Know Y(our) Nature : journal blog by Mahima

I’m a huge believer in the connection we hold with nature. This doesn’t necessarily mean your stereotypical view of someone who “practices yoga, eats only vegan food, reuses everything, recycles and meditates” but rather that every sort of human, no matter where they come from - can share a bond with nature and use it as a source of positivity. 

Truth is, the more we give nature a chance - the better we learn to understand our impact on her as-well because we unknowingly realise that care we all hold for her. I know this because it's how my journey and the journey of many individuals I’ve met in the past few years began.

One of the ways that I’ve practiced this notion over the past few years through my travels and in my daily routine, is by taking walks. 15 minute short walks to longer hikes, with the goal to disconnect and connect with the world around. This habit of mine became stronger in the past year, as 2020 hit us with all its unexpected twists and turns - travel was no longer possible and being in Singapore, I haven’t been able to travel home. Nature became my solace and with that came inspiration to grow SUI, to think creatively and a lot more.

Soon enough I found myself getting more and more curious about the flora and fauna around us in Singapore, though I had always known about general tropical plants and used them in our designs - this time around I became curious about their story, their benefits and also which plants were actually native to Singapore. This thought led to the idea of "Know Y(our) Nature” and, through the power of Social Media, I was also lucky enough to connect and meet Taahira, known as Treehira, who leads various community tours in different parts of Singapore to identify local plants, their uses and history while opening others eyes to the beauty of local nature that surrounds - also to note, the moniker Treehira was born out of her love for trees and all green things that grow, it represents Taahira as a person and a way of life that observes the little things with fresh eyes.

I was curious to chat with an individual who, like me, was asking these questions and possibly carried knowledge about the trees, flowers, and green paths within Singapore. Taahira was just the person. Long story short, after meeting her for a cup of coffee and connecting over our shared passion for the outdoors we decided to curate a personalised walk for our community, which would help them Know the nature around us. The idea was simple, we’d choose a green path which consisted of various different species of trees and flowers and host an edu-walk for our community giving them a chance to learn, touch and feel the nature around us in Singapore. Taahira also invited along her friend Parnella, or Nell, an Ayurveda enthusiast and therapist who is passionate about natural healing, believing that it is so important for individuals to lead a healthy and happy life through mental and physical wellness.

(Taahira, left, and Nell, right, at the beginning of our walk)

And with that, we had two green minds on board to help us lead our walk and finally brought the idea to all of you, our community. To our surprise, the idea was welcomed beautifully and we were sold out within a day!

So for this week’s blog, a month or so later, as we plan for Edition 2 of our community walk (YES WE ARE coming back!), I thought I would share a little more about it to hopefully excite you to visit us for the next one.

Our first ever Know Y(our) Nature community walk hosted by us and led by Taahira (@treehira) and Nell (@parnella.rayappan), was as lovely as we’d hoped it to be. We were joined by 5 passionate green heart-ers, a few of whom were also our SUI community members.

(The group!)

The path chosen by Taahira was Keppel Bay Reservoir, one of the most beautiful spots in Singapore and also a path with a touch of wilderness within it. Taahira and Nell took us through a variety of plants, trees and herbs, told us their stories and benefits, and allowed us to connect with all these little aspects. It’s amazing that once we allow ourselves to learn about the nature around us, our eyes are wider and minds more alert but most importantly we begin to understand why this connection with nature matters. That is exactly how each participant left feeling, alive and aware.

Here are a few highlights of plants I learnt about:

The Kapok tree is one of the Singapore’s heritage trees. There are only 8 of such trees in Singapore. Two are in botanics but one has been cut down.  

How to identify it? By the thorns on the trunk and the wide crown that has many branches arranged to look like a pagoda. It’s flowers are cream coloured and have a milky sent. Fruits are large hanging pods that split open when ripe to release white fibre and seeds. The fibre has been used for mattress stuffings, etc. in the past. The trunk is massive, covered in thorns, heavily buttressed. Crown is made up of branches that are arranged in a tiered fashion, resembling a pagoda. A deciduous tree, it sheds its leaves before

Something not many people know is that some of Singapore’s trees came through the British in the 1930s, like this one. The seeds were a present from the Bogor Botanic Gardens, West Java. 

