Welcome to Zaytuna Farm. To get here you turned off the highway and drove through rolling hills, covered with macadamia plantations, dairy and beef herds, essential oil plantations of native trees and shrubs, and vegetable farms.
You turn into the driveway, and follow the dirt road down the hill until you see the wooden sign for parking. You pull into the shade of some giant bamboo and park your car. When you get out and look around you see green in more shades than you could count if you tried. Fairy wrens and native quail dart in and out of the shrubs by the carpark and on the hill above you see the cows in their paddock, completely absorbed with the task of ruminating and completely uninterested in your arrival.
You probably know before you arrive that Zaytuna is the home of the PRI and that there is a literal plethora of edible plants here, and some are immediately obvious. The ice cream bean tree, the citrus trees, the bananas and the olives for which it is named. Wandering down to the dark green, repurposed shipping containers, which function as the kitchen, classroom, dining room and common room you’d notice the kitchen garden on your right. The beds are raised and sprouting a variety of seasonal vegetables: leafy greens like kale, lettuces, bok choy, mizuna, rainbow chard, but also tomatoes, beans, capsicum, eggplants. You might recognise all these easily enough, and spot the strawberry plants, zinnia and marigolds among the mint, and parsley.
These last two are just the most common of Zaytuna Farm’s quietly abundant medicine cabinet. You might not immediately recognise the other herbs, both cultivated and growing wild in the kitchen garden and around the farm. You might even, as many have before, mistake them for weeds of no use or purpose.
But these herbs that make Zaytuna home have powerful healing and health-giving properties. They add health, life and energy to the soil, the animals and the people that call Zaytuna home. In this series of articles I’ll take you around and introduce you to these most ancient and forgotten herbal heroes. I’ll give an overview of each of these botanical powerhouses, how to grow them, how to use them and why you’d want to.
Let me introduce you first to an old friend of mine Rosmarinus officinalis, more commonly known as Rosemary. She’s a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family, as many herbs are. She’s a woody, aromatic, perennial shrub with thin, green, needle-like, fragrant, evergreen leaves. Originally native to the Mediterranean, Rosemary will grow in a wide variety of climates provided it gets plenty of sun and has well-drained soil. She’s drought tolerant and very hardy. She doesn’t love frost, so in colder climates it might do better to keep rosemary in a pot and protect her from frosts.
Rosemary is most often grown from cuttings, as seed germination is slow and germination rates are low. It is self-fertilising but will need to be in full-sun to flower. It can also be propagated by root division or air layering. Rosemary cuttings, taken from the green stems that are neither woody nor very new growth, can be rooted in water or soil, and transferred to pots after a month or so when they’ve started growing roots. Growth is slow to begin with but under the right conditions rosemary can grow to be a one to two metres tall and live for decades.
Rosemary is reported to attract predatory insects and the repel sap-sucking ones. She grows well in the garden with sage and carrots, cabbage, beans and cauliflower, but not with potatoes.
Now you’ve found a sunny spot and your Rosemary is as tall as your toddler…what do you do with it? Most people are familiar with it as a culinary herb, and the delightful way it works with roast lamb, or a good focaccia loaf. Rosemary (finely sliced or ground) and garlic make a delicious marinade or rub for most meats and vegetables. You can use the leaves fresh in cooking, or dry them in shaded, well-ventilated place for future use. Before the use of refrigeration, rosemary was rubbed into meats to act as a preservative that would inhibit bacteria. Rosemary will add more than just flavour though, it can also reduce the risk of carcinogenic compounds forming in fried or grilled meat due to its high antioxidant content, and boost digestion of fats and support the liver, another reason it to enjoy her with fatty meats like lamb.
It might come as a surprise that Rosemary has also been used for thousands of years for its medicinal benefits. Rosemary is an anaesthetic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cerebral tonic, circulatory stimulant, decongestant, diaphoretic, digestive tonic, diuretic, emmenagogue, and expectorant. It’s shown to be effective against some drug-resistant bacteria, specifically in treating Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, E.coli and MRSA.
Rosemary is renowned for helping memory and concentration. For a quick mental boost rub the fresh leaves between your palms to help release the aromatic qualities of the leaves and inhale deeply. A rosemary leaf tea can help with pain from arthritis, digestive issues, colic, gas, headaches, colds and flus, fungal infections and also stimulates the liver. Rosemary essential oil, diluted (20 parts carrier: 1 part essential oil) can be applied topically to boost blood flow and circulation and ease stiffness and pain in sore muscles. The essential oil should not be taken internally, used in pregnancy, or applied to the face of infants or children. The tea is fine to take it in small doses during pregnancy and breastfeeding but large doses should be avoided.
Rosemary is also a wonderful herb for healthy skin and hair care. Rosemary and yarrow hydrosol can ease sunburn. Rosemary tea can be used as a hair rinse, and reputedly strengthens and smooths hair strands and promotes growth, as well as providing an invigorating aroma. Add rosemary essential oil to a carrier for a deep oil treatment for hair.
So that’s my friend Rosemary. She’s amazing. And so are all her herbal community. There’s so much medicine growing all around us, and using it is both ecologically and economically sustainable. As people increasingly become sensitised to the toxic overload we realise the folly of filling ourselves, our human and non-human neighbours, our waterways, our homes, and our wider ecological communities with synthetic additives, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics with their endless unintended consequences. We realise that there must be and that there is a better way. Meeting Rosemary is a step along that path.
How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life by Isabell Shipard
Herbal Remedies: A practical guide to herbs and their healing properties by Nicola Peterson
Herbal Antibiotics by Stephen Harrod Buhner
375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols by Jeanne Rose
Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young
Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne
The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner