“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.
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.