Medicinal plants have played an essential role in the development of modern medicine, but there are no gardens dedicated to these healing herbs in Chicago – except one.
Tucked away on the Near West Side campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago is the Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden. Atkins, a 1945 graduate of the UIC College of Pharmacy, cultivated and studied plants at a suburban site while earning her bachelor’s degree. At the time, there was no medicinal garden on campus. As a UIC student, she met her future husband, Robert A. Atkins, who was studying medicine.
After his wife died in 1995, Robert A. Atkins made a generous donation to UIC to build a garden commemorating her with the stipulation that medicinal plants be included. Dedicated on July 19, 2002, the garden serves as not only an urban oasis, but an educational tool.
There are now more than 200 medicinal plants growing there, including species that have led to the development of cancer treatments.
“Every plant [in this garden] is a species that has a history of being used to treat disease or infection by communities somewhere in the world,” said Doel Soejarto, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at UIC and a renowned plant scientist who helps direct the garden.
Plants are chosen based on scientific literature and studies on medicinal plants, he said. UIC researchers and students also conduct their own research using the plants.
“Every plant here is important. Pharmacy started from plants,” Soejarto said. Before the modern medicine emphasis on synthetic chemistry, plants were the primary source of organic chemical compounds used to treat disease.
Here are five plants that paved the way.
1. Madagascar periwinkle
2. Taxus media
4. Birch tree