Thursday, September 22, 2016

No queue at Kew

A few weeks ago, one typical British summer day (wet and warm), my friend and I spent the day at Kew Gardens. My last visit there was around 1969 or 1970. I remember going on a school trip from Queenswell School in Barnet, with our teacher Mr Smith asking for “22 tuppences please” from the Conductor.  Though we had to queue to get in back then, thanks to my friend booking in advance, we didn't have to in 2016.

The Hive
We enjoyed wandering round the garden and saw the Hive, an impressive art installation mimicking nature in design, and powered by the energy of the bees. The Great Palm House is exactly as I remember it, and the borders full of flowers beautiful and fragrant.  I remember very clearly bringing home a postcard of a Bottlebrush flower for my mother, and her delight as it was a flower she'd known as a child in South Africa.

I didn't see any flowering bottle brush this time, but I was particularly happy to see the ‘Heritage Trees’ – those mighty personalities that have stood witness to hundreds of years of history.  I enjoyed ‘meeting’ the Weeping Beech and Turner’s Oak.  Going into Palm house, I looked at a lot of the plants with an different eye, because thanks to the last two years of my job, I have a greater understanding of their importance as medicines.

Plants provide so much medicine for humanity – both in their natural state and as the basis for pharmacological medicines too.  I’ve learned a lot about how wild plants provide a natural pharmacopeia for millions of people who have no access to modern medicine, and how many rely on wild plant harvesting for their livelihoods as well. 

Here’s a few that I saw at Kew, with a little bit about some of their amazing properties:

The barrel cactus is used generally as a food and a medicine.
I first saw them this size in Arizona at the beautiful
Desert Botanic Garden.  (I learned a lot about cacti in Arizona!)

Magnolia - the bark and the centre of the flowers are used
extensively for cough and other medicines.
It's well used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The beautiful, tall and elegant Corsican pine is
used to make turpentine – all resin from pine trees is
antiseptic (hence it’s a typical ‘flavour’ in household cleaners). 
It’s also used to treat kidney and bladder complaints
as well as being useful for skin treatments.

Ayurveda, the traditional Hindu system of medicine,
uses lots of exotic and unusual wild plants.
It also uses black pepper.  The heating properties
black pepper help digestion and is also a stimulant.
It tastes good too!

Beehive Ginger – what a descriptive name!
The major compound found in this unusual plant has
been found to be an effective cell growth
inhibitor in specific colon carcinoma cells.

The plane tree – one you will see commonly in
London as (by shedding its bark) it can survive the polluted air! 
Its leaves can be used for sore eyes or made into a
cream for healing wounds.  It’s also handy for
treating dysentery and diarrhoea.

All photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard
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