Traditionally, cultures around the world depended on plants for everything from food and shelter to medicine to cosmetics; our ancestors acquired an intimate knowledge of plants’ uses through centuries of trial and error. Many of us have lost touch with nature in this modern era of urban civilization. Still, in many countries a large portion of the populace relies on traditional medicine systems, tribal/folklore medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and aromatherapy. Most of the drugs being used today have molecules or active compounds from plants used in traditional medicine. In other words, although homeopathy is controversial, traditional plant-based healing did lay the foundation for the development of modern medicines.
At the Barnes Arboretum in Merion, we have assembled a diverse, rich collection of plants, some local and some from other countries and cultures, in a small area to provide insight into their healing powers. More than 170 species/cultivars of medicinal plants are exhibited according to the systems in which they are used—modern medicine, homoeopathy, aromatherapy, Chinese medicine, Indian traditional medicine, and Native American medicine—making this the first garden of its kind in the Delaware Valley.
Explore plants like Acorus calamus (sweet flag), whose roots and aerial parts were used for their carminative, antioxidant, antimicrobial properties as heart medicine and for cold/cough; Alpinia galanga (galangal) whose antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties are good for rheumatism, indigestion, colds, pectoral and abdominal pains, sore throat, and eye infections; Asarum canadensis (wild ginger), used for gastrointestinal complaints, skin medicine, chronic chest complaints, asthma, and tumors because of its anti-asthmatic, antibiotic, antitumor, carminative properties; and Curcuma longa, (turmeric) used for arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, as a topical analgesic, for colic, and for hepatitis because of its antioxidant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Displays of medicinal plants support important discussions and educational initiatives, including tracing plants as the source of most modern medicines; looking at the need for and scope of basic studies on thousands of plant species, some of which have yet to be described; and underlining the importance of plant conservation to current and future generations. It is hoped that more people will undertake studies and careers in branches of biology like botany, plant taxonomy, ethno-botany, and ethno-pharmacology, where research is needed to validate medicinal uses of plants. This new element in the living collection is part of our initiative to provide more horticulture education, in line with Albert Barnes’s educational mission and Laura Barnes’s interests.
The Foundation does not endorse the use of herbal remedies. Consult a healthcare professional before taking any medicine, herbal or otherwise. Medicinal plants can be toxic. Do not pick or ingest any part of the plants in the garden.