Beginning our Herb Explorations in New Zealand
Essential Garden Herb Farm is about an hour drive from Auckland (could be more or less, depending on how swiftly your vehicle can negotiate the steep windy hills of New Zealand).
Donna and I came here not knowing at all what to expect. I’ve had a hunger for learning more about the herbalism scene here in New Zealand, so I wrote to whoever I could find remotely involved in the cultivation, education, and general propagation of medicinal plants. One group I wrote to was the Auckland Herb Society. This in turn led me to Al, who is a member of the society, and also runs the Essential Garden Herb Farm with his lovely wife Fe.
This was our maiden voyage out of the city in our recently converted campervan, named Jamflowvan (for background on the name, see the song Jamflowman, by Twiddle). We came rumbling in slowly and safely, having at least one testing uphill climb on wet gravel roads, where we found out our modest Mazda Bongo can indeed hold its own on the testing New Zealand terrain.
Having never met us before, and only after exchanging a couple of emails, Al and Fe were extremely welcoming and gracious hosts for all of our visit. They gave us a tour of their property, which is 10 acres teeming with verdant life. When they bought the land, it was largely covered in non-native species. A particularly robust plant in this corner of the world is the gorse, and it spreads across New Zealand with the fervor of a viral cat video in the early days of youtube. Al pointed it out in many different areas, and I could only imagine what it looked like when they first bought the land. Al and Fe have managed to fight back the gorse and other invasive species, and have planted many native varieties of their own. Because of this, some of the fragile bird life is returning to their property, and hopefully one day their land will resemble what is once was before settlers and industrialization arrived.
The main highlight for us was romping through the herb garden. Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it romping, but more like quietly meandering and brushing past herbs, while a bouquet of fragrant aromas beckoned us constantly onward in our journey through the property. It was exactly what we needed after spending a month in the concrete and metal (albeit really clean) streets of Auckland.
Essential Garden isn’t a commercial farm, but rather a space for education, hosting workshops on everything herbs during summertime weekends. Because of this, we were able to see all sorts of herbs clustered together, and didn’t have to go far to experience their plethora of beautiful plants. There were giant bushes of rosemary. Thyme. Sage. Ashwaganda (with land prepared to plant a whole lot more). Gotu Kola. Peppermint. Valerian. And on and on and on.
Some other great moments were merely picking Al and Fe’s brains about herbs and their experience with healing plants. Up until now, it has been somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes-style treasure hunt for me to find information about medicinal plants and herbs. Whenever I got to a place that would have someone who knows anything about the subject, the relevant person would seem to disappear. So, just having a conversation with Al and Fe was all the stimulation and inspiration I needed. We talked over a pot of some delicious tea picked fresh from the garden (it had gotu kola, lemon verbena, and some other things I don’t remember). And the tea definitely worked -- I could feel vitality flowing through long-dormant channels in my body.
Al and Fe also make ointments and salves, which they sell at farmers markets on the weekends. Thankfully, they outfitted us with some supplies for our pending journey -- a natural mosquito repellent and an anti-itch cream. These actually came in handy during our first night in Jamflowvan: New Zealand has some pretty aggressive sand fleas. To top it all off, we also got to try some local honey, which is produced from hives located on their land.
This was a really heartwarming and inspiring visit for us, very symbolic that it was the first stop on our van journey outside the city of Auckland. It gave us a lot of great ideas to continue our herb voyage here in New Zealand, and also reinforced our growing belief that the large majority of Kiwis are incredibly hospitable and gracious. So, if you’re ever around Auckland and want to learn more about herbs, or experience a natural wonderland filled with native species, give Essential Garden Herb Farm a visit! Thank you Al and Fe, and we hope to see you again on our next journey up north.