Working in Our Wheelhouse

Plants and people have a long relationship. Throughout our existence humans have depended on plants for food, medicine, and shelter. Plants have worked themselves into our culture, customs, and spiritual practices. We, as plant enthusiasts, likely all have our own personal  memories with plants that extend beyond traditional gardening.

My grandfather was a pharmacist. I remember his pharmaceutical dispensatory providing directions to make various medicinal components from plants. My own master’s degree was how to better grow a medicinal herb with the potential use as a medication. I share this information because I personally know how plants can be consumed for human health and wellbeing.  And, I also know as an Extension horticulture educator, it is not my job to teach or advocate for the utilization of plants in this way. When it comes to putting plants into our bodies I want to use this moment as a friendly reminder on what we need to focus on during our volunteer efforts:

  • DO focus on growing ornamentals and edibles in sustainable ways.  This includes:
    • the right plant in the right place and good gardening practices;
    • pest management using an IPM approach, our brains and lots of elbow grease, and if necessary  the judicious use of organic and synthetic pesticides;
    • the process of gardening for vocational, recreational, and therapeutic uses.
  • We can discuss how to harvest crops and post harvest handling to get product into homes or food pantries.
  • Many of our programs can inspire people to taste something they’ve grown themselves, and we can discuss the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diet to keep us healthy.

As soon as people start consuming plants, that is beyond the scope of the MG program. As MGVs and horticulture educators we do not provide recipes.  If recipes are needed, they must be vetted and tested (See Why Use Tested Recipes?). MGVs do not give food preservation advice- there are other volunteer programs that provide this training (at this time, the Master Food Preserver training is on hiatus). We NEVER advise using plants for medicinal purposes or in place of medical treatment. We do not offer training on this, nor should we promote it through our program outlets and resources. I know it is super interesting information, and right now, seems important given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  But, simply put, this is not what we do.

If you, as an individual, have training in food preservation or herbalism, it is critical you do NOT represent yourself as a MGV while you are sharing it. I know volunteers and colleagues who have successfully done this balancing act as to when they are acting as a MGV from when they are not. 

We recognize people will utilize plants to improve their own well-being through sensory stimulation and spiritual practices; they may incorporate plants into their own traditions, including diet and medicine. I want us as volunteers and educators to honor people’s cultural relationships with plants.  At the same time we need to focus on what is our niche which includes getting people to safely interact with plants and be successful in growing them. It is critical during this period that information we provide is research based, resulting in us doing no harm to those depending on us for their gardening needs.

image of educational display at Chelsea Physics Garden, London

Humans have long utilized plants for food, shelter, and medicine. As Extension educators and volunteers we must focus on helping people successfully growing plants.