Swallow is a recipe for herbal bitters, in the form of a living medicinal herb garden. It contains five perennial plants: Melissa officinalis (lemon balm); Ruta graveolens (rue); Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot); Artemesia absinthum (wormwood) and Verbena officinalis (vervain).
The plants were transplanted in early May 2013, and the picture above shows the bed just before planting and a couple of weeks later. Over the course of this and the next summer, I will be harvesting these plants and perfecting a recipe for herbal bitters that are both medicinal and delectable. Here is my projected recipe:
Swallow’s Aromatic Bitters
5 parts lemon balm, fresh leaf
3 parts wild bergamot, fresh leaf and flower
2 parts vervain, fresh leaf and flower
1 part wormwood, dried root
1 part rue, fresh leaf
All herbal bitters support and strengthen digestive function and offer cooling effects to stressed livers. Aside from these benefits, all of the big magical plants included in Swallow’s Aromatic Bitters bring with them the robust traditions of their home territories and, in turn, invite their drinkers to acknowledge our place in settler-colonial urban ecologies. Lemon balm, vervain, wormwood and rue are all native to Eurasia, and their etymologies bear the sign of their long relationship with traditional western medicine—for instance, wormwood’s genus name, Artemisia, comes from Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth and virginity. Lemon balm, the key ingredient in Carmelite water, the 14th century herbal tonic famed for calming hysterical nerves, also bears a Greek name: melissa means “bee,” signalling this plant’s importance as a pollinator. Melissa has been cultivated for medicinal use in the Mediterranean for over 2,000 years. Wild bergamot is indigenous to North America and appears in the Blackfoot, Cherokee, and Anishinaabe materia medicas for a range of ailments, from fevers to skin infections to stomach ailments. Bringing these histories and geographies into the bottle with them, these bitters will be able to support those inclined towards critical engagement with settler-colonial urban ecologies by encouraging a calm and light disposition (melissa, wild bergamot vervain), promoting clear sight, intuition, creativity and even prophetic dreams (vervain, wormwood, rue), and clearing and protecting hearts and minds (rue, wormwood).
Swallow is open to the public. Come visit! It is located inside Dragon Alley Community Gardens, north west of College and Dufferin streets in Toronto, ON.
This work by Gina Badger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Swallow is a permanent offsite project of the Gendai Gallery.
I acknowledge the financial support offered to this project by an Exhibition Assistance Grant of the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.