Your botanic journey can yield the rich reward of relaxation in many ways, says Fiann Ó Nualláin.
The garden can be a real antidote to the fast pace of modern life. If established, it has been grounded in many years of both effort and toil and also reward and pleasure. It has already had a lifespan and is continuing. Nothing about it was instant.
Maybe a rollout lawn or plug plants saved a month of anticipation but other seeded plants, slips, cuttings and transplants all took their own time to complete the process of becoming that established border or vegetable patch that you enjoy.
If it is not established and you are restarting or newly commencing your botanic journey, then it will take time and in that time there will be waiting and anticipation, ups, downs and sheer delight, and there will be seasons and all of their subtle and even stark changes witnessed across a year — a natural year.
No virtual reality simulators of raking autumn leaves can hit that spot of calmly carrying out an action for the betterment of your lived environment, a cool breeze on your brow and fresh air in your lungs, all your body and brain sensors responding to the autumn feel of the moment.
Nor is there a visualisation meditation that could compare to seeing the first crocus of spring. Gardening is lived and experienced in real time.
This real-time is a slower pace to stress-time of deadlines, money worries and unrealistic expectation. It is a whole other universe away from swiping left or right or scrolling up and down.
We can fast-walk the streets all we like or loathe, with a cup of coffee welded to our hand and an earpiece or phone to the ear in a desperate attempt to shout to ourselves — or the world around us — Look at how busy I am!
In the garden after a day of pottering or even a day spent busily weeding, watering, tending — one can sit and sip a coffee for pleasure and drink in the day’s work too. A garden coffee is a beverage to enjoy — not a necessary stimulant to keep you going.
You will always enjoy your garden coffee or tea more because it is refreshing and earned and also unburdened from the context of having to signal or remedy your stress levels. The spot of gardening or the spot you are drinking in has already remedied that.
The poison of “stress chemistry” has been neutralised, on many levels — not least by the distancing of yourself from it via the distractions and delights of physical gardening and via the participation with nature that soothes the psychological and lowers blood pressure.
And yes, I know the garden can be stressful at times — when pests pester or there is trepidation about a harvest or you are just anxious to get a task done, the bulbs in or the compost turned.
We all know that one rained-out weekend can pile some pressure on. But in times like that I think to myself of the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who reminded the world that “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished”.
To enjoy the similar flavour and the bitter health benefits of coffee without the caffeine complications, the garden can yield several alternatives.
Traditional in times of coffee shortage and increasing today as a health alternate, the roots of dandelion, burdock and chicory can be harvested, dried and roasted to yield a fine beverage. Individually brewed or combined for a fuller-flavoured cuppa.
These plants were traditional spring bitters — utilised to kick-start the liver and gall bladder in carrying out a detox of the system in spring after a stodgy winter. Consequently they are traditionally harvested in spring, or in autumn to store but any time in their growing or dormant seasons is okay.
Simply dig up. Remove as much from roots soil at site, rinse clean and pat dry. at home, chop up roots to coffee bean-sized lumps and place with space between each onto a baking tray/dish.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F and place roots inside for approximately 20 minutes until brown and dried through. Alternatively you can dry/drown in a skillet just as you might roast nuts — but you may want to chop slightly finer.
Roots are now first roasted and safely dried ready for storage. Some foragers like to give a second five minutes at similar oven temperatures closer to time of use, but if you have gather a handful rather than a bucket full then you might fancy a cup now, not next spring.
At this stage you can grind the dry lumps in a coffee or spice grinder down to finer coffee powder and second roast now for a fuller flavour and a no more process coffee. Brew this grain as you would normal coffee. Milk or cream can be added. Sip and enjoy the flavour and acknowledge to yourself your labour in producing it.
Self-sufficiency is rewarding but little things that lower carbon footprint are the obligation of every human, if humans are to survive the evolving consequences of climate change — and while nature does not hurry, I have to say that from governments, to policymakers, to people power, we all need to shake a leg on that one.