As an Acupuncturist-at-Sea, working on Holland America Cruise Line, I’ve had the splendid opportunity to visit the Dutch, Caribbean island, Curacao many times. It is visibly north of Venzuela on a clear day and part of the island trilogy known as the ABC’s, along with Bonaire and the more well known, Aruba. This island refreshingly surprises me with each visit from inspirations about its unique heritage. Previously, I wrote a blog on the Aloe Vera plantation in Curacao called Curaloe. My most recent discovery is the the herbal garden of Dinah Veeris, named Den Paradera.
In the 80’s Dinah Veeris set out to interview the elders of the island on the herbal medicines grown on the island to preserve their wisdom. It is important to note that the ABC islands are almost desert climates with less than 20 inches of rainfall per year. For 5 years she traced and recovered more than 300 different plant species. If a species had disappeared on Curacao, she would trace them in Aruba or Bonaire and bring them back to cultivate. Dinah sustained this knowledge for future generations by writing a book, Green Remedies & Golden Customs of our Ancestors and planting the herbal medicine garden, Den Paradera. It was disappointing to learn that she currently has no books available in English, only Dutch. However, I did make it out to her garden to visit, which is open to the public for viewing. In Curacao, her store sells her healing products and a very useful, laminated guide with photos and remedies on the healing plants, flowers and trees of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, in English and Dutch.
The history to the name of Dinah’s garden is interesting, starting with the Paraguiri Indians that originally had the biggest herbal garden on the island. The Spaniards brought their slaves to the Indians and called the location En Paradera, later changed by the locals to Den Paradera, meaning “the place where you feel at home.” With a dry microclimate receiving less than 20 inches of rain/year, the ABC’s produces unique species of many well-known herbs.
Dinah Veeris established Den Paradera Botanical Gardens in 1991 on 1-acre of land. I first went on an organized tour that was lead by Dinah’s son, taking us through the garden to learn about the herbal medicine and its counterpart, music. Many of the plants were also used to make musical instruments, comparing the healing and music to the yin and yang natures of the plants. This is the language of East Asian Medicine, so it resonated with me. A prominent healing plant for music is the Calabash, creating a gourd hollowed to make rattles
Den Paradera is organized in 3 sections: botanical, historical and production. The botanical area is rich with biodiversity, displaying the 300 mostly labeled plant species, unique to these islands. Examples of plants on site are oleander, cotton, basil, oregano, agave, aloe, tamarind, black sage, flower fence and sweet and sour sop. The sour (aka Seville) oranges of Curacao were brought over by the Spaniards and are mostly used now to make the famous blue Curacao Liquor. The production area had vintage gardening tools and equipment displayed. I noticed various pots, wheel barrows, lanterns, pitchers, scales, pitchers and other unknown items. In the historical section there are examples of kunuku dwellings with typical country homes in Curacao’s past with life size dolls in traditional clothing.
Our tour ended with a performance by 2 people doing traditional Curacao
dancing that was an interesting blend of European and African (Curacao was a Caribbean hub for slave trade) styles. And finally, we got to meet Dinah Veeris, who came out to greet and welcome us to her gardens. I was so grateful that I got to visit this site and learn about all that Dinah has accomplished. She has created a portal to the past from which we can connect with the roots of herbal medicine and sustain it for future generations.