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A garden of edible and healing weeds

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 24, 2023 5:00 am

Have you been to Flor’s Garden in Antipolo? This might be the right time to do so since the cool weather of the highland is best this time of the year.

Flor’s Garden, a five-hectare garden accredited by the Department of Tourism as an agri-tourism site, is the passion project of Flor Gozon Tarriela, chairman of the Philippine National Bank.

A trip there might not only relax and refresh you—it could also inspire you to grow your own garden of vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even weeds. Yes, weeds. Weeds are never taken seriously. In fact, they are always pulled out since they are regarded as unwanted and thrown away.

Tarriela assured me, though, that many weeds are actually useful. Some are edible while others are even medicinal eve. That’s why at the height of the pandemic, Flor released a free e-book titled Weedicinals & Weedibles: Plus Edible Flowers And More.

Turn any commercial cake into a masterpiece by adding freshly picked edible flowers.

The book is brimming with information on different weeds, their health benefits, instructions on how to grow them, as well as recipes where they can be used. Flor believes that no Filipino should be without food if they know how to grow various edible plants. And if they grow more than they consume, they can even create extra livelihood and income.

Tarriela revealed that the inspiration for the book came from Flor’s experience with talinum or Philippine spinach. Her mother planted some in her garden, which she did not find nice at first until she discovered that it transforms into a beautiful plant with pink flowers when pruned regularly.

It’s fun and healthy to add blooms to your greens. These edible flowers are packed with nutritional benefits.

In many parts of the archipelago, talinum leaves are cooked as a vegetable dish, while crushed uncooked leaves are used to relieve inflammation and sores. Although the veteran banker is always busy, we asked the author and plant expert a few questions.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: What is your favorite herb or weed to use at home? 

FLOR GOZON TARRIELA: My favorite is talinum because it’s so easy to grow. It is also rich in vitamin C. A very versatile plant that can be eaten raw in salad or as a substitute for lettuce in a sandwich. You can also make it into a juice or add in any sinigang. You can add it to a mongo dish as a substitute for alugbati leaves.

My vision is for every home to have edibles and medicinal plants—even in pots or in a home garden—so there’s no need to buy. 

What is the barrier to weedicinals becoming mainstream?

There are four: awareness, education, knowledge, and accessibility.

Will our dependence on western medicines be lessened by shifting to local herbs, plants and weeds, not only for healing but also prevention?

Eating weeds will make us healthy. It’s also good for a stronger immune system.

The natal plum or carissa can certainly add festive color to any garden. The plant is toxic to humans except for its fruit, which is red when ripe and can be a delicious ingredient to any salad like the one below.

As a plant medicinal advocate, what is your vision for the industry in the Philippines?

My vision is for every home to have edibles and medicinal plants even in pots or in a home garden so there’s no need to buy. Just harvest right there in your backyard. That way Filipinos can be healthy and save money at the same time. No Filipino should be hungry. “Pag may tinanim, may kakainin.” (Plant and you’ll have food to eat.)

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Tarriela said that there are two ways to use plants for medicinal purposes: eat it raw or make it into a tea. Others are crushed and pounded into a poultice for external application to sores or inflamed areas.

Oregano tea can help reduce coughing and combat the sniffles.

“My ignorance almost made me throw away the talinum, thinking it was a useless plant. Until one time when I was with friends, I learned that talinum saved a lot of people from hunger during the war. My ignorance turned into a strong interest. Together with my group of friends, we wrote a book titled, Oops - Don’t Throw Those Weeds Away! Tarriela wrote the book 20 years ago with Nonie Dolera, Carmen Florento and Maur Lichauco.

Three of the most common weeds that we see in a lot of gardens or growing in the wild are makahiya (mimosa pudica), tanglad (andropogon citratus) or lemongrass, and pansit-pansitan (perperomia pellucida). 

Chase those blues away with a cup of blue butterfly pea at Flor’s Garden in Antipolo.

Makahiya or bashful mimosa (since the leaves fold inward when touched) can be taken as a tea for urinary complaints, kidney infection, and hypertension. Leaves pounded into a poultice are used for swollen glands, while the seeds are used for sore throat and hoarseness. The weed is considered an expectorant, anti-asthmatic, analgesic, antispasmodic, and antidepressant.

Tanglad (lemongrass) is a popular stuffing for roast chicken or roast pork. Since it is rich in vitamin A, it is used as an antiseptic for oily skin. Its extracted oil is a very popular aromatherapy staple. The leaves of this grass are considered antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and useful as sedatives.

Pansit-pansitan can be eaten raw as a salad. It is used for pharmacological preparations in medicines for gout, rheumatic pain, kidney diseases and skin problems. This plant is considered anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, analgesic, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer. It belongs to the shortlist of Philippine medicinal plants being studied for the treatment of arthritis and gout.