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Grow Your Own Drugs

Nicola Mostyn says the drugs do work…well, sort of

Published on March 4th 2009.

Grow Your Own Drugs

Well, really. Are TV producers so desperate these days that they will use a factually correct but blatantly misleading title to lure in unsuspecting viewers, viewers who may already be so caned they don’t realise until the 22nd minute of this 30 minute programme that at no point is James Wong going to discuss the joys of skunk?

Indeed they are. And it’s quite a good joke, really, because this new series could not be less naughty if it tried. It’s presented by Wong, “a scientist and a gardener”. Be still my beating heart. Wait, there’s more: “I’m an ethno-botanist, trained at Kew Gardens.” Stop. I can hardly contain myself.

Ok, that’s a bit mean. James is a good egg, the sort of man who is passionate about the power of plants and fruits and wants to share nature’s bountiful harvest with anyone and everyone. He wants to teach us how medicines we pay lots of money for can be picked in our hedgerows or grown in a tub in the back garden. He’s going to help us “put some of the control of our own healthcare into our own hands”.

The resulting programme is a bit like Saturday Kitchen meets Gardeners' World meets 10 Years Younger. Presented by Ross from Friends. I’m almost certain that was the pitch. But unlike these programmes, Wong is rather limited by the fact that he can’t go hurling superlatives about or recommending anything that could wind up being potentially hazardous.

So, first he talks about how some wonderful berries can be found in the hedges of car parks. “Some are poisonous,” he adds quickly, like the small print at the end of a radio ad. In fact, there’s rather a lot of small print. It’s all “is thought to” and “many factors can influence results” and “I’m not a doctor”. So many statements require qualifications that you wonder whether you shouldn’t just go and sit in the kitchen and stare at a mushroom. (The aforementioned viewers, of course, probably interrupted doing just that to watch this show.)

This is a problem. It’s all very well banging on about how medicine grows in great abundance around us, but not much use if, when we go picking goji berries, we are in serious danger of offing ourselves because we got the small, red ones confused with the small, red ones.

Still, this is where the Gardeners' World bit comes in, since Wong tells us we can easily grows these super-berries at home. He then goes all Saturday Kitchen, taking us through a recipe for chicken soup with goji berries, a Chinese remedy for many ills. It’s a strange kind of recipe show, though: “Take two onions which are antiseptic, four inches of ginger which can reduce inflammation and two chillies which can help thin mucus.” Did you say mucus? I think I’ve just lost my appetite.

Next up is nature’s cure for sleeplessness. Hops, we hear, are a wonderful sedative. That explains a lot. “I think one of my favourite stories about hops...” begins James, thus confirming him as the type of person who has more than one favourite story about hops.

If you lived with this man, you would kill him. Berries would do it.

But no. Stick with it, and his geekiness becomes endearing. Honest. His hops pillows really do help two insomniacs get a good night’s sleep: “Inhaling a substance is a fantastic way to administer drugs,” he explains. James, those viewers you falsely lured in would not disagree. Then he helps two part time models make a face mask, getting all awkward and embarrassed when one of the girls starts teasing him. He’s not used to girl. Unless they are girl parts of plants.

The face mask, the girls declare, is as good as the one they would buy from a shop. Though it did mean sieving a kiwi, blending it, blending a papaya, adding some gelling agent and heating it up. But kiwis can be grown in the back garden in the UK, “in just three to four years.” Bless you James, but I’m not sure our blackheads can wait that long.

The point, of course, is not that this stuff is more convenient (it isn’t, really) but that it may cost less, will definitely use less packaging and that you know exactly what’s going into it. And so for that, James has my full admiration and support. Except for his last recipe, which was for syrup of figs – a well known cure for constipation.

“Figs are actually an inverted flower.” That so? “So it’s a flower wrapped around and inside itself,” he continues excitedly. Alright James, you lost me at figs. And if he hadn’t lost me there, he would definitely have lost me at the point where he stirred the gooey brown mess and said, “It looks a bit like the desired outcome.” Undeterred, he adds some lemon juice which turns it red. This, if anything, has made it worse. Now I have definitely lost my appetite. Nobody is going to eat that. Well, except for the stoners. They’ll eat anything.

And that’s it for the week. We end on a cure for a bunged-up bum. And why not? “Next week I’ll be making flowers into gentle remedies for acne and eczema and creating my own bath bomb.”

Next week, I may be watching something else. There’s a programme starting called Live Hot Naked Sex. I think it’s probably about steam engines but it’s best to be sure.

Grow Your Own Drugs, BBC2, Monday, 8.30pm

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