Our traveller happens upon a botanical garden of medicinal plants in Curaçao.

Marijke Wilhelmus is a freelance web designer whose love of scuba diving as well as Hawaii and the Cook Islands spurred her to go on a yearlong trek around the world to discover examples of sustainable living and preservation projects in remote areas above and below the surface of the ocean. Seed asked Marijke to document her travels by sending regular dispatches relaying the different characters she’s met and innovative and practical ways of life she’s witnessed.

(Click on a thumbnail below to view a larger picture)

Den Paradera, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles

dinahveris1slide.jpg The entrance to the Den Paradera Botanical Garden.

I met Dinah Veeris in her magnificent botanical garden where she propagates over 300 species of wild medicinal plants. The garden is called “Den Paradera,” which means “the place where you feel at home”. Dinah was born in Curaçao in 1939. She is soft-spoken with a humble and calm presence, most likely derived from her 50 years working as an educator.

In 1981 Dinah conceived the idea to preserve native medicinal plants and to record the traditional knowledge of how to use these herbs in curing illness. She started by interviewing the older people in her community, including her own mother. Until she began her anthology, this information existed only as part of an oral tradition.

dinahveris2slide.jpg Dinah in front of a thatched hut, traditionally used for the storage and preservation of seeds.

“Every herb has its story,” Dinah says. “The traditional healers had incredible knowledge. I spent every spare minute—I was still teaching [then]—with them, writing things down, going into the wild places collecting, learning ancient chants, drying herbs, etc.”

One of her favorite herbs is yerb’e hole (white basil), which, apart from its calming quality, she typically uses for children’s fevers, giving it to the child as a tea. In some instances, she administers it by mashing it with coffee grinds, mixing it with coconut oil and then putting it in a sock under a child’s feet.

dinahveris3slide.jpg Dinah poses with the Kalbas di Mondi Calabash tree, the leaves and fruit of which have healing properties.

In 1991, Dinah started Den Paradera after noticing that she had difficulty relocating many of the herbs she encountered in the wild areas of the island. More people and more growth are beginning to tax Curaçao’s fragile, arid countryside and the places where these medicinal plants grow are under attack from urbanization, industrial expansion and increased development.

So, Dinah began bringing the herbs to this garden in order to help save them before they go extinct, just as she’s saving the story of their medicinal secrets.

Dinah believes that a lot of the problems in the world today are the result of over-consumption and a disconnection from nature. In fact, she has written a book called Green Remedies & Golden Customs of Our Ancestors, where she pays homage to a simpler, more traditional time. The book has been translated into both Dutch and Papiamento, the island’s native tongue.

Her next project, which she has only just begun, is to create a children’s village modeled entirely on the ancient practice of communing with nature. The inhabitants—children dressed in traditional garb—will participate in activities like getting water from the well and, of course, drying herbs.

Contact Marijke Wilhelmus here.

Originally published May 9, 2006


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