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Medicinal Plant Garden in Chicago

Recently I came across a small garden that I'd never noticed before at the University of Illinois Medical Center. It is the Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden that is operated and maintained by the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy in the UIC College of Pharmacy for educational and research purposes. When I first came across the garden the plant names registered something in my brain but I couldn't figure out why they were standing out eventually it came to me.

Medicinal/herbal garden UIC Chicago

This is the view of the garden from the sidewalk looking down into the garden. The tree to the left in the picture is a Ginko. The following photos I took over the course of the past month as I visited the area. If you're looking to start a medicinal plant garden maybe this list and photos will help you select plants.

Angelica archangelica Angelica+Chicago herbal gardenAngelica archangelica 'Angelica'. The leaf is used to treat rheumatic pain, act as a urinary antiseptic in cystitis, and regulate menstrual flow. It is native to Europe. The flowers, even though small, I think are fantastic. But they rest on very large stems that extent far out and away from the foliage that is very large. A very gangly plant not sure it would be at home in all gardens.
Ajuga reptans 'Bugleweed' the whole plant is used in homeopathic remedies in various preparations to treat throat irritations, especially in the treatment of mouth ulcers. It is native to the Mediterranean.
Potentilla erecta 'Cinquefoil' the Aerial parts are used because they are high in tannin, strongly astringent; widely used in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, sore throats. It is native to Eurasia and the Mediterranian. The green seed pod points up and in mass remind me of candleabras. To me the pod also has a strong resemblence to Cleome seed pods.
This is the view from inside the garden looking in the opposite direction the photo above was taken. The tree in the foreground is a willow tree, the extract from the bark was used to treat aches and pains. Many of the plants I photographed were not blooming when I took this photo. Currently there are a couple of potted citrus, pomegranate and papaya trees. The papaya trees are particularly impressive as they're over 10 feet tall.
Borago officinalis 'Borage.' The leaf and flowers are used to create an infusion that is taken internally in the treatment of a range of ailments including fevers, chest problems and kidney problems. Externally it is used as a poultice for inflammatory swellings. Seed oil for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and eczema. It is native to Central Europe.
Aquilegia canadensis 'Columbine.' The root of this popular and pretty common garden plant is used to treat stomach problems. It is native to North America.
Polemonium caeruleum 'Jacob's Ladder.' It gets this common name because of the position of the leafs that remind of the biblical reference. It is an astringent and diaphoretic and the whole plant is useful. This plant is native to North and Central Europe.
Eschscholzia californica "California Poppy." It is taken internally for nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia. The root's watery sap is mildly narcotic and has been used to relieve toothaches.
Ephedra sinica 'Ma-huang.' Now this plant I'd heard a lot of but had never actually seen it before and never cared enough to reasearch it so when I came across it my reaction was "This is Ephedra?" I don't know what I was expecting but this plant certainly wasn't it. It is used as a antiasthmatic and nasal decongestant and is native to China.
Digitalis lanata 'Grecian Foxglove.' The leaf is used in treatment of congestive heart failure but it is very toxic in overdose.
As I mentioned when first came across this garden and started wandering around looking at the plants something was trying to register in my brain. A lot of the names were familiar but I couldn't quite place why I knew them. When I came across this cow- from a public art exhibition run by the city of Chicago a few years back, it all clicked. It was then that I realized that this was a medicinal plant garden. Duh!
Another common garden plant is the wild pansy. All parts of the plant are useful and it used to treat skin problems like eczema and also whooping cough and acute bronchitis. It is native to North and Central Eurasia.
Urtica diocia 'Stinging Nettle.' The plant has stinging hairs whose tips come off when touched. The hair acts as a needle that delivers irritants into the skin. These toxic components are neutralized when the leaves are cooked, it is said to be high in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. All parts of this plant are useful. It is a Diuretic, anti-rheumatic and stimulates hair growth.
Trifolium pratense 'Red Clover.' The flower of this common weed is said to be used to create treatments for sympotms of menopause.
Ruta graveolense 'Rue.' The young shoots of this plant are use to create homeopathic remedies for the treatment of a variety of complaints, including eye strain, headache and sprains.

Primula veris 'Cowslip.' This plant is used medicinally as a diuretic as well as a treatment for headaches and whooping cough.

A garden created around the theme of medicinal plants is not for everyone but if you're interested in medicine or science and gardening this would be the type of garden to mash up your interests. What the garden lacks in showy flowers and a "WOW" factor is made up by the fact that this kind of garden is a conversation piece. I should mention that you should consult with a doctor if you have a medical need.

I had a lot more plant pictures to share but my external drive crashed and these are the only plants I was able to recover. If you're in Chicago and interested in this garden it is open to the public and located as 833 S. Wood Street. For a complete list of all the plants (over 140) in this garden you can visit the garden's medicinal plant list. There you'll find all the plants and their various homeopathic and medicinal uses. There is a garden walk planned for August 21st and 22nd 2008.


  1. Anonymous3:30 PM

    I recently subbed to your blog for some reason, something appealed to me. But then the posts coming through the feed-reader are 6 words long?? Followed by 3-4 sentences explaining why the posts are 6 words long? Then followed by 17 sub/link me widgets, ahem, kthxbai

  2. I love that cow!

  3. Gorgeous photos. While in Zurich, Switzerland years ago I saw the original cow exhibit the first day there. It was so much fun seeing those cows--a great intro to the country.

  4. I would love to see this garden. I enjoyed reading about the various uses of each of these plants for medicinal purposes. Thank you!

  5. Hi, Mr. Brown Thumb--Thanks for visiting my blog. And what a great posting! I love herbs, and I have a number of these in my garden in Virginia. A few I've never had much luck with--borage and Jacob's Ladder in particular, which is unfortunate because I really love the little flowers. I don't actually do anything medicinal with them--but I love the plants and I loved your posting. Glad I found you.

  6. Very interesting post! I never would have thought 'Ma-huang' looked like that, either. It's encouraging to see a medical facility doing something with botanicals, since so many drugs have wretched side effects. In researching things on the web, I've come across this site that may interest you. I definately want to see that garden when I'm in Chicago next year for the garden bloggers meet-up!

  7. As one who has a fascination with native plants, I really enjoyed this post! I've had Ephedra in my garden for a few years and while it hasn't grown much, I love the look of it. My mom has some that's absolutely huge and very pretty. I'll have to look up this garden the next time I'm in Chicago!



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