Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Along the winding paths of The Vermilionville Living History Museum & Folklife Park is a lush, fragrant garden filled with plants full of special healing properties. Located at La Maison Acadienne, a replica of a traiteur’s 19th century home, The Healer’s Garden is a collection of the types of trees, plants, flowers and weeds used for medicinal purposes by the Creole people and their predecessors.
A joint project of the Vermilionville Living History Museum Foundation Board and the Lafayette Parish Master Gardeners Association, The Healer’s Garden project officially began in 2010, but its evolution started centuries ago. Back then, Native Americans gathered plants and weeds along Bayou Teche to create natural remedies. As settlers arrived to this area from Europe, the tribes shared their knowledge about these healing plants. With the immigrants came African natives, who introduced their own medicinal herbs to the Bayou state. Over time, these home remedies were passed along to what became Louisiana’s Creole community.
In 1933, Charles Bienvenu, an LSU linguistics student, obtained 570 samples of the fading Creole language from St. Martinville residents for his master’s thesis, “The Negro French Dialect of St. Martin Parish.” To obtain these snippets, Bienvenu conducted interviews with Creole-speaking residents living along Bayou Teche and collected formulas for their folk curatives. He transcribed these interviews phonetically in French, describing the indigenous and imported plants mentioned by the Creoles.
More than seven decades later, UL Lafayette anthropology professor Dr. Ray Brassieur discovered Bienvenu’s thesis, using it as the starting point for The Healer’s Garden. For years, Brassieur had been interested in ethnomedicine, the study of the medical beliefs and practices of different cultures. “Health and well-being is a part of human culture,” he explains. “A lot of effort is spent by any group in the world to maintain their health. It has to do with nutrition, eating, activities and it also has to deal with beliefs. And, it even has to do with religion and sacred and spiritual beliefs.”
Brassieur and some of his anthropology students began the tedious process of translating Bienvenu’s research, written in Creole dialect, into English. Next, they had to identify the plants based on the vague descriptions given by the informants. “To me, it was wonderful; it was the raw materials right down to the root stuff,” he says. “It’s not like a Wikipedia article where someone is telling you what things mean. This is the real stuff — you decide what it means.”
|Master Gardener Jan Wyatt chairs Vermilionville's The Healer's Garden. Photo by Robin May|
In August 2010 Brassieur gave a lecture to the Lafayette Parish Master Gardeners about medicinal plants and asked for volunteers to create a healing garden at Vermilionville. The Master Gardeners jumped at the opportunity, with new graduate Jan Wyatt assuming the role as chairman. Other experts joined the project, including Larry Allain, a botanist at the National Wetlands Research Center, and Dr. Charles Allen, a renowned botanist and founder of the Louisiana Native Plant Society.
The Master Gardeners started with a list of 43 plants from Bienvenu’s thesis. “A lot of them were weeds, a lot of them were things the Master Gardeners had never heard of,” Wyatt recalls. “Our first task was researching them, and then, once we figured out what they were, finding out where we could locate these plants to put in the garden. It wasn’t like running to Lowe’s or All Seasons and saying, ‘These are the 33 plants we need.’ It was nothing like that.”
In April 2011, the Master Gardeners broke ground on The Healer’s Garden, hiring workers to install a hand-hewn sinker cypress fence, edging and flower beds. Currently, this living exhibit contains 50 plants, which will change and grow with the seasons.
When purchasing a ticket to Vermilionville, visitors will receive a free brochure on The Healer’s Garden identifying the plants by picture and number. Numbered signs on the plants correspond to photos in the book, making them easy to identify. The brochure also contains descriptions of the plants’ medicinal properties in English and French. More detailed descriptions are given for the “Cameos,” the first 10 plants collected by the Master Gardeners, with direct quotes originally collected by Bienvenu from the Bayou Teche traiteurs under each one.
Directly inside the front gate are familiar plants, including a variety of fragrant mints — spearmint (for fever, digestion and headaches), peppermint (toothache, cold, flu) and horse mint (cold, fever, colic). Meandering along we spot honey-suckle (inflammation, sores), ground cherry (burns, stomachache), lemon balm (fever, headaches, cold), Lizard’s Tail (colic, cutting teeth), wormseed (you guessed it — worms) and groundsel bush (Manglier). “It made the most horrible tasting tea when you brewed the leaves, but people tell me it cured everything,” Wyatt says. Flanking the front porch is a wetland designed by naturalist/writer Bill Fontenot, who also put in the beds for the Master Gardeners.
One of the spinoffs of the garden project is a recent agreement among UL, the Wetlands Center, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Rutgers University to determine whether these plants have actual medicinal benefits. “We will send them the plants, and they will screen them for various compounds and see if we can learn what the plants really can do,” Brassieur says. “Later on, if any of this material turns out to be effective for human use, then so much the better.”
The next part of the project involves an educational component. “The plan is to make the medicine — grind up the mint leaves, make a tea, things like that,” Wyatt explains.
UL is incorporating The Healing Garden into its summer Discovery Camps for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders beginning the week of July 16. For more information, call (337) 482-6386 or visit the website at https://www.ce.louisiana.edu and type “Discovery Camps” into the search bar.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Two bedroom town home or three bedroom contemporary home
Let the party begin
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
Rachel Hector returns home to cultivate a generation of yoga instructors.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
It is distinctly possible control of the U.S. Senate will hinge on Louisiana, which is why, during the last several months, outside groups have made this the most expensive election in Louisiana history.
Coton de tulear joins Westminster; Paypal splitting from Ebay; first US Ebola diagnosis and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
A constellation of South Louisiana musical stars descends on Parc Sans Souci to honor an ailing David Egan.
INDStyle Awards 2014 was one for the books; the American Cancer Society took over The Victorian's big tent; and the battle of the sexes was alive and well for Walk a Runway's Christmas fundraiser.
The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra teams up with choreographer Clare Cook for a modern take on a Stravinsky classic.
Local food pantries begin seasonal drives
A girl's best fashion friend
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Creative living flourishes at Downtown’s artist hub
Four bedroom cottage or four bedroom traditional
Bold looks for fall define INDStyle Awards 2014
Statement pieces for the season
The gents venture out
Project Front Yard has been launched to help us change our image and our habits.
Alleged victim is a Navy vet with brain trauma resulting from a car accident three decades ago.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Richard Buswell was sentenced Tuesday to more than 10 years in prison for his role in an investment scheme that defrauded his clients of more than $6 million.
The Latin Music Festival returns to Parc International this Saturday, Oct. 4, from noon to 10 p.m.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.