Right Here & Now with Nutrition Enthusiast Vanessa Berenstein

*First Right Here and Now Interview by Jessica Howe, Owner/Founder of Stealing Here and Now. Lots more to come this year!*

Jessica: Vanessa, thank you so much for meeting with me. I have been looking forward to this for a very, very long time. I would also like to say you have been one of the most influential people in my life regarding Nutrition. Ever since I met you a little over a year ago, my diet has changed 360 degrees and I feel confident with my own health and nutrition for the first time in my life.

Jessica: What have you been doing for the past 6 months?

Vanessa: Where to start… well I worked in a few different organic gardens in Mexico and Argentina after graduating from Northeastern University in Boston. My favorite place was an intentional community/ eco-village called Teopantli Kalpulli in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The Kalpulli community is involved in sustainable projects to involve people from outside in learning about gardening, horticulture, art and culture. Each member produces different goods and services- one woman makes cheese, another family makes whole grain breads and pies, the community garden has seasonal fruits and vegetables, and there is a green architect that builds houses using local materials and solar energy. Right now I am taking classes at the New York Botanical Gardens to learn more about the connections between people and plants.

Jessica: Wow, That sounds like an eye-opening experience. What are these tiny seeds?

Vanessa: This is basil from the community garden in Kalpulli. They use the seed-pods and flowers of the basil plant to make pesto and medicinal teas. They get full use out of all of the plants they grow. When working in the garden, I collected the basil and extracted seeds from the tiny pods, a process that takes lots of patience and meticulousness to get each seed that can eventually become a new plant.

Jessica: Is this the same kind of basil that we can get in the supermarket?

Vanessa: Probably not! These seeds are from a hearty, dark purple variety of basil. There were six different heirloom varieties of basil in the garden. I even got to harvest a lemon basil that had an incredible aroma and tasted delicious in tea and seasonings. I learned that plants like lemon basil sharing similar tastes and scents to other plants have many of the same essential oils that create their odors.

Jessica: What are those yellow and white dried flowers in your hand?

Vanessa: The yellow plant is fennel, which looks and tastes similar to anise or licorice. In Kalpulli, the people use it for stomach problems. Fennel has historically been a medicinal plant to prevent weight gain, treat menopausal symptoms, kidney stones and liver problems.

The white flower in my hand is gordolobo, a medicinal flower that people in Teopantli Kalpulli used as a remedy for respiratory issues, from the common cold to asthma. It grows naturally in abundance in the north of Mexico.

Jessica: What are the other plants you’re holding?

Vanessa: The green flower in the middle is the basil pod where the seeds come from. The white seed is squash from one of the oldest varieties in Mexico. Squash, along with corn, amaranth and beans are all staple crops that completed the indigenous Mexican diet.

Jessica: What plant is this?

Vanessa: This is a variety of oregano from the Kalpulli garden. Now it’s dried out, but when I first saw it, it looked like a cactus because the leaves were thick and filled with water. The oregano plant grows below a sage tree and next to a papaya plant. Oregano, like many other common seasonings has medicinal qualities as an anti-septic, antioxidant, and recent studies have shown its value in preventing cancer and heart disease.

Jessica: How would I go about planting rosemary?

Vanessa: Actually, rosemary can be planted using propagation- you can simply cut a piece of a rosemary shrub and transplant it in a pot with soil or in your garden. You don’t need seeds to grow it; you can use an existing plant to grow your own. It’s a nice plant to have growing at home and use as a spice in your cooking. I like to make rosemary potatoes with garlic.

Jessica: What kind of kernel is this?

Vanessa: This is a dark orange corn seed, one of the native corn varieties from Oaxaca, Mexico. With the genetic modification of corn, the biodiversity of crops like corn and other pollen producing plants is becoming endangered. While in an indigenous Mixe community in the mountains of Oaxaca, I harvested the seeds from the husks of corn that were dried and saved from the year before. I made tortillas using the traditional Nixtamal process with a local school teacher named Paula.

Jessica: It seems like you were really inspired by the plants you saw. How did you decide to use them in your art?

Vanessa: Spending a lot of time caring for the garden, I became interested in the living environment I was surrounded by. There were fascinating details, shapes and patterns in everything I saw, and it motivated me to use some of the plants in my art. I met a wonderful artist named Betty who noticed small cones that fell from the Eucalyptus tree in her back yard, and she began making necklaces out of the hard pods. One afternoon, I collected some plants and drew in my journal to create something different from anything I have done before. The plant I am pointing to is called “cola de caballo”- horse tail. It is used medicinally to purify the blood. The mini flowers are from the bugambilia tree, a plant that I grew up around when I spent summers in Mexico with my cousins in Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

Jessica: Incredible. Your energy and passion is really something that is contagious. The purity of everything you just showed me is breathtakingly beautiful and art themselves. Thank you so much for sharing and as always people keep me updated. I love hearing and learning from your endevors. You are quite the woman!

For more information on this article or how you can be featured in an upcoming Right Here and Now feel free to e-mail jess@stealinghereandnow.com

2 Responses to “Right Here & Now with Nutrition Enthusiast Vanessa Berenstein”

  1. Lorna Howe says:

    Very interesting, I’m familar with some of those plants but didn’t know they have medicinal purposes.

  2. Ruth Suchi says:

    I loved the interview -and I love the way Vanessa exposed all the incredible knowledge she acquired these last few months!
    congratulations!! and keep on!

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