For several months in the year the clinic garden produces soft fruit. From April to August pick-your-own is a daily affair in our house, providing super-fresh berries for snacks and deserts. Berries are some of the healthiest fruits you can eat being rich in phytochemicals and low in sugars. From September onward apples ripen on the trained trees surrounding the garden.
One’s microbiome will also improve as a result of eating fresh fruit from your own garden, as the bloom on fruits is replete with good microbes of all sorts, and one’s hand may well have some soil micro-organisms, all of which research tells us is supportive of our own microbial richness and function. A strong strain of research confirms that children who grow up on farms or with allotments or a garden produce patch have lower rates of allergies than those growing up more separate from natural surroundings, and they have more diverse microbial species in their gut, which is a ‘good thing’.
Another reason to grow your own fruit is that collecting berries from your own garden is healthy for your gut flora too, with many studies showing gardeners and farmers have a more diverse and robust microbiome. Another well-established observation is children who grow up in homes with fruit or vegetable gardens have fewer allergies. In all these cases benefit seems to come through ingesting the bacteria and yeast that are naturally found in gardens.
Table fruits like apples, plums and oranges have been selectively bred over centuries to be larger, sweeter and higher in water than their wild counterparts (think crab apples or sloes). These changes, it is argued, have made these fruits less healthy as the phyto-nutrients have been diluted and the sugar content has risen. Berries on the other hand, are closer to their wild counterparts – packed with immune and anti-oxidant boosting goodness.
If you visit the clinic at the right time of year take a look at what is growing, and if you want to try some of the berries just pick-(a few of)-your-own!
Below are some photos from the clinic garden showing some of the medicinal herbs thriving there. Each of these plants has a long history of traditional use and folk-law surrounding it. Some of these herbs I use in my practice (although I rarely use them directly from the garden!)
- Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
This strange plant with prickly pseudo-leaves grows in deep shade, even under the dense cover of yew trees. Traditionally this herb has been used to treat haemorrhoids and poor blood circulation, and current Medical Herbalists employ it, along with other herbs, in treating varicose veins.
- Cowslip (Primula veris)
Medicine made from cowslip help to thin mucus, so it has been used to treat sinusitis, coughs and colds but it also has a role in muscle spasms and treating heart failure. I find it particularly useful in treating coughs in children.
- Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)
When any part of this part is broken it oozes an intense yellow sap. This sap is used fresh, straight from the plant, in the treatment of warts and verrucas. I have seen good results with this treatment, especially when used frequently and persistently for some days or weeks.
- Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
Like most members of the Geraniaceae family this pretty flower has useful astringent properties. So in cases of diarrhoea, nausea, gastritis, inflamed gums or any other inflammation or swollen tissues, a tea made with this herb can be safely used internally or externally. Some say the pungent smell of the fresh leaves will ward off mosquitos if rubbed fresh onto the skin.
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)
The clue is in the name with this distinctive herb. Conditions of the lungs, of any sort, will find relief with this mucilaginous, soothing herb. Inflammation has a crucial role to play in tissue response to assaults of many kinds, but it can get into a vicious circle and persist long after the cause is gone. In the lungs we can see bronchitis and persistent coughs in this light, and they respond wonderfully to the use of this anti inflammatory herbal medicine.
- Pasque-flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
I love this flower, and they love my garden! Not only are the flowers utterly delightful, but the seed heads are just lovely too. They look spiky but are soft as feathers. And in some sort of parallel to this they diffuse nasty acute pain, such as ear ache and other tissue specific pain, and I also find it valuable where emotional pain is an issue. Small and pretty it may be, but I rate this as a powerful herb.
- Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana)
An infusion can be used as a treatment for dropsy, constipation, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums and as an eye bath for conjunctivitis, but I don’t tend to use this stunning herb for anything other than its handsome, nay, regal, good looks.
- Stonecrop or Orpine (Sedum telephium)
Like Aloe-Vera, the mucilage in the succulent leaves of stonecrop can promptly and effectively treat burns, scalds and inflamed skin: break open a leaf and rub the jelly on the affected area. It is also an anti-inflammatory for the gut, as are other mucilaginous herbs.
- Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
This is a useful culinary plant as every part of it – leaves, flowers and seeds – are edible, with a taste that is both sweet and aniseed in character. This natural sweetness can be put to use in cooking and is especially good with rhubarb, as it counters the astringency and dental effects of the oxalic acid in this rather high oxalate stem ‘fruit’. It can be used in other desserts too, allowing a lot less sugar to be used.
The garden at the front of the clinic is a delightful place to look around when you come for an appointment – especially if you are a plants-man or keen gardener. If the weather is clement, then you can use the garden as a waiting room, and if family or friends have made the journey with you, they may prefer to sit in the garden rather than wait in the car whilst you have your consultation.
A permaculture woodland garden
The clinic garden is a small plot, surrounded on two sides by the drive, and backed with a fence and log-shed. The planting is a mixture of useful, beautiful, medical and edible plants. These grow in a layered woodland setting, creating a permanent naturalistic planting, where each plant thrives in its natural ecological context: The tree layer of this miniature woodland consists of a single edible cherry – the white blossom above. The under-story is made up of a range of soft fruit bushed such as gooseberry and currents. The woodland ground-cover includes culinary and medical herbs, bulbs, and ornamental plants. The woodland edge is represented by the fences in the foreground, where apple trees are trained on wires.
The ecological principles behind permaculture have many parallels with my approach to natural health care. To me, and an increasing number of functional medicine doctors, disease can be seen as the body failing to deal with it’s environment. Stress, diet, environmental toxins – all can reduce the body’s ability to heal itself. A large part of my work is identifying where organ systems are struggling or functioning sub-optimally, then providing the environment – food, herbs, supplements – that allow the body to heal itself.
(Lung Wort and Yellow Fumitory, with a scattering of June-drop apples)