Gaspereau Mountain Herb Farm and Botanical Sanctuary
Gaspereau Mountain, Nova Scotia
Sanctuary Stewards: John Cummings and Vaunda MacDonald
As I ponder the concept of sanctuary, feelings of safety and protection resonate inside. These feelings are commonplace throughout this land. Perhaps it’s the location. At an altitude of 650 ft., the Gaspereau Mountain Herb Farm and Botanical Sanctuary is nestled at the top of the northernmost range of the Appalachian Mountains. Gaspereau Mountain overlooks the agriculturally fertile region of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. These ancient granite barrens and uplands have been inhabited for approximately 14,000 years by the Mi’kmaq Peoples, whose influence is regaining strength. The farm is 10 minutes directly up the mountain from the Bay of Fundy, known for the highest tides in the world, whose dramatic moisture and winds shape our daily lives as well as those of the forests and fields.Observing and stewarding this land since 2012, our relationship feels like it is just beginning. A passion for herbal medicine fueled the search for this special land, the story of how we came to be here being a beautiful example of manifestation. The last property on this dead end road, our 220 year old farmhouse is surrounded by over 3000 acres of Acadian forest, much of which has been heavily cut over by generations of farmers. All of it is now in varying stages of regeneration. Our 25-acre farm includes teaching gardens, food gardens, a large greenhouse, production fields, forest, and recently planted fruit and nut orchards.
Since 2012, we have identified 40 or more medicinal plants here, and by applying permaculture and biodynamic practices, we have planted close to 50 more species of herbs and trees. Of importance to UpS, they include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), arnica (Arnica spp.), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), gentian (Gentiana spp.), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and false unicorn root (Chamaelerium luteum). Despite the fact we are outside the native range of many of these mostly forest dwellers and that the soil here is acidic, our climate (5b) and forest mix is right for most. Tenacity, inspiration, and determination to grow these precious allies help.
My attempt is to take the notion of sanctuary and conservation to that of the reintroduction, establishment, and proliferation of these much needed plants. Along with planting in our fields, gardens and edges, I have planted in the neighboring forests, streamsides, and abandoned pastures. Most of the “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” plants that have been reintroduced are not planted for harvest, but to enable propagation and to attract pollinators.
For the past 2 gardening seasons, the farm has hosted interns from around the globe. An amazing array of folks have helped us, often leaving with an appreciation for our indigenous medicinal plants, as well as knowledge about their healing abilities. Teaching workshops, doing plant walks, product making, live medicinal plant sales, and clinical herbal consultations have been part of the mix for the last 3 years, with this year seeing us organize a free herbal gathering entitled “Medicines of the People – A Herbal Celebration.” With over 125 attendees, our first annual event was a resounding success. Mi’kmaq elders opened the day with drumming, prayers, and smudging in an attempt to share their indigenous worldview and knowledge. The sacredness of water was a key theme and a reminder to all that water is the first medicine and must be protected.Becoming part of the Botanical Sanctuary Network was a highlight of my year and is a great honor and privilege that I am still vibrating from. I managed to return to the Goldenseal Sanctuary for a visit in October of 2017, once again being inspired by the people, plants, and place.
This upcoming season will see us increase our workshop offerings and native plant walks. As it seems to be increasingly difficult to obtain ginseng and goldenseal seed in Canada, we will also attempt to establish a patch of each of these that will produce enough seed to share.
As Dr. Low Dog once said, “Don’t ever apologize for dancing with the plants”.
Gaspereau Mountain Herb Farm & Botanical Sanctuary