Three weeks ago, we left the east coast for a move to Guam. Smack dab in the middle of rainy season, it is not the ideal time to plant the herbs and veggies that I am used to working with. (We’re not in Zone 8 anymore, Toto!) In the months before our move, I did extensive research to familiarize myself with gardening on the island. One of the videos I found introduced me to Amot TaoTao Tano Farm, and I knew it was one of the first places I wanted to visit once I arrived.
Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a free tour of the farm thanks to a grant from the Guam Humanities Council and the Bank of Guam. I learned that ‘Amot TaoTao Tano’ means “Medicine for the Native People” and was originally the personal garden of Suruhana Bernice Nelson (a ‘Suruhana’ is a Chamorro Traditional Healer). Today, it has grown to 2.5 acres containing more than 200 medicinal plants (most are native to Guam, but there are also plants from China, the Philippines, Japan, Phonpei, Palau, and the continental US) and is now a non-profit. The mission of the farm is to help others learn about the traditional (and dying) art of Chamorro Healing.
Suruhana Bernice Nelson has been practicing the traditional art of Healing for over 50 years.
The vast majority of plants in the garden were entirely new to me. Thankfully, they are each labeled with not only their native name, but also common and scientific names and also how they are used in traditional healing. It was a comfort to see some familiar plants, as well… “Botdologas” (purslane), “Abahakat” (Holy or Tulsi Basil), and “Abas” (Guava), to name a few. I was interested to learn that the Chives here are flat (much like garlic chives but without the garlic taste) and we also got to see a single strawberry ripe on the vine (which is quite the rarity here!).
The most surprising thing for me was learning that “Sleeping Grass” is used for its medicinal properties. We’ve known it as “Sensitive Plant”, and were first introduced to it at the children’s garden at Old Sturbridge Village back home in Massachusetts. We attempted to grow it in Virginia, but never had any luck. Here in Guam, it is considered somewhat of a weed (like chickweed in the States, I suppose) but my children love to touch it and see it ‘sleep’.
After the tour was over, we enjoyed tea made from Lemongrass (amazingly delicious) and some bread pudding made with mulberries grown on the farm. I had a great time perusing the plants they had for sale, and I ended up coming home with Lemongrass, Cat Whisker, Miracle Plant, Sambong, and a large Aloe Vera (at just $2 apiece, I couldn’t resist!).
Whether you live on Guam or are vacationing from elsewhere, you should definitely add a tour of Amot TaoTao Tano to your to-do list if you are at all interested in medicinal herbs. It is located at 613 Swamp Road, Dededo GU 96929, and you can make an appointment for a tour by calling 671-637-7201. The farm has a Facebook page, but it has not been recently updated.
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