HOW MEDICINAL PLANTS ARE GROWN ON THE SHORES OF LAKE NARACH
Narach is the largest lake in Belarus, with a surface area of 30.7 square miles. At its deepest point, it measures 81.3 feet, and the coastline extends for nearly 25 miles. The lake appeared several millennia ago, with the retreat of the glaciers. Its surrounding area, typical of the north of Belarus, is famous for its pristine nature. It provides a haven for tourists and anglers, and also for those who gather medicinal plants.
OVER 1,100 POUNDS OF DRIED FLOWERS FROM ONE HECTARE «Marigolds are all in bloom at the moment, and we are trying to harvest as much as we can. We can get over 1,100 pounds of dried flowers from one hectare,» says Oleg Kazak, the main agronomist at the company Belaseptika, as he gives us a tour of his unusual production site. Marigold flower heads are collected by hand and placed into special chambers. The temperature in those chambers reaches 122 degrees Fahrenheit, which dries out the flowers in about 24 hours. Afterwards, they will be packed and shipped to Minsk. In the capital, some of the marigolds will be used to make tea, while the rest will be used to make medicinal tinctures.
The drying chambers are equipped with multi-storied shelves, and the air is steamy with herbal infusions.
Marigolds are not the only plants that undergo this process. Echinacea, white cinquefoil, sage, hierochloe, yarrow, mint, hyssop, motherwort, valerian – even a professional would have a hard time listing all 25 types of medicinal plants that grow here.
“Wow, what you guys have here is not a lake but an ocean of flowers!” we say, peering at the large expanse of yellow, white and lilac plants.
“This is nothing! You should have seen it two or three weeks ago – everything was in bloom back then,» the chief agronomist says, smiling.
Oleg Kazak is the director of the site where medicinal plants are grown. He says he loves herbal preparations.
“They are good for you in winter time. If you catch a cold, mix oregano, mint, sage, and marigold, brew them all and drink the mixture, and in a couple of days you will be absolutely fine,” he says. After a brief pause, however, he added, “It’s important not to overdose on these medicinal plants. They are curative, but you need to go easy.”
The company Belaseptika owns 190 hectares of land in the Narachanski region. To get to the site, which is between Narach, Miastro and Belaye lakes, you need to turn off a narrow road and drive along a dirt track through the forest. In addition to the lakes, there is also the Narachanski National Park nearby.
In between plots planted in medicinal herbs, there are ones sown with plants used as green fertilizers.
“We mainly sow cruciferous plants for fertilizer. This is mustard. It’s used for the same purposes,” says the agronomist as he continues his instructional tour of his enormous plantation.
In the Narach region, there are restrictions on how much organic fertilizer can be put into the soil. This is perfect for environmentally friendly medicinal plants.
SEASONAL JOBS FOR RETIREES AND STUDENTS
Most people who tend these herbal plantations are seasonal workers. “This is labor-intensive work,» Oleg Kazak explains. «This is a lot of manual work. We fight weeds by hand, we do not use pesticides. And the plants themselves require all different kinds of care and harvesting. When you are gathering calendula, you must pick each flower by hand. You only pick the blossom, you don’t touch the stalk.”
Work is over for today. It looks like the workers have changed clothes and are waiting in the arbor to be driven home. They take turns introducing themselves: Anna Anatolyevna, Anastasia Sergeyevna, Sofya Petrovna, and Antonina Vikentyevna. They are all from the nearby town of Myadzyel. One of the women says that this is her sixth season working here. The pensioner had learned about the hectares of medicinal herbs at the labor exchange. She was looking for any job that would get her out of the house, and she was prepared to go to work at a farm to look after animals. Instead, she found an occupation that earns her money and makes her happy.
«Look how beautiful it is,» she says, looking at the variety of colors. Another worker, Sofya Petrovna, adds:
“Sure, the work is fine, and it’s beautiful and all, but the real plus is that we can talk to other people here. Many of us are elderly and alone.”
But it’s not only pensioners who harvest medicinal herbs. Anna is 18 and she is from Minsk, but she visits her grandmother for the summer and this is her fourth year working on the plantations.
“It takes me about seven minutes to get here by bike from my grandmother’s village,” Anna says. “In previous years, I worked more, but this season I am only working in August. However, I try to work every day. It is not just about money. I really feel like I am in a fairy tale here.”
WHERE BELARUSIAN HERBS ARE SOLD
Unique preparations and tinctures from herbs grown on the shores of Lake Narach are sold throughout Belarus. For example, you can find the Aptekarski Sad and Kali Laska herbal tea brands in the shops in Minsk.
“Of course, we import tea and some other plants that won’t grow in our climate, from India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other countries. We have also invited a tester from India to train our staff. He is one of the top three testers in the world. It is a combination of the best export components and the unique properties of Belarusian medicinal herbs that helps us gain customer attention,” says Vladimir Khodal, director-general of Belaseptika.
The company grows more than 90 percent of the raw material it uses to produce its herbal output.
Belaseptika exports 10 percent of its output, which includes not only tea but medical antiseptics, added the general director. It is certified according to international standards and goes to Russia, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.
“We are preparing to enter European markets,” adds Dmitri Krokhin, exports director. “Preparation for certification is very costly, but we are embarking on this challenging path of legalization in Europe and then, we hope, in the United States as well. How long will it take? A year? Six months? We hope that this process won’t take too long.”
PARADISE FOR BOTANISTS AND AN UNUSUAL TOURIST ATTRACTION
The tourist complex Aptekarski Sad has been operating for several years now near the lake, right next to the herbal plantations. The garden has a large collection of medicinal herbs and flowers, and any botany lover or simply a tourist traveling through the Narach region can come here for a walk. This amazing garden is designed to popularize the use of herbs for medical purposes. Here you can get an explanation of why plants like St. John’s wort, motherwort, and valerian are good for you. A tour is provided – it starts in the garden and ends on the production site – there, people can take part in harvesting and drying plants. The duration of the tour is unlimited, so you can walk around all day long and breathe in the healing air Belarusian nature, drenched in the scent of herbs.
Photos: Olga Shukaylo, TUT.BY
By Snezhana Inanets