The grand, 160-year-old historic colonial you see before you is the home of the American Botanical Council (ABC), a non-profit organization that was founded 25 years ago by Mark Blumenthal. This is where I spent the last two blissful weeks as a part of my dietetic internship. I truly believe that God places certain people and circumstances in our lives at the most perfect times, and this instance was no exception. After being in clinical settings for the past several months, coupled with the recent health issues of my husband and father-in-law, I was in deep need of some healing and rest. ABC provided that and so much more!
The main mission at ABC is to "provide education using science-based and traditional information to promote responsible use of herbal medicine." I like to think of them as purveyors of knowledge. With an unbiased approach, they bring to light the plethora of scientific and clinical research that the public may or may not be aware of, and by doing so, allows the public to make responsible and educated decisions about the use of herbal medicine. What they are passionate about is helping people live healthier lives.
They accomplish this through various outlets, including Herbalgram, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal filled with stunning botanical photography and reliable, up-to-date information on medicinal plants. One of my biggest pet peeves is encountering health claims that are not backed by scientific evidence. ABC seems to be on the same boat as I am. Argh…Science DOES matter!
I, for one, am a fervent believer in herbal medicine. I always turn to it first before considering pharmaceutical drugs (no offense to the Hungryman who is a pharmacist). That’s because I know that the health benefits derived from plants or plant parts incomparably outweigh those from isolated components found in a plant, which is what drugs are essentially. The same concept applies to foods. For instance, why would I take a vitamin C supplement when I could eat an orange and nourish my body with vitamin C that’s a lot more bioavailable, along with fiber, folate, vitamin A, potassium…you get the idea. The synergistic effect of compounds found in herbs (and foods) is undeniable.
Part of my time at ABC was spent reading various research papers and updating their literature database. If I wasn’t at my desk, I was outside tending to their beautiful garden.
Gorgeous, right? If it looks like this during winter, I can only imagine the beauty and vitality that the spring will bring. I planted carrots, leeks, beets, among other things and harvested kale, broccoli, carrots, rutabagas and spinach. You can be sure a lot of them made their merry way home with me....along with some stubborn low back pain. Jenny, my passionate and kind-spirited preceptor, has an unfathomable wealth of knowledge when it comes to herbs and gardening. It is evident that she speaks nature's language. Her contagious spirit unleashed my desire to learn to respect and co-exist with God's amazing gifts found on earth.
I also got to prune the beautiful but somewhat out-of-control bay laurel tree as well as separate and dry the bay leaves. The ones that didn't look so great will be used to make wreaths or compost. Being the sweetheart that she is, Jenny wanted to save them all if she could.
We also took a field trip to Springdale Farm, an urban farm in East Austin. The owners live onsite, and it is very clear that they come from Aggie Land (oh the great divide continues). As I walked around the farm, I got a glimpse of what sustainable, farm life must look like. How rewarding it must be using your own bare hands to grow everything that goes into your stomach to nourish and sustain you! (says the girl who complained about back pains and her hands drying up like prunes after just a couple of hours) 😉
One thing that I couldn't help but notice were all the jagged-edged holes in the leaves of a lot of the vegetables thanks to those relentless pests. I thought to myself, "umm...no thank you. I won't eat that." But Jenny gently reminded me of the significant benefit of pests that oftentimes takes a backseat to aesthetics. Just like us, plants have a defense mechanism that helps protect them against pathogens and other environmental factors - the release of phytochemicals. These have been extensively studied and shown to protect us from various diseases, including cancer and heart disease (Liu, 2013). So pests are not so evil after all, since their attacks trigger these health-promoting phytochemicals to be released. Now this isn't to say eat the saddest looking veggies out there. However, if the produce you have in your hand looks immaculate, it should raise some questions in your head.
Liu, RH. Dietary bioactive compounds and their health implications. Journal of Food Science 2013; 78(S1), A18-A25.
On my last day, the sweet ladies threw me a mini goodbye party. They didn't make it easy for this girl to leave the place of tranquility and love, did they? And what's a party without champagne, right? 😉 Hibiscus champagne to be exact. It was the most beautiful drink I've ever seen. Quite tasty too! We toasted to ABC and my future success. I thank ABC for all the wonderful memories, and I do believe this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship. While it may be Austin's best kept secret, I sure hope it won't stay that way for long! I hope you take the time to check out their website, make a visit, volunteer...there are so many ways you can get involved! Until next time, ABC....