The Office of Sustainability is taking a D.I.Y. approach to sustainability in their fall workshop series of events. Some may ask: “Why D.I.Y.?” “What are the benefits?” This past workshop was a collaboration between CofC’s Urban Garden at the Political Science Department, Garden Apprenticeship Program, the Grounds Department and Residence Life’s collaborative workshop series with the Office of Sustainability (also known as the Sustainability House Cup Competition). The office’s “Herbal Remedy” workshop, hosted last Wednesday, Oct. 15 could offer a glimpse into how they are applying a Do-It-Yourself mentality into their programming efforts.
The timing was prime, given that students were either done with midterms, or smack dab in the middle of them (or in medias res, depending on your preferred verbiage). Students started trickling into the Office of Sustainability, at 284 King St. around 5 p.m., followed by a rush closer to 5:15 p.m. You may ask: “Who’s to say that students are notoriously late?” Perhaps students were rushing around, in the wake of midterms flocking to the workshop in search of some natural stress relief. Students were greeted as they entered the room by soothing music, candles, the smell of sweet herbs and earth-inspired décor.
The workshop, led by Lexa Keane ’14, Urban Garden and Compost Coordinator with the Grounds Department and Kelsea Sears, a biology major and Garden Apprenticeship Coordinator, focused on how to make organic herbal remedies to relieve stress. The workshop started off with a moment of self-reflection. Keane asked students to consider the following two questions: “What are some signs of stress you receive from your body? (Do you overeat? Fatigued? Cranky? Hungry? Gain or lose weight?),” and “How do you usually respond to those symptoms? (Do you crave certain foods? Do you deprive yourself of sleep, or do you oversleep?).”
There are several things within the bodily system that are affected by stress and in turn contribute to stress. Keane went on to list them, including the immune, nervous, digestive and circulatory system. Kelsea Sears offered some insight into how the Automic Nervous System (the body’s energetic systems and symptoms of stress) is affected when we deal with stress. She states, “Our body’s response to the bills being late is the same response as being chased by a tiger.” This is a function of the “fight or flight” response in our body when stressful situations arise. Stress inhibits the immune system, among other bodily processes. Chronic stress suppression of the system will leave the body more vulnerable to illness than usual. Some of the negative effects include: inflammation, indigestion, and in chronic cases, problems with blood pressure. “Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean that life is free of stress,” Sears states. However, there are natural ways to combat these symptoms that are easily accessible and abundant to the Charleston area.
The workshop focused on five natural remedies (that you can also grow yourself or find around campus or in the urban garden!) to combat stress and each of their healing qualities: ginger, basil, mint, rosemary and garlic. Ginger is a stimulating expectorant, which means that it has a warm, spicy property to it, which helps with loosening up your bronchial tissues. Ginger in various applications can help dull the sense of pain, reduce bloating and gas, and quell muscle tension and cramping by calming down sudden fight or flight responses in the nervous system. Basil can help build your overall health and wellness, and is an antispasmodic, which relieves muscle tension and cramping. Natural remedies can be utilized in cooking as well as in medicinal applications, for example in teas, tonics and vinegars. The workshop closed making the latter.
Participants each left with a bag of ginger and mint infused tea and a mason jar filled with herbs of their choice to combat stress. Keane notes, “Learning how the mind and body work and knowing bodily systems and how they work together is a part of knowing yourself. There’s no one solution, which is why it’s important to explore, learn and find what works for you.” As students, faculty, staff and members of the larger Charleston community moved about the room and made their own personal herbal remedies, it was hard not to notice the diversity and range of different backgrounds in the crowd. Student participant and active community member, Thomas Bowen, remarked that the interactions and exchange of information between participants showed a sense of unity between the group; no one was excluded and everyone came together as a whole. People who were sitting on one end of the row, by the end of the workshop, were brought into the entire group.
In closing, Keane commented on being inspired by the energy found in nature, and how that connects to people — let alone communities. To practice engaging with herbal remedies on a daily basis means that you are making a commitment to self-discovery, by respecting and acknowledging the benefits of herbs and other plants. To do this as an individual is a tremendous practice, but to foster this within a community speaks volumes (restores traditional ecological knowledge OR re-designs new culture norms).