Wildcraft Gardens Botanical Sanctuary

Asbury Park, NJ

Sanctuary Steward: Leslie Feingold

Spring Herb Walk at Wildcraft Gardens 2022

All around me the landscape has changed. A Renaissance of seasonal tourism, shopping center strip malls, condos, and senior housing complexes all with those made to order maintenance gardens have begun to proliferate over the quiet of the local hometowns.

All around me the landscape has changed. There in the darkness before dawn, the low light on this cold winter morning captures the black silhouettes of the roaming deer, the starkness of the leafless trees, the songs of a harsh west wind blustering through it all, and yet my soul is silenced amongst these fields. Their stories bear a depth of wisdom and understanding that one could, try as they might, never fully understand. I’ve loved this land long before it called me home.

For the past twelve years I’ve watched and tended over these four and a half acres careful not to disrupt the natural beauty and ecosystem while taking in the rotation and regeneration of the seasons. The forested spring ephemerals of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), celandine (Chelidonium majus), and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) are just a few that blanket the woodland. There are the summer’s rainbow palette and aroma of the cultivated gardens full of mallows, mints, monardas, and verbenas. Autumn’s fading sunsets cast an elusive golden hue on the fields abundant with asters, goldenrod, artemisia, and salvias. Alas, a return to winter and the evergreens whose gifts cleanse the air, provide shelter to so many animals and birds, and instill a constant reminder that we, too, are part of the cycle needing to get rooted in a quiet rest before reawakening to a new turn of the sun.

Although I’ve been gardening and studying medicinal plants for years, until I opened an herbal apothecary, I never thought about sharing the benefits of such apart from family, friends, and the local garden clubs. However, these past few years have brought forward a huge interest in herbal medicine in our community and the desire to learn more. Whether from the dilemmas of unsolved chronic conditions, new parents questioning old paradigms, or simply wanting to get back to the land, the longing for a gentler, more natural way of healing ourselves and the earth is at hand. As more turn to deepening their studies be it online courses, in person classes, or hours spent scanning the library shelves, proper plant identification is essential to the complete understanding of any given plant’s purpose. Of course, there are wonderful photo descriptives to use as a guide, but nothing compares to knowing a plant’s growth habit, structure, scent, taste, and indelible spirit like being in its presence.

Considering there are at least one hundred medicinal plants cultivated and native on the land, offering herb walks from early spring through autumn is a highlight in education. Weekly volunteer weeding and harvesting days provide a chance to get some “down and dirty” garden therapy, while taking home some of their own fruits of labor. Classes ranging from botanical drawing to yoga, meditation, and medicine making are all offered intermittently. Although the apothecary is no longer a storefront, the herbs are available to those who come looking, and if I can’t fulfill a request, fortunately a former student opened her own “Seed Apothecary” which will continue to serve the needs of this growing community.

Most of us who walk this path of herbal healing know the journey never ends. We are all catalysts in conveying the message of all human beings who came before us. Acknowledging the plant kingdom with reverence and respect may be part of our deep rootedness, but we must continue to nurture and share that gratitude with eyes not wide open…yet.

With that I am beyond blessed to be a part of the growing United Plant Savers conservational community. Being one of just a few recognized botanical sanctuaries in New Jersey (the Garden State) seems a bit unconventional in this day and age. I can only hope others will be inspired to do the same. As the land remembers our footsteps, so will the generations to come.