My Maya Healing Garden
How I found my plant allies
By Donna Zubrod
Gardening has never been my thing. My relationship with plants over the years has been a rough one. It seems I am lacking a green thumb and everything I ever planted, both inside and outside my home, never flourished. All I’d ever have to do was simply glance at a plant and it would die.
While studying at university, I tried decorating my dormitory room with some plants and within a short time they were all gone. My dorm mates mentioned that people were supposed to speak to their plants if they wanted them to thrive. That idea was surely the silliest thing I had ever heard.
Fast forward to 10 years ago, where I found myself immersed in the beautiful and lush gardens surrounding ‘Villa Rosa’, the Belizean home of Dr. Rosita Arvigo. I was there because I was taking a course about the Maya tradition of healing with water, prayer, copal incense, and plants. How did I get here you ask? This class was a pre-requisite for my training to become a teacher of the Abdominal Therapy bodywork that Dr Arvigo was teaching.
As we were exploring the garden, I was encouraged to find ‘my plant ally’. Dr. Rosita Arvigo asked us “Any particular plant catch your eye? Do you feel drawn towards a specific plant?” All I could think at the time was, yeah, your kidding, right? It felt more like I was staring at all my plant enemies, certainly not allies. I’m not sure if I imagining it, but I think I sensed that the plant’s leaves actually moved away from me as I approached them?
My eyes were opened during that class in Belize, I learned that if you want to build a relationship it’s important that you spend time with the thing you want to have a relationship with. That week at Villa Rosa, I spent a lot of time with a lot of plants. I got to know their names, how they felt, how they smelled, how they are used in traditional healing to help with different types of illnesses. I also learned to express my gratitude to the plants if I was choosing them to help me with healing. Saying thanks to something when it’s helping you, is another good relationship building thing to do. I left Dr. Arvigo and her lush rainforest garden transformed, no longer feeling that plants were my enemies, but I still hadn’t found my plant ally.
While at Villa Rosa, I purchased one of Dr. Arvigo books “Rainforest Home Remedies” (Arvigo, R. and Epstein, N. Harper San Francisco 2001). In that book I found a section named ‘The Maya Healing Garden’ that intrigued me. I discovered that with a small amount of garden space I could create my own Maya healing garden, my personal medicinal plant reserve. All I had to do was choose a location that received a minimum of 8 hours of daily sunlight. Most of my yard was in the shade, but I did have a sunny backyard deck, so I set about creating my healing garden using containers. I started in the Spring and purchased starter plants from a nearby nursery and also online. The plants I chose for my healing garden were recommended in ‘Rainforest Home Remedies’ as being easy-to-grow; Rue, Basil, Marigold, Rosemary, Red Hibiscus, Thyme, Oregano, Amaranth and Red Roses.
Once the plants were thriving, I began to pinch off leaves and flower heads (of course, I said thank you to the plants first) and each day I began to create my own lustral bowl, a “bowl of light”, comprised of water and plants collected with prayer, to support me in my Abdominal Therapy work. When the Fall came, I cut and dried the leaves and flowers for use in my daily lustral bowl during the Winter months.
It takes time for a relationship to grow, and so too my relationship with plants did grow. Now, ten years after I planted my first healing garden, I can proudly say that I have my plant allies and that I do indeed talk to them.
As with every relationship, it’s important to embrace it and nurture it.