On April 18th, I spent an afternoon working with several young men at the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility, which is located in Grants Pass. The facility is dedicated to housing and rehabilitating males (who are charged with criminal offenses between the ages of 12-18). The trained staff fully recognizes the importance of interaction between the offenders in custody with their family and members of the local community to create a new direction in their young lives. The idea of planting and tending a medicinal herb garden to foster a positive change was the first step in collaboration between Sherri Harmon, correctional staff employee, and Herb Pharm.
After disclosure of herb seeds, seedlings, organic fertilizer, and personal items, I was admitted into the facility, where I met the group of young men eager to learn about gardening. The plants glowed with vibrancy and life amongst the white walls, metal doors, and concrete. I had begun to capture their attention as we tasted the bitter Artichoke leaves and chewed slowly on Echinacea seed. We talked about the gentle nature of Catnip tea, extracting resinous Calendula flowers, and other examples of plants for medicinal use. After that basic primer on the medicine of herbs, and more in soil biology and seed propagation, it was time to get our hands in the dirt. The boys began turning new soil, adding compost and mixing potting soil in their small greenhouse. We planted Mullein, Echinacea, Feverfew, and Lavender along the concrete edges of the courtyard, planted the seeds of cilantro and peppers for food as medicine, and transplanted many other herbs and seeds into containers. I sensed the excitement in the group towards the future tending of this new garden and recognized the opportunity to learn new concepts and skills for each of them. Our accomplishment ended with high-fives and handshakes, as I passed the daily commitment of watering, weeding, and harvesting onto the group and vowed to return in a few weeks to see how the garden was growing.
So, as our culture re-discovers the power of herbal plant healing, people are not just grabbing tinctures and teas for acutely treating bruises, colds and headaches. We are realizing the potential benefits that plants offer on deeper level. Many common herbs offer us a broad, safe path to social, mental, physical, and environmental wellness. For these young men, my hope is that through learning to grow and use medicinal plants, it will help expose new skills towards a better understanding of themselves and their impact on the broader community.
Originally Published in June 2012