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about the medicinal garden

White willow (Salix alba), the original source of aspirin

The first documented botanical garden on the University of Michigan campus was in part a pharmaceutical garden. Since that time there have been versions of gardens on campus and greenhouse collections focused on ethnobotany and the study of medicinal herbs.

The Medicinal Garden at Matthaei celebrates both the history of this relationship and showcases examples of current drugs and dietary supplements derived from plants. The garden also features plants emphasized in the field of integrative medicine.

The garden is organized by human body systems (e.g., cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal) and by condition (e.g., infectious disease, diabetes, cancer). The garden contains plants from which current medicines and treatments are derived as well as those used historically or in different cultures. There is also be a section devoted to wellness, featuring plants recommended for their health benefits such as blueberries, cherries, green vegetables, and others.

For each group of plants, at least one related to a well-known medicine is on display in the garden. These include such medications as Taxol, derived from the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), or aspirin, originally derived from the bark of the white willow (Salix alba). Only plants or the medicines derived from them with strong clinical evidence for effectiveness are included. We collaborated with Dr. Leslie Shimp of the U-M College of Pharmacy and Dr. Sara Warber of the U-M Health System to develop a collection of plants that would meet this clinical standard.

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