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Curious about medicinal plants? KU’s research garden hosting public tour this weekend

Friday, October 5, 2018

This article appeared Oct. 5, 2018, in the Lawrence Journal-World.


Stepping into KU’s Medicinal Plant Research Garden is kind of like opening a medicine cabinet.

Slender mountainmint clears the nasal passage. Echinacea, thought to be an immune-system booster, and wild tomatillos, thought to have cancer-prevention properties, grow alongside many other plants in the garden plot that doubles as a laboratory.

The public is invited to tour the garden at 10 a.m. Saturday. It is just east of the Lawrence Municipal Airport, on East 1600 Road, north of U.S. Highway 40.

Kelly Kindscher, a Kansas Biological Survey scientist and a professor in KU’s environmental studies program, will lead the informal tour.

It will be an opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects, including how indigenous people have used native plants. Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners will be on hand to generally discuss plants that are native to the area and to talk specifically about a new native section of the garden, said Jennifer Moody, the Biological Survey coordinator for the garden.

On Wednesday morning a lone Monarch butterfly clung to the purple blossom of a hyssop plant that was being battered by a wind gust. The hyssop plant is commonly used as an antiseptic, cough reliever and expectorant.

The garden was established in 2010 as a project of the KU Medicinal Plant Research Program. It’s the collaboration between Kindscher and the medicinal chemistry lab of KU professor Barbara Timmermann.

In 2012, as the Journal-World previously reported, Timmermann and other researchers made news when they set out to find plants with a chemical makeup similar to a known plant from South America that showed promise in fighting cancer without toxic side effects. They found a match in the wild tomatillo plant, discovering 14 new promising compounds.

The plant, featured in the garden, is essentially a weed, Timmermann has said, but it can be found all over the state and the Midwest.

The garden has a variety of uses, Moody said, apart from medicinal research. An interpretative garden on site displays ways that native plants can be used in landscaping. Another plot contains plants that are used in making dyes. Another plot is just an area where KU students can grow vegetables.

Rain is in the forecast for Saturday, but Moody said the tour would still go on.

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