Denver is in the middle of its own urban garden revolution. I see people building raised beds, photographing their accomplishments and doing the best they can to prepare for the inevitable hail that comes in the late spring and early summer. While I make my own preparations, my gardening routine includes some really special consultations…

My household in Arvada is blessed by Bella Cloude, owner of Mountain Spirit Herbs and my unofficial teacher for healing with herbs. 

She’s been wildcrafting healing herbs for over 50 years. Every day, I love to pick her brain about the healing qualities of the herbs.  She has a whole line of tinctures that she’s extracted from the medicinal plants.

In the morning, I get instructions from her on what I need to do for the day. She has a lot on her mind because she’s preparing herbs for two different teas and a lung syrup. “Watch that red clover patch” she said, pointing to a rather tall spot in the lawn of mostly dandelions. They have big, luscious leaves, absolutely identifiable with their milky white lines in the middle. “Be sure you don’t cut it down. I use the flowers a lot.”

Before I get to ask her about the properties of red clover, Bella, in her early 70’s, runs around the garden, giving me her requests and commenting on the condition of the various patches of herbs. I run around with a mental notepad, trying to remember it all.

“Can you harvest the wild lettuce today?” Bella asks,

“Sure. Can you point it out to me?”

“Here it is,” she pointed. “The leaves are serrated, but not like dandelion. If you break it off at the root, you see the milky fluid. It’s like a mild opiate. Very helpful in my native nights tea.”

As I began to weed out of a small area of the healing herb garden, Bella walked around a mixture of the kind of plants I used to call weeds in the yard. 

It’s really a lawn of herbs and useful plants.

“I hope I have enough chamomile this year,” she said, seemingly to herself. I assess the plants and realize we may have to transplant some of the babies she started from seeds six weeks ago.

“Taste this catnip! It has this amazing lemony flavor!” I pinched off the top of one of the catnip plants and its flavor is very different from the catnip that grows wild in my New Mexico garden. “It’s got a mild sedative effect.”

“What’s this?” I asked her, pointing to a plant that has similar, softly ridged leaves.

“That’s lemon balm.”

“Oooh.  I buy this in bulk to make teas!  My psychiatrist told me lemon balm would be really good for the anxiety. Bella! This is like being in a pharmacy!”

She smiled a little, uncharacteristic for Bella when she’s working on something really important.

“UGH! The dog dug up the grape starts again! This is driving me nuts! We’ve got to put a barrier up here. Where’s Spencer? We could use some muscles here.” Spencer was working on his school work, safe for the moment from his mom and his “Auntie Bella” requesting his manual labor.

Working with Bella on her urban, healing herb farm is all at once enriching and overwhelming. 

She is determined to turn the entire backyard into a food and medicine forest. Edible landscaping is my new job in this urban environment and I couldn’t be happier. It provides a contrast for my landscape beautification work in New Mexico, but the principles are the same. I cultivate respect for what is growing, enhance the soil, and leave some plants to seed for the future.

Bella’s business started in the mountains of Southern Colorado where her land provided everything she needed for creating her amazing tinctures, teas, and salves. When wildfires struck last year, almost all the crops were lost. It was her cue to join her daughter and her 101-year-old mother-in-law. Times were changing and, in her early 70’s, she was changing with the times.

“I still need more nettles for my native nights tea. Oh, and I just got an order for more salve. I need to fill that today. Can you pick some nettle when you go to Santa Fe?”

Although it seemed like her mind was all over the place, she was very focused on the supplies she needed. Many of her clientele is in New York, hard hit by the coronavirus.

I’ve used her amazing tinctures for years: oral defense, sinus defense, women’s hormonal balance, and now, lung syrup.  Her Breathe Free, Native Nights, Geronimo, and Flowing Waters teas are my staples.

The garden houses healing herb patches are everywhere: comfrey, garlic chives, clover, oregano, mint, and more!

The power of herbs to treat our illnesses has been known and documented for ages. I hope people like Bella will be encouraged to continue their holy, healing work. Especially during a time when millions of Americans are now without health insurance, people can look to alternative ways to boost natural immunity and build their strength and resilience.

Back in the kitchen, at my temporary desk, I start to hear a little thunder. Oh, good. We could use some rain, I thought to myself. A light shower starts, and then…hail. The size of quarters, but still—the plant starts!! All of our raised beds are covered, but nothing can be done for the cauliflower starts.

Bella brings the basil plant inside and protects the tomatoes from the brunt. I brew a pot of lemon balm tea.

Oh well, this is gardening in Colorado. I am a beginner again!