By Amber Freda
I love making beautiful gardens for people, and I’ve made a career out of designing gardens in NYC for some of the wealthiest and most successful people on the planet. Lately, though, I’ve felt like I want to create gardens that are not just lovely to look at but that also include a healing, soulful component. I also want to teach people how to make their own healing gardens, so the purpose of this article is two-fold: first, to explain why healing gardens are important and their benefits, and, second, to tell you how to create your own healing garden at home.
Many of the people I work with live in cities like New York, where one of their only connections to nature on a regular basis is this garden that I’m working with them to create. I believe that people are missing a sense of connection to the earth. Our brains evolved over millions of years of us living most of our days outdoors. We have a complex interdependency with nature that we’re not even aware of that affects us in profound ways. Our eyes developed with an everyday exposure to these fractal images alongside us of, for example, the way bark grows on trees, the way plants and lichens grow, the rhythmic way waves crash on the shore, or even the flight patterns of birds.
When we no longer have the regular stream of visual, auditory, and olfactory cues from nature, what it does is create a deficit in our brains, a disconnect that can result in a myriad of problems. Things like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and lethargy can be alleviated through a greater connection to the natural world. Even the smell of the earth, of dirt, is being shown now in studies to impact our serotonin levels, which affects our everyday mood.
I have decided to help address the disconnect I see between people and the natural world by helping people to develop healing gardens. A healing garden is one that engages the senses on multiple levels – through sight, touch, fragrance, and sound. It’s a garden that encourages interaction, whether it be through relaxation and listening to the sound of leaves rustling or water running through a fountain, or the smell of flowers at dusk, or a garden that is visually very beautiful and soothing, or using plants that call to be touched, either because the leaves are incredibly soft and fur-like, or flowers that need to be pruned back regularly to keep the plants in bloom.
There are many specific herbs that can be useful to make teas or baths out of that can soothe and heal people’s bodies and minds. I also like to include herbs that are specifically tailored to a family’s personality and needs so you have the option of going out and interacting with your garden by taking clippings of the plants to nourish your family in a very direct way. Edible plants like berries and vegetables are also a great option for many families who like the idea of being able to grow their own food.
There are also many herbs with medicinal benefits that can help people with a wide assortment of maladies, including anxiety, stress, stomach problems, arthritis, headaches, detox, and so much more.
Peppermint, for example, is one of the most readily available herbs and is extremely easy to grow. I prefer to grow it in a container, which will keep its size somewhat limited. In the ground, it tends to take over. Peppermint is great for stomach problems, colic, respiratory problems, headaches, asthma, and stress. The leaves can be dried or used fresh in teas and baths. If preparing an herbal bath, I recommend mixing your herbs with some Epsom salts and sea salt. You can also add a few drops of essential oils to make the bath even more fragrant and relaxing.
Calendula is a lovely herb with flowers that range from yellow to orange. You can harvest the herbs and use them fresh or dried in teas and baths. One of my favorite methods for drying herbs is to cut the stems of the plant to make a bouquet and then hang them upside down from the rafters in my house near a well-ventilated window until the leaves and flowers appear dry and crunchy. Calendula can be used for sore throats, menstrual cramps, stomach distress, and to promote healthy, clear skin. The flowers are the part of the plant used in herbal remedies.
Lemon Balm has a wonderful, mellow lemony taste and fragrance and is a base for a lot of teas. It’s used for stress and anxiety, insomnia, and indigestion. The leaves and stems of the plant can be dried and crushed up for use in teas and baths.
Chamomile is another standard herb used in herbal concoctions that is very easy to grow yourself. The flowers are the part of the plant that should be harvested and either dried or used fresh. Benefits of chamomile include relaxation and treatment of insomnia, colds, stomach ailments, and as an anti-inflammatory.
Rose petals make a wonderful, luxurious addition to herbal baths. It’s also easy to make a rose petal toner using fresh rose petals from your garden mixed with Thayer’s alcohol-free witch hazel infused with roses, distilled water, a few drops of grapefruit seed extract, and a splash of rose essential oil. It feels wonderful to spray this fragrant toner on your face in the morning, and it helps tone and hydrate your skin. Teas made from rose petals or rosehips contain Vitamin C, will help clear toxins from the body, reduce menstrual cramps, promote healthy skin, reduce stress and anxiety, and can soothe indigestion.
Above all, the goal of healing gardens is to help strengthen the powerful connection to the earth that is your birthright. It’s the first step to healing, not only ourselves, but the entire planet. When we lived in tribal societies, every tribe had its medicine man or woman who helped people heal through herbs. I think the reason why there is so much interest now in things like shamanism and herbal remedies is that we are coming full-circle back to our roots to discover why it is we are here, our connection to the earth, and this is something we’ve been needing and wanting for a very long time now.
Happy gardening and Namaste,
About the Author
Amber has taught dozens of classes in garden design at both the New York and Brooklyn botanical gardens. Her client list includes many of the world’s most notables, including George Soros, Anna Quindlen, Brett Icahn, Joseph Edelman, David Faucon, Reshma Shetty, Aetna founder and CEO Mark Bertolini, and make-up guru Bobbi Brown. You can view photos of her gardens or get in touch at www.amberfreda.com. Amber also offers a complete line of herbal teas, baths, and beauty products at www.amberfreda.etsy.com.