Ayurveda in the Garden
Biome by Yellena James
There is no better time to synchronize with the rhythms of our cosmos than in late spring…
Almost 150 years ago, the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley hired a large company of porters to carry his equipment and forge a path through the African jungle. He was in a hurry to find the legendary Dr. Livingstone, so he pushed aggressively ahead—until one morning, when his porters sat down under a tree and refused to continue. Stanley begged, cajoled, demanded, threatened, but they wouldn’t budge. Finally, one of their elders explained, “We need to sit now and wait for our souls to catch up.”
In a world that is endlessly cyclical, persistently dynamic, with time constantly marching on, how do we actually let our souls catch up?
Ayurveda, the ancient natural science of health, healing, and wellness, reminds us that we live in a world where everything is moving, everything exists in rotations and repetitions that create patterns. The Earth’s axial rotation causes day and night, the sun and the moon determine the seasons and the tides. That whirl of time cannot be stopped. There is no button for “pause.”
What can give us that sense of pause is to move in rhythm with nature: to align with the course of the cosmos. There is no better time to synchronize with the rhythms of our cosmos than in late spring, when the buds of May announce not only the bloom of summer but also the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs that are nature’s nourishment to come.
What’s in Season
Artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, broccoli, grapefruit, kumquats, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, tangelos, mandarins, carrots, chard, dates, fava beans, fennel, green garlic, leeks, kale, spinach, lettuces, mustard greens, new potatoes, nettles, English peas, snap peas, pea shoots, pea tendrils, radicchio, radishes, rapini, spring onions, shallots, bean sprouts, strawberries, watercress.
Ayurvedically speaking, the edible wild greens of spring are especially balancing for the season. Bitter, pungent, and detoxifying, they include dandelion greens, purslane, ramps, sorrel, lamb’s quarters, chickweed, chicory, shepherd’s purse, escarole, fiddleheads, wild prickly lettuce, mâche, nettles, frisée, sour grass, and onion grass. Sample some of these spring greens, freshly picked and still moist, and you might be surprised by the peppery pungency that punches forth from their refreshing lightness.
Loaded with fiber, leafy greens like mustard greens, spinach, and kale act like industrial scrub brushes to aid your body in its housecleaning and repair. Full of chlorophyll, dark leafy greens will help release toxins from your body, while stimulating cellular intelligence and improving your energy. Spring peas freshly picked are crisp little packets of protein.
From the darling buds to the roots and shoots, food grown in your own garden tastes better. Not only are you able to control what goes into it, but there is nothing fresher and more satisfying than food you harvest minutes before preparing your meal.
Rising from the Compost
A part of my daily spiritual practice is what I call “feeding my worms.” It has taught me much about life, including that soil is ready for the garden when the unpleasant smell disappears, and it crumbles in your hand. That teaches me patience. Like soil, the soul has its time, and time will restore its sweetness and manageability.
Composting gives me many surprises. One of them is the cilantro that rises as one of the first gifts of spring. It grows up in thin bunches in random spots. I am not really sure where they come from, other than from the whole coriander seeds in my tea, which might have ended up on a compost pile with some life left in them.
Whatever the cause, the delight is in the unexpected. The way life resumes. Insists. Returns. And keeps returning. Even without our help, or expectation.
Every shape and texture of garden color feeds the eyes and nourishes the mind.
Ayurvedic Herbs for Your Garden
Ayurvedic herbs are not just medicinal by their internal or topical application. They are healing by their beauty, their fragrance, and, as our texts tell us, by their simple presence or energy.
Basil is excellent to have on hand: It makes any dish sing. Holy basil, also called tulsi, is a heartier plant, with powerful medicinal value, according to Ayurveda. In fact, its reputation as a purifier has made it a traditional potted sentry at the entrances to temples and homes. Tulsi is an expectorant, good for clearing the upper respiratory tract. Boil a few leaves in the morning to clear stagnation, reduce heaviness, and lighten your tissues for summer.
Brahmi, or gotu kola, is an easy-to-grow green with heart-shaped leaves and tender white flowers. It likes wet ground and shade, cool environments that support its cooling properties as a nervine tonic. Chewing one leaf a day is said to improve memory and cognitive function, while its spreading growth covers bare ground with visual inspiration.
Cilantro contains chemical compounds that have been shown to bind to heavy metals, loosening them from the tissues, then aiding in transporting them out of the body through the channels of elimination. Cilantro can be made into a pesto, added to smoothies, pureed with soups, or chopped and sprinkled over savory dishes.
Parsley purifies the kidneys and freshens breath—great to counter all the onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic that are abundant this season. Add it to pesto, or toss it liberally into salads.
Vinca rosa, another ground cover, has an alkaloid that is good for cancer prevention.
Of course, there are floral medicines, too—peonies and roses, good for cooling and calming; neroli and bergamot, to balance and uplift emotions; pea shoots, which offer delicate beauty—and every shape and texture of garden color feeds the eyes and nourishes the mind.
In most modern Ayurvedic trainings we are not taught gardening, farming, or wild harvesting, yet the word itself means “the science of life.” Time spent in nature is time spent creatively participating in life’s generative rhythms, its beauty, its quiet power, its deep grace. It is to know life beyond the mind, beyond even the science. To know life where it occurs and to meet it where it arises. To meet life in the field of creativity is, in a way, to contact the source. Which is the essence of all healing.
If You Think You Have No Seeds and No Time…
Look in your pantry for spices that come as seeds: Coriander, fennel, cumin, mustard, fenugreek are some examples. Soak a handful for a day or so, then push them into a well-hydrated soil. You can do this in pots, or in garden beds, or on your way to work. Or toss them in your compost and wait to see what happens.