The Biggest I’ve Ever Seen…


He drove slowly, careful not to scrape the sides of his truck as we drove. The streets of his neighborhood are paved but narrow, with barely enough room to get by. Ancient stone walls topped with strange carvings pressed in from both sides. Wild cacao trees, the biggest I’ve ever seen, loomed overhead.

As we made our way toward his hidden garden, the roads narrowed even more, now no wider than a sidewalk. Man-made walls gave way to thick foliage and immense trees. There were plants on top of plants as far down the road as you could see.

We drove into what looked like a tree tunnel, made a quick right and squeezed the truck through a tiny opening … and what I saw amazed me. A huge field with walking paths and more plants growing everywhere.

How could this be right here, with no hint of it from the road?

We got out of the truck and the first thing I saw was peppermint, just like I have growing in my yard in Florida. There was tapioca, which grows so thick the locals even use it for fences.

There was Ginkgo Biloba and ginger… and immensely huge palm trees, so tall I could barely see the coconuts hanging near the top. Then there was the tallest papaya tree I’d even seen. So big I couldn’t get it into one photo. There were even jackfruit trees, which have the largest fruit in the world – they can weigh up to 90 pounds each.

My guide, and the owner of this fantastic herb garden, is a farmer, agriculturalist and herbalist named I Made Westi (pronounced “Eye Mah-dee Wes-tee).

Westi comes from a family of farmers on the exotic island of Bali. He’s concerned about the use of fertilizer and the commercialization of the rural tradition of farming. Farming has been their sustenance, and their main crop is rice, which they grow in terraced paddies.

They also grow fruit trees and fruits and vegetables in little sections of those terraced patties. And the plots of land are pretty self-sufficient. They’ll have chickens and a pig and they barter with their neighbors and it’s been that way for thousands of years.

And it’s worked very well until tourism came. Developers started pushing the farmers out to use the land for the tourism industry. The remaining farmers started to use fertilizer on the land that was left to try and get more out of it… but Westi told me that when you use fertilizer, you get increased production for only a couple of years, and then the land stops producing.

The reason is that it’s a very fragile system. The water comes from rain – it’s basically a tropical rainforest. The water falls in the mountains and it all flows downhill from there and they use it to irrigate the rice fields. It’s ingenious.

They have canals that flood the patties, and they can easily open and close the canals and time it for rice planting. They only flood it when the rice has already produced and then they’re composting.

So what they do is bring in ducks. The ducks eat the decomposing rice stalks and bugs that are there, and fertilize. When they drain that, they plant the new rice cuttings, and semi-flood it again.

As the rice matures, they flood it again. Then they let that water out, and it flows down to the other terraces. So when you have a small little plot, you’re dependent on the person above you to pass the water along.

There used to be a lot of fights and feuds over water usage but now they have a national system that maintains and regulates the flow of the water to get it where it’s needed so that everybody gets an equal amount.

It works very well … except that people upstream are now using commercial fertilizer and it devastates the crops downstream.

Westi has taken it on himself to get back to the natural, native system that had worked so well.

He’s very educated, and a treasure trove of knowledge about herbs. He’s got a college degree in agriculture and he gives tours to teach people about how you can still do things the old way.

He shows people how the water system works and how to rotate crops and how to be completely self-sufficient in a relatively small space. And how it’s totally sustainable.

Westi wants to build a resort on the land he’s inherited from his father and grandfather, who used to farm there in the traditional way.

He wants it to be a healing center, a house where people can come for treatments, massage and herbal therapy. It will be focused on wellness and teaching sustainability, but the tourists will also get to take home fresh herbs from his private garden, which he took me to see.

They have two gardeners there to protect the plants, and to pick what Lelir and Westi need to make their products.

Some of the herbs they grow there are not well-known in the U.S., but Westi has a workshop where he and his wife, Wayan Lelir, make formulas that you can’t get anywhere else. I’ll be bringing some of them to you soon, but here are some of Westi’s favorites, and how you can use them yourself:

Power surge from Bali – You may know the herb patchouli as a deodorant, or an ingredient in cologne. Westi told me that patchouli is also very good for treating wounds. It’s like first aid – you want to take patchouli anywhere you travel just in case. It inhibits infection, protects cuts and scrapes and helps regenerate new skin cells.

The essential oil of patchouli is also very good for increasing energy, making you more alert and active.

Eat well and feel no pain – Lemon Basil is a cross breed that smells as incredible as the name suggests. It makes almost any seafood recipe better. I often chop some up and sprinkle it on plain baked fish or chicken, along with some lemon juice or lemon slices. Or, you can use it to make pesto, salad dressing, and of course tea.

You can pick the tops (flowers) and dry them in a paper bag and they’ll stay good for years. In some parts of the world lemon basil is still used as anti-venom for bites and stings. It’s been used to treat earaches, kidney stones, diabetes and insomnia. You can also use it as a hair conditioner.

Eugenol, the antiseptic oil contained in the leaves, is a proven painkiller.

Sleep soundly and wake up to a delicious treat – I was so jealous to see a soursop tree growing wild … I wish I could grow them in Florida, but they die if the temperature gets below 40. The leaf of this tree is used in anti-cancer treatment.

Soursop is a hangover remedy. They would break up a few leaves in some water, squeeze in the juice of a lime and rub the mixture on a drunken man’s head to make him “sober as a judge,” as the saying goes.

Spread a few leaves onto your pillow, or make an infusion, for a good night’s sleep. They use the fruit to make a delicious juice full of calcium, vitamin C, and the essential amino acid lysine.

Look younger, feel younger – Westi grows several different kinds of turmeric (which is the source of curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-cancer compound) that you can’t get anywhere else. One is curcumin pandurata, which Westi uses to make an anti-aging formula in his workshop.

And there’s curcumin Westi pronounced “hai-nay-nah” which he uses to make a facial scrub because it’s moisturizing. Curcumin is also a very powerful antioxidant, a known analgesic and is anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory.1

In fact, there’s such an incredible array of local herbs growing in Westi’s garden that I can only scratch the surface here.

That’s why I’ve joined with Westi to write the second book in my “Healing Herbs” series. The first is Healing Herbs of Jamaica that I wrote with my friend from Jamaica, the herbalist Ivey Harris.

Now I’m writing Healing Herbs of Bali with my new friends Made Westi and Wayan Lelir. We’ll let you in on all the stories behind the herbs, their history and how Westi and his family, and Lelir and her healing tradition, came in contact with them. Plus you’ll read stories of how Lelir and her family have used the herbs as medicine.

We’ll also show you how you can use these herbs yourself to make teas, tonics, cures, tinctures, scrubs and creams, just like the traditional healers in Bali.


1 “Philippine Medicinal Plants.” Stuart Exchange. Retrieved May 23, 2011.