्तूक द्वयं (Vāstūka Dvayam) and acknowledged for its potency in balancing all three doshas.

Bhavaprakash, 6.5-6.7

वास्तूकं वास्तुकं च स्यात्क्षारपत्रं च शाकराट्| तदेव तु ब्ृहत्पत्रं रक्तं स्याद् गौडवास्तुकम्||५||

प्रायशो यवमध्ये स्याद्यवशाकमत: स्म्ृतम्| वास्तूकदि्वदयं स्वादु क्षारं पाके कटूदितम्||६||

दीपनं पाचनं रूच्यं लघु शुक्रबलप्रदम्| सरं प्लीहास्रपित्तार्श: क्ृमिदोषत्रयापहम्||७||

Vāstūka is also known as Vastūka, Kshāra patra and Shākarāt. (This refers to the green amaranth) There is another variety that is red and has larger leaves, and is known as Gouda Vāstūka (because it grows in Gouda lands, i.e. modern day Bengal). [5] As it grows in Barley (Yāva) fields, it is also known as Yāva Shāka (Shāka means vegetable, and that is also the word for vegetable in many Indian languages like Gujarati). Both varieties of Vāstūka (the word Dvayam means two) are sweet (madhur) and astringent (kshāra) in taste, and pungent (katu) in post-digestive affect (vipāk). [6]

It kindles (dipan is also the word for lamp and the root for the festival of lights, Dipavali) the digestive fire, and it also digests (pachan), it increases appetite (ruchi), it is light (laghu), it is both virility enhancing (shukra) and strength giving (bala). It has the flowing quality (sara), it helps the spleen (pleeha), it is effective for haemmorhoids (arsha), worms (krumi) and balances all three doshas (dosha triyapaham). [7]

Red Wild Amaranth

Wild amaranth is seasonally available around Spring time, but sometimes it is also available in winter. Both the green and red varieties grow well in California. This herb finds its way into many different preparations in our home. Sometimes, I will include it when churning whole wheat into dough for parathas and chapatis. At other times, I will include it in my lentil soups. After learning about this, I started to grow red amaranth (see left for the 6-foot tall dude) in my garden.

I often invite my clients to start to create a garden, not from a functional perspective although there is much practical value to a garden, but really from a pscyhospiritual perspective where they allow themselves to touch what science has taught us. That we are built of the same material as the rest of the universe, and all of life is interconnected in profound ways. When we realize that herbs in our garden are supporting the life of our family and this herb is not a pill to be popped but a living, breathing entity to be welcomed into our life, we experience a healing of a different kind. This healing connects us to all of life with reverence and closes the gap between scientific knowledge and scientific intuition. We start to know what our health needs to return to balance and how to get there.

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