An investigation into local herbal delights

Master class at Park and Tilford Gardens, 2018. | hotos courtesy of Anastasiia Dushyna

Anastasiia Dushyna, botanical pharmacology specialist talks about healing herbs at Medicinal Plants Series: Culinary uses and knowledge at Burnaby Public Library on Sept. 30, and Urban Homesteading Series: Cosmetic Herbs at North Vancouver City Library on Sept. 25.

Inspired by her endocrinologist and ethnobotanist grandmother, Dushyna cultivated a career in botanical pharmacology, drawing on her medical education and a MSc for further prowess. Learning further about phytochemistry and the therapeutic uses of herbs during medical school, she comments that the herbal world “is a big one.”

An everlasting love of plants

Born and raised in the Ukraine, Dushyna describes botany as being a part of her everyday life.

“I can’t imagine my life without herbs,” she says. “It’s like tradition in Europe, doctors know herbs really well. It’s part of the pharmaceutical industry there. Sometimes we forget how easy it is to grow or own herbs,”.

As a teenager, Dushyna visited many botanical gardens, read countless books and magazines on botany, grew house plants and made face masks and other cosmetics with various plants. Post-graduation she landed in a job in pharmaceutical marketing, becoming a product manager shortly thereafter. Promoting certain plant medicine like valerian was not uncommon for her, piquing her interest in sharing the therapeutic and medicinal properties of plants with the wider public.

Upon moving to British Columbia (B.C), she quickly realized that it would take some time to familiarize herself with the prevalence of different herbs and the rarity of others in B.C. soil.

“I was dying to find different herbs. I found mint, chamomile, rosemary and sage, but I couldn’t find some herbs which I like to use, for example, St. John’s Wort,” she says. “It was a challenge to find some things that I’m used to as a European.”

Dushyna offers some words of caution about locating and harvesting less common plants.

“We have some major plants, which we know from indigenous people,” she explains. “But the problem is that native plants here are rare. We care about the animals, insects and plants [and] I don’t want to encourage people to take them but to grow them.”

Her hope is for people to be inspired to grow their own herbs to be used medicinally in the future. “People don’t realize how easy it is to make a tea out of lavender,” she adds.

Growing herbs is accessible and beneficial in a multitude of ways, according to Dushyna.

“You need to understand which soil is easy, and then which herbs to choose; we have a wide range to choose from,” she says. “Even just growing herbs in your garden will make the air healthier and you will feel the benefit of the essential oils.”

Learning about herbs

In her talks, Dushyna provides participants insights into plants growing, usages and the opportunity for herbal tea testing. Likening it to a wine or cheese tasting, she explains the graduation from a lighter flavour to more intensity. “I start with chamomile for instance, and then go to something a bit stronger like oregano,’ she says.

Dushyna will be talking further about growing medicinal plants and the conditions for growing them. “B.C. has the best conditions for growing these plants,’’ she adds. “ [The upcoming talk] will be about beautiful and useful herbal gardens. You can play with herbs like thyme in different shapes and colours.”

She hopes that people will feel inspired to grow and utilize more of their own herbs, and incorporate them into their lives on a daily basis.

“It brings me joy when people tell me they grow more in their garden now, that they know how to use organic plants and herbs,”. says Dushyna. “It’s pretty affordable and very good for your health. It’s not about treating strong conditions or injuries, it’s more about prevention and health-oriented routines every day.”

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