Just a short walk from my house, in Kinsmen Park on Alderlea Street, are the Cowichan Green Community gardens. They are allotment gardens, intended to provide those who live without access to garden space a place to grow vegetables and flowers.
At the very back corner of the community gardens is a circular plot. At first glance it appears to have been left to go wild, and to have become choked with weeds. A closer look tells a different tale. The garden contains ancient foods, indigenous wild plants that fed hunter gatherers for thousands of years.
The garden is designed to illustrate the Ayruvedic belief that foods have six distinct tastes—bitter, pungent, astringent, salty, sour, and sweet—and that each of these foods has a purpose in maintaining good health. The plants within each section of the garden are individually labeled with their names and a more specific description of their attributes
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India. Its principles are based upon the concept of tridosha, or the system of three doshas. The doshas--Vatta, Pitta , and Kapha—are dynamic forces with distinct characteristics that shape all things in the universe.
In humans, the doshas control all mental, emotional, and physical functions and responses, and also determine the state of the soul. Each person is born with a unique harmony or balance between the doshas that is necessary for that person to experience perfect health.
In the Ayurvedic view, an imbalance between the doshas produces a condition called vikriti, a Sanskrit word that means "deviated from nature." Such an imbalance will eventually lead to the development of disease, obesity and/or mental disorders. As a result, to prevent disease, each individual must maintain the doshas in, or restore them to, their proper balance. Diet is an important tool in this process and foods are chosen with this purpose in mind.
I'm not a practitioner of Ayurveda but the lessons taught by this garden are worth learning. It’s a sensory tool, teaching the viewer to recognize and identify edible wild plants by sight. It provides not only written information about each plant’s flavour, but also the opportunity to taste the plant itself, thus promoting an understanding about how these plants can be reintroduced into our diet.
I’m touched by the enthusiasm and care that went into building the wild foods garden and by the gardener’s faith in our ability to understand and share the joy of nature’s bounty.