Cultures around the world traditionally depended on plants for everything from food and shelter to medicine to cosmetics; our ancestors acquired an intimate knowledge of plants’ medicinal uses through centuries of trial and error. In many countries a large portion of the populace still relies on traditional medicine systems. Many commercial drugs important to modern allopathic medicine contain active compounds from plants used in traditional medicine systems from China, India, Africa, Europe, and the Americas; in fact, traditional plant-based healing laid the foundation for the development of modern medicine.
At the Barnes Arboretum in Merion, we have assembled a diverse teaching collection of more than 170 species and cultivars of medicinal plants (some local and some from other countries and cultures) to provide insight into their healing powers. In this medicinal plants garden—the first of its kind in the Delaware Valley—plants are arranged according to the healing systems in which they are used, including modern allopathic medicine, homeopathy, aromatherapy, traditional Chinese medicine, Indian systems of medicine, and Native American medicine.
Explore the medicinal plants garden and see specimens like Acorus calamus (sweet flag), which is used in heart medicine and to treat colds and coughs; Kaempferia galanga (galangal) whose antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties are good for rheumatism, indigestion, colds, sore throats, and eye infections; Asarum canadensis (wild ginger), used to treat asthma, chronic chest complaints, skin ailments, and tumors; and Curcuma longa (turmeric) which can help those suffering from Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, colic, diabetes, and hepatitis.
Though we have comprehensive information about the many medicinal plants in this garden, there are potentially still thousands of plants whose medicinal uses have yet to be discovered. The Barnes Arboretum’s medicinal plants garden underlines the importance of conserving plants for the scientific research of the future; as the fields of ethno-botany and ethno-pharmacology grow, many plants’ medicinal properties might be better leveraged to benefit future generations. The medicinal plants garden also serves the educational mission of the Barnes Foundation as a teaching tool for the horticulturists of the future.
Medicinal plants in the Barnes Arboretum’s National medicinal plants garden (pdf)