Eat, grow, heal – Hawaii Features –

For botanist Laura Shiels, herbs in the garden are not only a source of spice and flavor, but of healing.

Lemongrass adds zest to a soup but also helps relieve insomnia, while ginger is good for nausea. Chili peppers add spice but also stimulate circulation.

Basil can help relieve indigestion or nerves. Rosemary is said to enhance memory.

Shiels, a doctoral student in ethnobotany and former lecturer at the University of Hawaii, has been teaching workshops on how to grow and cultivate herbs for several years, with a focus on healing.

“Let food be your medicine,” says Shiels, who cultivates gardens everywhere she goes.

Many culinary herbs make aromatic compounds to protect themselves from being attacked by viruses and fungi, as well as to attract pollinators, she said. Those same compounds have antioxidant or antimicrobial properties.

So you can add flavor and health at the same time, she said, and address specific ailments with herbs.

Basil, for instance, popular in salads and the main ingredient for pesto, alleviates gas. Its leaves can be used for many dishes, while the flowers can be brewed into a tea, good for treating coughs.

Garlic is good for lowering blood pressure and relieving colds and flu.

Create healthy soil in your own backyard

by Diana Duff

If you are thinking you can’t grow food in your garden, think again. Many Kona residents don’t plant edible gardens believing they haven’t got good soil. Yes, we are soil-challenged here, but help is just a few months of easy recycling away.

We all have rocky soil. At lower elevations, soils are not only rocky but can also be dry and alkaline. At upper elevations, rocky soil is often wet, sometimes boggy, and acidic. No can grow? Wrong. If you think “no can,” try again. Since we are all on the sustainable path, composting presents a solution to two issues we face: recycling waste and building soil.

You can get started toward your gardening goal by getting some beds defined and laying in a passive compost pile that will give you a good soil base, alive with microorganisms. Use those pesky rocks to create borders for your beds, and then start piling garden waste into them. Cut material into small pieces for fast breakdown. For a base of decomposed waste in several months, mix dried leaves, leafy prunings, grass clippings, weeds (without seeds), broken up twigs and branches less than 1/2 inch diameter. If you live in a dry area, dampen the pile and cover it with a tarp or black plastic to maintain a dampness level comparable to a wrung out sponge. In wet areas, covering can help keep the pile from getting waterlogged, which can lead to smelly anaerobic decay. In any case, a balanced mix of organic inputs including green matter for nitrogen, brown (dry) matter for carbon, air and moisture speeds the process. After sitting for several months, you’ll have a base of decomposed organic matter. Mix in some of your rocky soil to improve aeration and you are ready to plant.

Sustainability — reviewing our progress

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Sunday, October 24, 2010 7:19 AM HST
Sustainability has become a kind of tired buzzword. Businesses are clambering to be labeled “green.” Political pressure to be Earth-friendly has caused changes that sometimes result in increased effort and higher prices, but most of us are still participating in endeavors toward zero waste.

Every little step toward a more sustainable lifestyle is good, but with all the buzz it’s easy to lose the impetus to continue reducing your ecological footprint. It may be time to check your progress.