A day of furthering my botanical education into the world of Balinese medicinal plants.
When I visited the Balinese healer Pak Ketut Jaya, I was enormously intrigued by all the herbal remedies in his healing room. On our day out to the water temple I discovered a bit more about his extensive knowledge of plant medicine, and he kept saying “oh yes I have that growing in my garden”.
Plant medicine, herbs and healing foods is not only my day job back in my normal life, it’s also one of my most favourite things to do, to learn more about the medicinal properties of mother nature’s apothecary. So I was delighted to take up the invitation to go around to Ketut’s house again and have a tour of his healing garden.
Pak Ketut Jaya makes herbal preparations, such as Herbal Tinctures, Herbal Teas, Balinese Boreh, which is ground herbs and roots made into a rub for the skin, fermented foods, Jahmu, which is a herbal medicine drink, and Loloh, which is fresh leaves crushed and mixed with water to drink. All of the herbs are collected from his garden which is loaded with medicinal plants, that serve him in his work as a healer. He also adds the herbs to his sauna so the aromatic properties can be ingested through the respiratory system.
The garden includes some very recognisable plants such as a Camellia sinensis – Green tea growing by the kitchen, a young Bamboo dedicated to the goddess of compassion Quan Yin and a lawn of Gota kola around the healing room at the back of the house. Green tea is of course stimulating to the mind without the buzz of coffee and high in anti-oxidants, Gota Kola can also be made into a tea and it is rejuvenating to the body and known for promoting longevity, and fresh young bamboo makes a delicious vegetable, although this bamboo was clearly more for its energy than as a food. There is a Moringa tree which is known to be a master healer and thought to be one of the densest sources of nutrition a plant can offer. All of the Moringa plant can be used including the leaves, roots, seeds and bark. The culinary herbs Basil and Parsley grow near the kitchen and there are six types of the anti-inflammatory Turmeric. Not only does the Passion flower climbing plant yield fruits but the leaves are also a good sedative and i’m knocked over by the size of the fruits until Ketut tells me its a particular variety that yields big fruit. There’s a Lemon grass and Chilli plant for cooking, and a Tulsi bush, which makes a calming and invigorating tea which helps with peaceful thoughts. There’s Rosella which is yet to flower but when it does the flowers make a delicious tea that is high in antioxidants and vitamin C. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see all these plants thriving and so well established.
When I arrived Ketut was at work in his garden, and the sun was quite high still in the afternoon. His elderly mother was sitting under the family bale, which is the central covered space in the family courtyard. This is a traditional family home design, but I was told that unless this kind of home is passed down through the family, its very difficult for Balinese people to buy land now and build this kind of layout. They just can’t afford the space anymore because prices are inflated to attract people from different economic cultures and the local Balinese just can’t afford.
The rest of the buildings are set around the courtyard with traditions about which direction the elders of the family should live in, and where the kitchen should be. The garden surrounds the central courtyard and goes out around the back of the house and up the front path, with special plants chosen for their energetic properties planted at the front gate next to the Ganesh shrine.
Ketut’s family not only have the obligatory four dogs and two cats but they also have a pig, who is apparently one of the family too, and is utterly adorable. He answers to his name and Ketut is clearly his papa. The pig has been with the family since he was a baby and it just pops my heart open to see a pig so respected and welcomed.
This garden is just so lush with an abundance of fruit trees that i have never seen before such as Noni, Passionfruit, Dragonfruit, Soursoap and Guava. I get to try different fruits throughout the afternoon and they all surprise and delight my taste buds and are a million miles away from the humble apples of my home county Somerset, UK.
As a medicinal healing garden it contains plants to flavour food, to cool the body system, to act as a deodorant, deliver skin healing, act as a mosquito repellant, digestive, stimulant, purgative, to cleanse the kidneys, the blood, the mind, to uplift the spirits, bring joy, relieve depression, soothe a sore throat, and to promote meditation, amongst other therapeutic actions.
Then there’s the less recognisable plants with some names i cannot quite recall but i will try my best for accuracy. Crocodile tongue for bringing positive energy, Lantorol as a digestive, Gogera as a euphoric and used in sacred dance rituals, Dag dag as a skin cooler, Pakpaktara as a skin scrub and tea, Lilagundi for anti-itching and Cherry lemon for regeneration of cells and a master healer. There are more but there’s only so much I manage to take in.
Ketut puts the sauna on, which he built around the back of the house, and it’s lined with volcanic stone. It’s powered by gas and it has a area to load the fresh herbs into so that the aromas can be breathed in. There is a pesto like skin rub made from fresh herbs and oils, that you can apply to your skin whilst you are sitting in the sauna, to cool and detoxify the skin. My skin has been suffering with mosquito bites quite badly so I lather myself from top to toe and sit in the sauna, covered in green paste ready to steam. This is so relaxing and I spend a couple of hours coming in and out with cold showers in between. Afterwards my skin feels calm and radiant and I’m relieved of the constant itching.
It’s early evening and Ketut’s mum has taken a liking to me and she shares her Balinese cakes, and fruit with me that she has received from her great niece who is visiting. She says I must come back tomorrow. It feels so peaceful, the dogs are cooling down after the day, the pig is back in his nest, we are sipping herb tea and the sky has that lavender hue to it again.
It’s a very restful abundant way of life for my English nervous system, that is too tightly coiled around the business of life. I’m puzzled at just how wrong I’ve got it back home, but forgive and understand myself, noticing how the frenetic pace is drummed up by our culture and has accelerated over the last few decades to the point of impossibility for more than a few. This modern stress is the cause behind so much ill health, and yet all we can do is take one step at a time and make our choices wisely. Forever hopeful i picture the goddess Quan Yin (and her bamboo plant nearby) balancing on the back of her dragon, a beacon for peace, compassion and grace.
May all the pigs in all the worlds be happy. May all the beings in all the worlds find health and well being.
There is a video below of the garden tour with Ketut identifying the plants and saying what there medicinal properties are.