Datura is one of the 300 species in Finca Luna Nueva''s Sacred Seeds Sanctuary. Photo by Barbara Bourne
We spent the afternoon learning more about the 300 species of topical medicinal herbs in Finca Luna Nueva’s 2-acre Sacred Seeds Sanctuary. Alarmed at the rapid rate of species extinction (50 to 200 every week) and languages (one disappears each week, taking with it all the indigenous knowledge about the useful plants), Finca Luna Nueva general manager Steven Farrell launched the project at the urging of his dear friend, Rafael Ocampo, in 2004. Unlike seed banks, this sanctuary is a dynamic laboratory and observatory where scientists can understand how plants are responding to climate change—and help nurture them through the worst.
Most of the plants in the seed sanctuary are not endangered—yet. “In 10 years, most of the plants in this garden will be endangered,” said Steven as he handed us patchouli leaves to crush and smell. “Some will be overharvested, and some will lose their habitat to GMO soybean fields. We’re trying to look 20 years into the future and figure out how we’re going to save these plants. We can’t express enough how important it is to save these seeds right now.”
As we smelled and tasted dragon’s blood, jackass bitters and slimy sunset-leaf hibiscus, Steven told us about the grandmothers who gather at this garden once a year to share their wisdom about the local herbs. Eight grandmothers met with high school students to share and tell stories when the project began seven years ago. Only four of them remain. “We want to keep the pockets of knowledge about these plants alive and also make sure that they have entered the human consciousness,” he said. People won’t work to save what they don’t understand, he pointed out, but they get on board once they experience the security of having a first aid kit and vitamins growing in the back yard.
There are now seed sanctuaries like this one in Peru, Madagascar, Vietnam and North Dakota. Steven says the goal is to see 10,000 of them in the next decade. “We’re in the middle of the fifth massive die-off of species and the only one caused by another species, which is us,” he said. It’s up to us to save the plants. We’re their only hope.