Grow Your Own Drugs!

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ONE of the (very few) benefits of being too sick to go out – as I’ve just been – is that you occasionally discover a worthwhile television programme you didn’t know existed.

It happened to me the other day. There I was, feeling very sorry for myself, mindlessly flipping through the television channels. My eyes were too watery to read but I needed something – at that stage, anything – to take my attention away from my recalcitrant body.

And there it was, tucked away on DStv’s Home channel.

A walking germ …

Walking germ that I am at the moment, it’s no wonder Grow Your Own Drugs caught my eye.

Not that I’m short of them – drugs, that is. A visit to my sympathetic doc saw me staggering home with an armful but I was intrigued, nonetheless.

Turns out Grow Your Own Drugs is an entertaining show presented – originally for the BBC – by ethnobotanist James Wong and featuring lots of recipes for remedies easily made from plants you can grow yourself.

Brought up in Singapore and Malaysia by an English mother and Malaysian father, James’s research interests include traditional medical systems, underutilised crop species and wild plant conservation.

Not surprisingly, his TV show carries disclaimers because, as he admits, the remedies he advocates haven’t been subjected to clinical trials. But, as he also points out, many pharmaceuticals use ingredients from the very plants he recommends.

In a way, it’s no wonder he’s such an ardent advocate for natural cures. He spent most of his childhood in Malaysia where, he told a UK Sunday Times reporter, such ideas are part of the culture.

His granny’s chicken soup with echinacea root, goji berries and “extreme quantities of ginger, chillies and garlic” is his go-to immune booster when colds or flu threaten. “It’s something I make all the time. In Asia you don’t have a big thick dividing line between food and medicine. That soup would be eaten as dinner even if you weren’t feeling under the weather.”

If I could find dried echinacea root, I’d eat his granny’s soup, too. It sounds delicious.

Fortunately, most of his recipes use easily available plants. His burn remedy, turned into ice-cubes for instant availability, uses aloe vera flesh and marigolds, both of which grow abundantly in my own South African garden.

For plant geeks & horticultural virgins

Visit James’s website and you’ll find lots of his recipes and remedies. He’s putting it together, he says, “as an alternative, fresh guide to cool stuff to grow, for committed plant geeks & horticultural virgins alike”. Shame about the misplaced apostrophes scattered throughout, though – maybe I’ll send him a copy of my “apostrophe catastrophe” tutorial. We Word Nerds like to help out where we can.

One fascinating flower featured on the website is a little daisy known as the “Electric Button” (Acmella oleracea). Its “fizzy ‘space dust’-like effect – which my mates liken to licking a 9 volt battery – is produced by the pain-relieving agent spilanthol, which has meant that the plant has been traditionally used to treat toothache, mouth ulcers & sore throats for centuries,” James explains. “Spilanthol’s muscle-relaxing effects have even meant that an extract of the plant has found its way into high-end face creams that claim to have a natural ‘botox’ effect.”

Pop one in your mouth and “an initial burst of citrus tang is quickly followed by a strange, tingly sensation”, he says, “like a jolt of electricity – that fills your whole mouth …”

In Brazil, they even mix the flowers and leaves with sliced chilli and garlic as a condiment for all sorts of dishes.

“Be careful, though,” he warns. “A little does go a long way!”

Guess what I’m going to track down as soon as I’m no longer house-bound! – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch)


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This entry was posted by stevieg on Sunday, June 12th, 2011 at 12:59 pm and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. One of my favourite programmes 🙂
    Glad you discovered this little gem.

  2. Bananas reduces the calcium excretion, which reduces the risk of kidney stones and
    improves bone strength. The nutritional and health benefits of this fruit is far reaching making it a wonder fruit.

    Remove from oven and serve pudding immediately with pouring cream.

    • stevieg says:

      I know bananas are full of potassium making them invaluable for other health issues, but I had no idea about this benefit. Great to know (but I bet the delightful botanist James Wong already knows all about it!). Thanks for the wonderful feedback.

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