The Ark Herb Farm easily boasts over 1,000 varieties of plants and trees. There’s a bamboo forest, a spectrum of other trees, orchards, flowers including orchids, vines, herbs, and nearly every kind of vegetable that grows in Costa Rica! The Ark Herb Farm is a magical place in one of the world's 40 most beautiful countries: Costa Rica! It's probably most known for the over 400 species of medicinal plants found there. It‘s called The Ark Herb Farm, but you wouldn’t be wrong to describe it as The Garden of Eden –without the red apples, of course!
The farm is located in the higher altitudes near the town of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a country town between the cities of Alajuela and Heredia; about 20 minutes from either one. It’s an easy drive or Uber ride. From almost every point in this huge botanical garden, there are beautiful, breath-taking actually, views of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. It’s even pleasant in the rain, which usually doesn’t last long.
There are benches and tables strategically placed (or not!), to pause and admire the wonderfulness of it all. It’s a fabulous place to take lots of selfies and memory photos to share with friends! It’s recommended to take water bottles and snacks with you. Wear comfortable walking shoes or sandals. Visitors are welcome to bring a light picnic; please be sure that you take everything you bring with you, back with you when you leave.
The Ark Herb Farm is also home to an untold number of birds and butterflies, so don’t forget to charge your ‘phone and bring your binoculars! Try your hand at capturing them in wonderful nature shots. It’s a fun place, but it is also a place with a mission. The 7.1-hectare farm serves local businesses and markets by growing fresh (organic) herbs. These are distributed to local restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and even some cruise ships. You might be surprised about some of the delicious and gourmet culinary suggestions as you wander through the herb gardens.
Aside from the awesome mountain and valley views, perhaps The Ark Herb Farm is most known for its hundreds of medicinal plants. Astonishingly, the gardens grow not only Costa Rican species, but also varieties native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Learning starts just steps from the entrance where there is a guapinol tree. Guapinol is a hardwood tree that’s commonly harvested as a precious wood in Costa Rica. In English, it’s called a Brazilian cherry tree. You might be surprised to know that it’s also a medicinal plant. It’s bark combats type II diabetes. Guapinol seeds can help with anemia; while its sap is known to alleviate some respiratory problems or fungal infections.
You might be amazed at how many different types of mint, basil, or oregano there are! Have you heard of clove basil, for example? Or, did you know that basil is in the same family as oregano? Just for fun, and because it has an unusual yellow flower, we bought a toothache plant (Spilanthes oleracea) as a decorative gift for the reception at our dentist’s office. We learned that it lives up to its name as a natural remedy for throat pain and toothaches; it also helps to strengthen the immune system.
Interestingly, medicinal plants can be mildly poisonous. For this reason, it’s good to research them or consult with an authority before consuming homemade teas or medicinal plants; follow the medicinal plant prescription if you have one. The Ark Herb Farm is working to preserve medicinal plant traditions. It’s a tremendous source of quality information --just an e-mail away!
There are guided tours for a fee. Tours should be scheduled in advance. The tours are a little pricey, but wonderfully educational, even entertaining, as guides share curious facts and funny stories. Consider it a donation to a worthy recipient. A tour of the botanical garden takes approximately 2.5 hours, depending on how many questions you ask! It’s open seven days a week. The owners are happy to respond to special requests about medicinal plants. It feels like they are continuously discovering new uses or planting new varieties. You can take a digital bit of The Ark Herb Farm with you by signing up for their newsletter and staying in touch.
You also have the option to meander along the pathways and through greenhouses at your leisure. Plan to spend a few hours strolling around the farm. Many plants are marked with their names in English and Spanish, sometimes the scientific name. Signs often have symbols indicating possible uses, such as edible or not, medicinal, colorants, culinary, poisonous, crafts, ornamental, wood, or oil extraction.
Without a doubt, The Ark Herb Farm is a focal point for tourists, herbalists, botanists, people interested in alternative medical options and sometimes doctors. If you’re a gardener and plant lover, or you know someone in Costa Rica who is, this is a place you'll want to visit! There are endless varieties of plants for sale, too. Plants make a great and memorable gift option for your Costa Rican host/hostess or friends.
If you are an ecotourist who loves nature walks, bird watching, or if you're a gardener at heart; the Ark Herb Farm won’t disappoint you. If you are a herbalist or naturalist, the medicinal and herbal collections will fascinate you. The natural mosaic of tropical fruit trees, ornamental flowers, herbs, birds, and butterflies, all against the background of the mountain-valley view, is remarkable and more than magical. The truth is it probably doesn’t compare with The Garden of Eden, but you get the idea: it’s an amazing place.
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