November 10, 2009
I was just in Curaçao this past week for the Heineken Regatta and took a side-trip out to a very cool farm owned by a magical woman by the name of Dinah Veeris. Dinah Veeris is on a one-woman crusade to preserve traditional medicinal plants native to Curaçao. In the early 1980s she began Den Paradera, a magnificent botanical garden where she propagates over 300 species of wild medicinal plants. The name “Den Paradera” comes from the Paraguiri Indians who once had one of the biggest gardens on this island. Dinah says, “I started Den Paradera because I saw that we were loosing a lot of information, a lot of herbs. You could be out in the wild areas of the island today and see a lot of herbs. The next day you would not find them anymore. So I started to bring the herbs to this garden to help save them as well as the knowledge of how to use them.”
Dinah is known throughout Curaçao as a healer, or in the local language of Papiamento, a curioso. She will take these plants home and make blends of herbal medicine to sell. Her knowledge of the local botany is impressive and she has published books often used by local botanists.
Dinah says “I give my knowledge away because I got it from the older people. They gave me that knowledge and I feel that I have to give the knowledge to other people, to the young people, so they can spread it.”
The soft spoken and charismatic Dinah was born in 1939. She is an absolute expert on local and Caribbean herbs. She studied at the California school for Herbal Studies. In 1991 she wrote a book about the herbs and their use which has been translated to English: Green Remedies and Golden Customs of our Ancestors. Dinah has received several awards for her input in preserving the culture and the healing herbs. As a long-time grade school teacher, she honed her lecturing skills and will personally give you a guided tour through the garden, as well as also providing you with a wealth of information regarding the various plants and their healing powers.
“Slaves began using native plants to heal other slaves when no other form of care was offered by slave owners,” says Dinah. The Dutch, along with most of the Old World, outlawed the practice of Herbalists and Healers, so it is truly amazing that any of the vast knowledge base was passed down through the generations.”
But Dinah learned from her mother and is now dedicated to teaching the children of present-day Curaçao. The Joantina project was set up especially for school children to learn about herbs and cultural heritage of Curaçao.
The garden is divided into three parts: Botanical, Historical and Production. Many herbal items are produced for sale both in the Farm Store and at other locations throughout the island. Their most popular items continue to be beauty products including herbs for weight loss, soaps, hair oils, facial ointments, medicinal ointments for muscles, skin, and soul! (I picked up some “Love Tea” to try!).
The Herb Farm has just added a new feature: A meandering stream which was filled for the very first time while I watched. Future plans also include opening rest area where visitors can stop for healthy bite, taste drinks made out of fruits and herbs from the garden, and taste a porridge made from barley, just to mention a few.
Guided tours of Den Paradera are available by appointment phone: (+5999)767-5608.
Admission fee is US$6 for adult and US$4 for children.