Gardening is an age old occupation. There is evidence that in the Fertile Crescent of the Near and Middle East, people were farming grains and legumes as far back as 8000 BC. In 5000 BC North American natives were inhabiting river bottoms and cultivating crops there. In about 4800 BC, the people of Mexico, Central America, China and West Asia were growing a diverse selection of crops. By 3500 BC the Egyptians were using extensive irrigation techniques and even had garden art. In Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and China there were written manuals for the use of herbs as medicine in about 3000 BC.
The history goes on and on in culture after culture all over the globe. Peruvians grew potatoes in the Andes in 3000 BC and Egyptians were painting tomb walls with pictures of gardens, fish ponds and fruit trees. In 1750 BC in Babylon, the Hammurabic Code, the world's first known written set of laws, included property laws regarding gardens.
Today's gardener is connected to people far back in history both through gardening and the use of herbs. Many of the food plants and culinary herbs we use today have been grown and used around the world for centuries. At one time, people thought of herbs more as part of the food group than as "seasoning". In very complete herb encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown many plants that we consider vegetables today are listed as herbs.
The lowly cucumber, Cucumis sativus, is listed in Culpeper's The English Physitian Enlarged, 1653 that "there is not a better remedy for ulcers in the bladder" and "the face being washed with their juice, cleanses the skin"The seeds are said to expel intestinal parasites. The fruit cools and softens the skin. The fruit will also cool burns, including sunburn and scalds. It is recommended for sore eyes. We know putting cool slices of cucumber on your eyes and resting for a few minutes will reduce bagginess under the eyes. The bitter cucumber, C. colocynthis, is an important homeopathic remedy for colic, according to the Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses.
Our common peach, Prunus persica, has many medicinal uses. The leaves and bark contain components that will treat gastritis, coughs, whooping cough and bronchitis. In Chinese Medicine, the leaves are used to treat malaria, boils and eczema. And, the flowers are used to treat coughs, asthma and constipation. The oil is used in skin creams and the fruit to flavor ice cream and candy. Other varieties of trees in the Prunus family have varied and useful properties that were used by native Americans and the Chinese.We are learning more and more about phytonutrients in food and how they help our body in myriad ways. Herbs also contain phytonutrients, those little bits of nutrients contained in plants that can only be useful when the actual leaf, fruit or vegetable itself is ingested.
In my interactions with people at the Farmers' Markets this year, I find more and more people are starting a garden this spring. There are experienced gardeners and novices alike who want more control over what they eat, to know how it's grown and treated after harvest and to have nutritious food at a reasonable cost. Young families want to teach their children about gardening, how food is grown and to give them a better appreciation of what goes on their plate. Food does not originate at the grocery store.
Farmers' Markets are becoming more and more popular. People with a little bit of land are growing extra produce and taking what their family doesn't eat to the Market. Even people with only a small outdoor space are learning we can efficiently grow vegetables in containers. I am hearing people ask about canning and other methods to preserve their hopeful harvest. The workshops for small farmers and would-be small farmers held around Texas are well-attended by people wanting to learn more about growing for market.
Some people are likening this trend to the Victory Gardens of World War II, where, by some accounts, we grew 40% of all produce grown in the U.S. for a few years. Whether we will achieve such a feat or not, the trend for us to become closer to our food source is encouraging to me. And, gardening is such a rewarding activity. Even if you only have a single tomato plant or a small group of herbs in containers, there is a great feeling of satisfaction to pick a ripe tomato you've grown yourself, slice it and eat it warm from the sun. Or to pluck cherry tomatoes right off the vine and enjoy them in the garden. The feeling of accomplishment is immeasurable. To pass this on to our children is surely a worthy goal.
So, remember when you're planning your garden this year, make room for tomatoes, beans, basil, thyme, rosemary, peppers, eggplant and all the delicious food you love to eat. Learn how to cook simply and with fresh ingredients, including fresh herbs, and you'll be healthier and happier for it.
Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. -Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and author (1884-1962)Until Next Time, Good Growing to You,