Gale of the wind / Stonebreaker / Phyllantus Niruri / Bhumi Amla is a small but mighty plant that grows in temperate climates all over coastal India and is popular in Ayurvedic medicinal preparations and tonics for liver disorders, digestive disorders, inflammatory conditions, heavy menstrual bleeding, coughs & colds, hiccups, diabetes, anemia etc. It can also be made into a fresh paste for skin infections, taken in the form of a juice shot to maintain healthy liver function, and can clear a blocked, stuffy nose by administering 2-3 drops per nostril after a little steam session.

Fun fact: It is called Stonebreaker because the chemical and medicinal properties in it can effectively break down kidney stones and gallbladder stones naturally without any adverse side effects.

Boston fern / Sword Fern/ Fishbone Fern are great porch plants that love tonnes of sun. It is an air purifying plant and, according to tests run by NASA, it has the ability to absorb harmful pollutants like Formaldehyde and Xylene that tend to irritate the ENT areas, CNS, cause nausea, vomiting etc. It cannot be consumed but it can be put in spaces around the house to manage humidity and keep the air quality clean. Clean air quality definitely has healing benefits to support the body’s oxygen supply, to support good circulation and to also keep out any potential infection of the air passages. Ayurveda has some plants/herbs that can be kept at home for its healing benefits as medicine and as ingredients to use in food or as herbal remedies such as Mint, Rosemary, Fenugreek, Tulsi, Aloe Vera etc. 

Simpoh Ayer has beautiful bright yellow flowers and pink fruits. Often in South East Asian culture, the leaves are used to wrap things like spices. The leaves are also known to have healing properties for wound healing, itchiness, bruising, treating swollen fingers, and bleeding. The roots are made into a tonic and given to women to consume after childbirth, also administered to treat stomach ailments that cause blood in stools. A tea made from the root can be consumed to treat/manage respiratory conditions. The bark of the tree is boiled and used to treat skin issues. Even the flower bud is used to heal wounds. In Indonesia & Brunei, the fruit pulp is used to make shampoo! 

Daun Singkong / Cassava leaves / Kuchi Kizhangu or Maravallli Kizhangu in Tamil / Simla Alu in Hindi is used quite frequently in Malay/Indonesian/Nusantara cooking - it looks a lot like Isombe from Rwanda. Cassava is gluten free, rich in protein and Vitamin K which is important in building mass in the bones. It is good for bone health, digestive health, improves stamina and is rich in minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese and potassium. 

Giant taro leaves / Arbi Leaves are used in Indian cooking (north India) and can be found in many wetlands in Singapore. The raw leaves are poisonous hence why you need to cook them well. The leaves are rich in Vitamin A and C, and it has high antioxidant levels. When taken, it supports heart health, good digestion, weight management, eye health, skin health and when taken during pregnancy, supports the health of the foetus as well. The root is known to be starchier and stickier in nature. In Ayurveda, this is seen as a good vessel to gather toxins and flush it out of the body. The taro root is used in Ayurvedic detox protocols because it not only helps to lubricate the channels in the body but it also helps the toxins to literally slide right out. In ancient times, taro leaves were used for treating various diseases like arthritis, asthma, diarrhoea, skin disorders, and neurological disorders.

The entire path is an easy beginner to intermediate hike, with a few inclines. What I loved about it was that this wasn’t a path that was landscaped with a footpath to walk on, it was raw and you were truly with and surrounded by nature. The Keppel Bay Reservoir is a magical place in itself. It welcomes the light and changes its colour accordingly. In the 2 times that we visited it (the first for the recee) the sight was truly unique. You’d have to see these images to believe it!

I’m so grateful for our community who joined us for this and had a chance to take further steps into connecting with nature. We ended our walk at a local cafe drinking filter coffee and eating dosas while reflecting on all that we had learnt. Community is a big part of SUI and for us such events help us bring forward that extension to SUI I have always hoped it would.

Taahira and I are now eagerly planning our next community walk, this one will be themed around our upcoming edit and we may be able to host a few more people! So watch this space, I hope to see you there!

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