Over a 16-year period between 2004-2020, the Holt Wood project in UK was focused on transforming a redundant conifer plantation into a thriving medicinal forest garden. Anne Stobart, a clinical herbal practitioner and her partner purchased the 2.5 acre site in 2004 when it was stocked with Sitka Spruce aged up to 40 years. The conifers were clear-felled and replanting was based on a permaculture design. The aim was to gain experience and spread the word to encourage more sustainable UK production of medicinal trees and shrubs. The trees included a range of native and introduced medicinal trees and shrubs. Ongoing management of the medicinal trees and shrubs was based around techniques such as coppicing and pollarding to provide supplies for medicinal use and other benefits including body care products. In addition to planted trees, many native herbs and wildflowers flourished in the young woodland conditions.
Deriving herbal supplies from the Holt Wood project helped both to reduce air miles used in the import of medicinal tree and shrub products and to show alternatives to threatened medicinal species. Some trees and shrubs native to Northern America were grown to provide local supplies, such as Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) and Virginian Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Other trees and shrubs were grown as alternatives to those endangered by wild harvesting or loss of habitat. For example, Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is native to Europe and is an excellent alternative to Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). And there is a European native buckthorn alternative species to Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) on the UPS ‘Watch’ list, which is Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus previously known as Rhamnus frangula), a small tree that is good for wildlife, including the beautiful sulfur-yellow Brimstone butterfly.
Throughout the project, our aim was to develop and encourage sustainable ways of cultivating and harvesting medicinal trees and shrubs. We have set up the Medicinal Forest Garden Trust through funds raised from donations and sales of body care products with ingredients from the medicinal forest garden. Through the Trust we provide online and direct information about cultivation, harvest and use of medicinal trees and shrubs. Based on the experience at Holt Wood we have developed an online course about designing a medicinal forest garden with permaculture principles. Details are at the website ‘medicinalforestgardentrust.org’ where an occasional newsletter is available on signing up. Much more detail about Holt Wood and other projects involving woody medicinal plants can be seen in The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook (published by Permanent Publications in 2020). Further experience will be gained by our involvement in a number of projects and gardens including the Sandford Millennium Green. This Green includes an apple orchard, wild flower meadow and pond, alongside a herb garden and a forest garden with a variety of native and introduced species.
At A Glance
Area: South-West England