Monday, July 1, 2013

Wild Medicine Exhibit at The New York Botanical Garden

In my last trip to New York, I visited The New York Botanical Garden. I especially enjoyed the Wild Medicine Exhibit, which features healing plants from around the world and the Italian Renaissance Garden.

Here are just a few of the plants in the Wild Medicine Exhibit:

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Although the foxglove plant is poisonous, it also contains chemicals, digoxin and digitoxin, that are used to treat heart disease. In the 1700s, foxglove was used as a medicinal plant in Ireland by local healers, to treat headaches, paralysis, boils, edema, and more. Despite its medicinal uses, foxglove in Ireland was also known as "dead man's thimbles," to warn against its toxicity. Today, chemicals derived from foxglove are active ingredients in prescription drugs approved to treat congenital heart defects and congestive heart failure (1).* 

Belladonna (Atropa belladonna)

German chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge is credited with having found the chemical atropine in belladonna. In 1809, Runge accidentally got a drop of belladonna extract in his eye, causing his eye to dilate. In 1833, Runge isolated atropine, belladonna's primary active chemical. Another highly poisonous plant, belladonna has been used for centuries. During the Italian Renaissance, women used the juice from the berries to dilate their eyes. This was regarded as elegant, however it could also eventually cause blindness. Today, doctors use atropine (with careful dosage to avoid the risk of poisoning), to dilate pupils, relax muscles, and raise heart rate (1).*

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea)

Spilanthes is also known as the "toothache plant," because the red-and-yellow flowers release an anesthetic that decreases oral pain and encourages salivation when they are chewed. Spilanthes flowers can be dried and chewed to relieve toothaches, inflammation of the gums, and cold sores. The plant contains the chemical spilanthol, which has numbing and antibacterial properties (1).*

Besides the Wild Medicine Exhibit, there was much more to explore in The New York Botanical Garden. I also saw:

Miniature alpine gardens (trough gardens)

Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys)
A native plant of the Philippines

Living stones (Lithops)

Living stones grow in the deserts of Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. These plants camouflage  themselves to look like the stones nearby, to protect themselves from animals (1).

Tropical blueberries (Anthopterus wardii)

Tropical blueberries grow in the American tropics, and are relatives of the edible blueberries that you normally see in grocery stores, which are native to North America. Some tropical blueberries are edible, while others are poisonous. The higher in elevation the plant is, typically the more toxic its berries are. The antioxidant content of tropical berries can be 11 times as high as that of edible North American blueberries. While tropical blueberries have not been used medicinally in the past, scientists are researching if these berries can be used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by reducing inflammation (1).* 

There is a lot to see in The New York Botanical Garden, and I would definitely come again. If you are interested in the Wild Medicine Exhibit, stop by The New York Botanical Garden before September 8! The garden is open year-round, Tuesdays-Sundays, and occasionally on Mondays. For more information, check out The New York Botanical Garden website.

1. Wild Medicine Exhibit at The New York Botanical Garden

*Please note that this information is for educational purposes only, and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please see your physician for further care.