Medicinal Herbman Café Project in Echigo-Tsumari region of Japan. Photo ©2010 Shin Suzuki
Traveling Medicinal Herbman Garden Project
The Medicinal Herbman is not human, but he is alive. At his tallest height, he was just under 200 feet from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. And though he never stands, he is always stretching out his arms and legs as far as they will go, teaching people about his herbs.
A large garden of herbs arranged in the shape of a human body, the Medicinal Herbman is part of the Medicinal Herbman Café Project of Japanese landscape design team Earthscape.1 The Herbman garden and an accompanying herbal café travel to different locations with the goal of teaching the public about healing plants.
In order to help illustrate herbs’ healing properties, the Earthscape team designs Herbman’s body as a map of herbs for treating specific bodily ailments. When the project visited the Echigo-Tsumari region of Japan, for example, Geranium thunbergii (Geraniaceae), which is thought to aid digestion, was planted in the stomach area and Chinese mugwort (Artemisia argyi, Asteraceae), which is thought to relieve shoulder stiffness, was planted in the shoulder area, said Nozomi Kobayashi, Earthscape’s public relations director (e-mail, February 22, 2010). Earthscape obtains its information on herbs and their uses from traditional customs and botanical literature, Kobayashi added.
Sometimes the herbs within Herbman’s body are planted directly into the ground and other times they are planted into transportable containers, said Kobayashi, noting that the herbs are constantly changing so that a site-specific Herbman is “born” in each locale. Whenever possible, the team learns about herbs local to the region that the project is visiting and then incorporates these plants into Herbman and the café’s drink and food menu. Other times, the team uses traditionally-used herbs from other areas of the world in an attempt to spread awareness and knowledge of herbal customs.
During 2009, the project’s first fully-operational year, Earthscape featured the Medicinal Herbman Café Project in 3 different locations in Japan. At one of the stops, the team installed informational cards next to the herbs. These indicated the herbs’ effects and also served as ordering cards, which people could take and exchange for corresponding herbal remedies at the project’s café.2
The café also sells teas, drinks, and foods made from the herbs in Herbman’s garden to further teach people about herbs’ medicinal properties. Various herbal workshops are also held in the café, which is deconstructed and transformed into a container that holds the project as it travels from one location to another atop a large truck. The container is made from recycled material, mostly from an abandoned traditional folk house, and also features a line drawing of Japan’s Echigo-Tsumari region. Landscape line drawings of future Herbman destinations will be layered on top. Though future locales have not been confirmed, Earthscape hopes to bring the Herbman project overseas this year and return to Tokyo in the fall, said Kobayashi.
The Herbman Café Project serves an additional purpose, one which actually inspired Earthscape to begin the project in the first place. From 2001 to 2003, the Earthscape designers built playgrounds for children living in impoverished agrarian communities in Pakistan and Nepal to improve their living and playing environments. During this time, the group learned about the peoples’ herbal traditions and knowledge and became interested in the ways that herbs’ effects can be channeled through the human body.
Earthscape decided to turn these experiences into the Medicinal Herbman Café Project in order to connect playground-building with the knowledge gained from the communities. The project would also provide a more sustainable income for playground construction than simply relying on personal donations.
All of the proceeds from the Herbman project’s café are used to fund construction of playgrounds in the schoolyards of developing countries. So far, the Herbman project has enabled Earthscape to build a playground at a schoolyard in Thailand, said Kobayashi. According to the project’s website: “Herbman keeps traveling, believing in a world where people and nature are healthy, and children are happy and have enough space to play. Herbman carries his trunk (the container) as he travels, bringing good health and giving dreams to children wherever he goes.”
More information is available at www.mhcp.jp.
- About. Medicinal Herbman Café Project website. Available at: www.mhcp.jp/2nd/about/index.html. Accessed February 9, 2010.
- Medicinal Herbman Café Project by EARTHSCAPE. February 1, 2010. De Zeen: Design Magazine. Available at: www.dezeen.com/2010/02/01/ medical-herbman-cafe-project-by-earthscape/. Accessed February 22, 2010.