By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Before modern medicine was developed during the 18th century, people used plants as a remedy for most of their ailments. Numerous folklore from various parts of the globe attest to the capability of plants to address such problems.

Even with the rise of contemporary treatments, many still prefer traditional medicine made from plants because it has a more natural touch to it.

Named after its owners, St. Monica Healing Gardens promotes the medicinal properties of plants not by just growing them, but by also educating people on how to properly utilize nature to benefit their health.

“[It] is a hub for medicinal plant propagation and utilization and healthy lifestyle education,” said Ester Malunes Sta. Monica, the registered owner of St. Monica Healing Gardens.

Different plants such as herbs, shrubs, small trees, and vegetables which are known to have health benefits are planted throughout the 3,500 sq. m farm lot located in Bago City, Negros Occidental.

Among the herbs they’ve planted are the 10 medicinal herbs approved by the Department of Health because they have been thoroughly tested and clinically-proven to have medicinal value in the relief and treatment of various ailments.

These are acapulco (Senna alata), garlic (Allium sativum), yerba buena (Mentha arvensis), ampalaya (Momordica charantia), guava (Psidium guajava), niyog-niyogan (Combretum indicum), sambong (Blumea balsamifera), tsaang gubat (Carmona retusa), pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucida), and lagundi (Vitex negundo).

Each of these plants have specific medical properties that can be used to ease a number of health conditions.

For example, garlic, a common kitchen staple, can actually be a natural alternative for antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal prescriptions. It can either be ingested or applied to the skin as a paste, depending on the kind of ailment.

Besides being able to cure a number of health conditions, Sta. Monica also said that medicinal plants, which are not limited to herbs alone, can be used to enhance one’s way of life.

One example is the vegetable malunggay (Moringa oleifera), which is considered a warming herb because it helps improve blood circulation, among other things.

“I know that there is always an herb, or herbs, for every type of ailment we suffer. In fact, some of the most popular drugs were derived from plants after thorough laboratory studies,” she said.

Take responsibly

Although medicinal plants may seem easy to use, Sta. Monica warns that dealing with them can be challenging because there needs to be an understanding of how each plant works to ensure safety and efficiency.

“Herbs have active constituents and a misuse could be fatal; just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you don’t need to be cautious,” she warned. “Like with modern medicine, it can cause an overdose and can do more harm than good when haphazardly used.”

Aside from medicinal herbs, vegetables such as sigarilyas or kalamismis also grow in St. Monica’s Healing Gardens.

Some tips on how to safely consume medicinal plants include using only earthen, enamelled, or glass-like utensils in making decoctions–a process of extraction done by boiling herbs to dissolve chemicals.

Using items like these prevents heavy chemicals found in metal pots from seeping into the blend which could possibly result in adverse consequences when consumed.

To properly apply the benefits of the plants that they grow around the garden, Sta. Monica took a short course on alternative medicine that focused on herbology.

Sta. Monica Healing Gardens shares this knowledge by accommodating day tourists and teaching them about medicinal plant propagation, utilization, and marketing. They also sell herbs to their guests or upon request from the local community.

When it comes to growing the plants in their garden, Sta. Monica disclosed that there are no secrets to their methods.

“We just make sure that we don’t use anything harmful for them and the environment; anything that contains chemical is a no-no. We practice natural, organic systems to enrich the soil to provide our plants with the necessary nutrients to grow healthy,” she said.

Using nature to heal the body and mind

According to Sta. Monica, the garden radiates a healing vibe for one’s body, mind, and soul through an ambience of serenity and relaxation.

“It is a getaway from the stressful demands of everyday life. One’s physical healing can be initiated here through naturally and organically grown medicinal plants that can be found in small patches around the garden,” she said.

Freshwater tilapia ponds serve as water impounding facilities around the garden.

The idea behind the farm started from Sta. Monica’s interest on medicinal plants which stemmed from her curiosity at a young age when she would hear stories about how certain plants can be used to cure wounds, headaches, fever, and other diseases.

Eventually, this interest developed into an advocacy to provide her immediate community with accessible, inexpensive, and effective means to prevent common diseases while maintaining a healthy body.

“I noticed how in rural communities, people, especially children, are affected by common ailments that are highly preventable or curable through the use of medicinal plants found in their backyards,” she said.

The garden was officially established following the launch of the Philippines Agri-Herbal Tourism in Western Visayas which is a program of the Agricultural Training Institute and the Remnant Institute of Alternative Medicine, Inc., which aims to support the global environmental objective of improving conservation and sustainable use of medicinal and herbal plants.

Its goal coincides with the objectives of Traditional and Alternative Medicine (TAMA) Act of 1997 and Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, which both recognizes the importance of traditional or alternative medicine.

Other than the medicinal plants grown around the garden, air purifying plants such as the areca palm, boston fern, and snake plant are found throughout the area.

There are also additional amenities in the garden that include a dip pool for relaxation, fruit-bearing trees, and freshwater tilapia ponds which also serve as water impounding facilities.

“We are very happy to be one of Bago’s tourist destinations. We are committed to taking care of our farm for those who need our services. We also aim to preserve it for future generations. We will take on the challenge and work hard to maintain the personality of the place,” Sta. Monica said.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2019 issue.