A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking a guided tour through the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley with Chinese Herbalist, Anastacia White. We spent about 4 hours together on a cool, grey misty Sunday walking amongst the various plants and herbs.
Since we were a small group, she was able to guide us through many parts of the garden instead of just the Chinese herbal section. In just a few short hours, we traversed the continents of Southern Africa, Europe, Central and North America, Australia and Asia. It was amazing to me that all of these continents’ plants could be represented in one single climate here in Northern California, but then again – it was 58 and cloudy on a late-June day! It is the diverse climate here that allows a desert cactus to flourish right next to the English Rose Garden.
Before having our picnic lunch under the shade of a huge, hundreds of years old tree, we walked through the vegetable and European herb gardens which helped to increase our appetites. There were huge bunches of lettuce, Kale, Swiss Chard, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, parsley, fragrant rosemary, lavender, thyme & oregano.
After lunch, we finally made our way to the medicinal Chinese Herb garden. Anastacia had mapped out nearly 100 traditional Chinese herbs in this area and gave us a detailed tour of the area. All of the herbs were planted according to their “category” in Chinese Herbal Medicine. For example, all of the herbs that tonify Qi – Huang Qi (Astragalus), Ren Shen (Ginseng) & Gan Cao (Licorice) were planted together while all of the Cool, acrid release exterior herbs such as Bo He (Mint), Chai Hu (Bupleurum) and Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum flowers) where in another section, and so on.
As a Chinese herbalist who, admittedly has gotten away from prescribing raw herbs to my patients, and instead use mainly pill or powder form, found it refreshing to see the live plants growing and blossoming. For example, it was very interesting to be able to see firsthand the redness of Chi Shao’s root (Red Peony Root) and be able to distinguish it from Bai Shao (White Peony Root) from site alone. One of Chi Shao’s functions is to clear heat from the blood which is represented by it red color (the color of heat or fire in Chinese medicinal theory). While we learned our herbs in their dried, prepared forms in the classroom at school, I now wonder how much more knowledge I would have gained if I were taught in the open Botanical garden.
If you would like to take a guided tour through the Botanical Gardens at Berkeley, you can contact Anastacia White through her website at: http://www.eemedicinewisdom.com/newhome.html She offers tours frequently and everyone is welcome.