Places Practices

Uncle Tan's Herb Garden: The Art of Herbal Remedies (狮城草药学艺)

by Yong En and Xiangyun (Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

Away from the city lies a hidden gem of Singapore’s herb heritage: Uncle Tan’s Herb Garden. With the help of a dedicated team, Uncle Tan turned a plot of barren land into a lush field of local herbs that strives to preserve our precious herb heritage.

Uncle Tans Herb Garden
Beginnings of Uncle Tan’s Herb Journey
Uncle Tans Herb Garden

At 5 years old, the young Uncle Tan was first inspired by his mother when he saw her using herbs to cure a case of minor flu in their neighbours.
Uncle Tan tending his herbs, 2021 (Image credit to Yong En Gaw)

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

With a passion for herbal healing traditions, Uncle Tan started his herb garden at Kranji in 2015.
Entrance to Uncle Tan's Herb Garden, 2021 (Image credit to Xiangyun Chen)

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

The landlady who had heard of Uncle Tan’s passion and knowledge about herbs provided him land to start his herb garden at Kranji Resort.
Beginning Stages of Uncle Tan's Herb Garden, 2015 (Image credit to Uncle Tan)

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Uncle Tan invested $130,000 to improve soil conditions and create a suitable foundation for cultivating herbs.
Uncle Tan Inspecting the Soil, 2015 (Image credit to Uncle Tan)

Introduction to Herb remedies
Uncle Tans Herb Garden

South African leaves (also known as Vernonia Amygdalina) with green apples can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and uric acid.
Vernonia Amygdalina 南非叶, n.d. (Photo courtesy of natureloveyou.sg in https://uncletanherbs.info/voices)

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Stevia Rebaudiana (Sugarleaf) can be used to replace sugar in food and beverages – making it popular with the diabetic community!
Herbs in ceramic pots, 2021 (Image credit to Xiangyun Chen)

“Patience in the process of cultivating and brewing our own herbal remedies can achieve great benefits for our health – more than we know.”

-Uncle Tan


The manifesto
Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Uncle Tan explained how herb heritage protects human health and the environment, and thanked people who supported him.
Uncle Tan's handwritten personal declaration, n.d. (Image credit to Uncle Tan)

Translation

Today, Singapore is a country where land is very scarce and precious. I contributed to society by travelling to different residential areas to encourage their residents to start growing herbs [in community gardens]. The herbs provide various health benefits and contribute to an environmentally greener city.

In addition, I educated residents on herb knowledge and remedies. This enabled natural herbs to become a part of people’s lives and welcomed youths to learn more about herb heritage and its uses. Herbs can benefit our lives more than we think! I hope that the use of traditional herbs will be passed down from one generation to the next.

I have been to various countries to observe and exchange knowledge and practices. Also, I came to understand that Singapore’s climate, soil, etc. are advantageous for planting and have low environmental contaminants. It is a pity that only a few have such knowledge and are willing to raise awareness, teach, and share about traditional herbs. I have been silently fulfilling my duty. Now, I hope to intrigue the minds of the larger community to take an interest in understanding herbs and use this knowledge to serve others.

In recent years, I received support and sponsors from kind-hearted individuals and volunteers. They allowed me to contribute to our herb culture [in Singapore] without much worries, and I am very grateful to them.

As an individual, I did not participate in any organisational activities. [Yet, I have received strong support from sponsors from all walks of life]. My sponsors are community residents from various backgrounds - working professionals, homemakers, security guards, and student volunteers. Here, I would like to thank them for their selfless contributions and support, and I hope to continue working with them.

Lastly, I am very thankful for the support given by the residential committee of Zone “2”, who allowed me to focus on managing this verdant herb garden. Thank you.


Community Engagement: Volunteers
Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Uncle Tan’s team consists of dedicated volunteers helping with the operation of the herb garden.
Sheltered area at Uncle Tan Herb Garden, 2021 (Image credits by Yong En Gaw)

Personal reflections on the future of Singapore’s Herb Heritage
Uncle Tans Herb Garden

The new generation lacks knowledge about herbs, and many may not have heard of traditional remedies.
Uncle Tan with youth, 2021 (Image credit to Xiangyun Chen and Yong En Gaw)

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Uncle Tan is concerned about the continuity of our herb heritage as he observes the lack of interest in local youths.
Uncle Tan holding onto Ashitaba herb plant, 2021 (Image credit to Yong En Gaw)

When Xiang Yun and I (Yong En) arrived at the garden, we realised that the herb garden had few people present. As you might have imagined, there were no youths in sight. As youths, we have not heard of this herb garden within the resort and the precious herb knowledge shared by Uncle Tan prior to our visit. It was a joy to witness Uncle Tan working passionately in the herb field with the aim to pass on the legacy of our herb heritage. He told us how he overcame the hardships and obstacles when he was trying to build the herb garden. At the same time, we share Uncle Tan’s apprehension as few youths are actively preserving our herb heritage; we are concerned for the continuity of herb traditions in Singapore. 

The process of growing and tending to herbs has many benefits – one of which is to foster a sense of community, just like how Uncle Tan’s mother brewed herbs for the sick in her local community. Following in his mother’s footsteps, Uncle Tan would also brew herbal tea and share herbal remedies with all. This traditional knowledge about herbs is part of our heritage and brings us closer to our cultural roots. The practice of utilising herbs to cure illnesses which has been passed down from many generations will be fast forgotten if few are interested in exploring and expanding our herb knowledge. Hence, we encourage everyone to visit Uncle Tan's lovely herb garden to prevent this knowledge about herbs from becoming a lost heritage.  

Uncle Tans Herb Garden

Uncle Tan welcomes everyone to his herb garden to learn and exchange knowledge about herbs.
Uncle Tan’s Herb Garden, 2021 (Image credit to Xiangyun Chen)

Yong En and Xiangyun (Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

Yong En and Xiangyun are Year 2 students from Arts Business Management in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. As arts and heritage lovers, they are keen to learn more about traditions, practices, and preservation efforts. We hope that more people can participate in learning and develop interests in continuing various local heritages.

Art Business Management, Ngee Ann Polytechnic aims to cultivate an appreciation for various creative art forms in people. Equipped with business and management skills, they hope to manage, market and finance arts and heritage organisations.

Other fascinating stories & events…

ACM: Remembering Hawker Culture Along the River

Discover hawker culture of old along the Singapore River through the stories and memories of David Lim

Chuan Ji Bakery: The 94-year battle to keep the Hainanese tradition alive

Chuan Ji Bakery started out as a home business and has now found its home at Macpherson Mall selling traditional Hainanese delicacies. Find out how its owner, Mr Chong Suan, upholds his grandmother’s legacy and keeps the Hainanese heritage alive and relevant!

Spaces of Food

Food has a way of pulling people together into an urban geniality, livening up the public spaces that we inhabit to affirm our sense of belonging. This online discussion uncovers the intricate links between food and our urban environment from varied perspectives.