Nature's Pharmacy with Dr. Balick
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Our guest this week is Michael J. Balick, PhD, the vice president of botanical science and curator of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden. Dr. Balick’s specialty is ethnobotany and he has conducted fieldwork in medicinal and food plants with indigenous cultures in 56 biologically diverse regions around the world. (Dr. Balick in Palau, above.) His new book is the handsome, 500-page Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal.
Dr. Balick explains “ethnobotany” to us and we talk about the various uses of herbs for cooking, medicines, cleaning, fragrance, décor, pet care, dyeing and smudging. Smudging, Dr. Balick explains, is heating the dried herbs to impart their fragrance into the air – kind of like incense. The section of the book that gardeners and normal people are going to love is the A-to-Z encyclopedia of 180 of the most useful herbs from around the globe that we can grow and includes recipes, growing tips and even some garden designs.
Dr. Balick tells us about some of his favorite herbs and some of their uses: Elderberry is an anti-viral; chamomile is an anti-inflammatory and cooled tea bags can be used for eye compresses; cava is like a natural Benzodiazepine to reduce anxiety; passion flower and leaves help with sleep disorders; calendula heals as it fights infections. And Dr. Balick’s very favorite? Chocolate. “It’s great for cardiovascular system,” he said, and “eating a square is a great way to start the day.”
Theobroma cacao, cocoa tree (above), and many other live plants can be found at NYBG, along with more information on Dr. Balick and his published papers. You can learn about chocolate and many more plants in Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal.