Medicinal Herb Garden Project

The EC Organic Herb and Vegetable Garden Outline
This garden project will fulfill multiple purposes for the Eckerd community. First, to educate the community and provide, as a learning tool, knowledge of medicinal plants that are commonly taken today without strict regulatory standards. And second, to educate the community about self subsistence and sustainable agriculture. The garden will have a strong ethnobotanical focus, pertaining to the medicinal benefits of various plants, exotic and native. All exotic plants will be contained in pots. The medicinal plants are all harmless; they are not intended for ingestion by the community, except of course common plants such as chamomile or sage. The plants are intended to raise awareness about supplements that people are ingesting today in soft drinks, food, and “tea.” Medicinal plants are widely sold and commonly ingested without proper knowledge or instruction, due to their ambiguous regulatory status. This ambiguous status refers to good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and other laws defined by the F.D.A that define supplements as food and therefore do not get into details about dosage and biochemical effects. The popularity of medicinal plants is wide, with over the counter herbal product sales exceeding 2.6 billion in 1999 (HerbalGram.org). There are millions of people ingesting these plants without proper research done regarding them.
The other portion of the project will be dedicated to researching organic and sustainable forms of agriculture and applying these techniques to the garden. This project will have a strong focus on visiting local sites, businesses and organizations in the community. This will include an internship/work exchange at a sustainable community or “Eco Village,” which is also a division of the Institute for Appropriate Transferable Technology.
The project will also include 60 hours of volunteer work at the Bay Pines Veterans’ hospital, most of which will be spent working on the garden in the therapeutic recreation department. There will also be contact with local businesses, such as Acupuncture and Herbal Therapies, which held a demonstration regarding these plants at the dorm complex where the garden is located .
For a year, this garden has served as a learning tool to educate those in the community on precautionary measures to be taken with medicinal plants. It will also serve to educate the community on the benefits of convenient, safe, inexpensive, and effective home remedies. It is important to recognize both the benefits and the drawbacks of herbal and other natural phytochemiccals used as
Medications. Drawbacks stem from the fact that over the counter products often do not contain the stated dosage or potency due to inadequate scientific research. Herbs are considered “food,” and therefore must only adhere to good manufacturing practices (GMP’s). This is not the case in many countries outside America, in particular Germany which has a branch of government called Commission E which regulates many herbs under standards held for most pharmaceuticals.
The supplement industry has been booming recently, this includes largely herbal or plant-based products. Herbs are gaining in popularity for various reasons. They are often safer than pharmaceutical drugs (though some still have side effects). Plants are absorbed more slowly and thus more gently into the system than synthesized chemicals. Also, there are an incredible number of deaths attributed to the ingestion of prescription drugs (Weil). An idea commonly held among complementary medical practitioners and an increasing number of doctors, is that plants in their natural state include synergistic effects of many different compounds that one does not get from an isolated chemical believed to be the active ingredient An example of this is the compound Artemisinin, isolated from Artemisia annua and used to treat drug resistant malaria. It produces a number of unpleasant side effects during treatment. However, when the whole plant is taken the side effects do not exist and treatment is just as effective. The plant creates compounds of which the only known purpose is to alleviate the side effects the isolated constituent produces (Harrod Buhner). This is possibly due to plants evolution in which humans have selectively helped propagate those species which are particularly beneficial.
Recently pharmaceutical companies have been under pressure from the FDA and suffering economically due to recalls of products that were causing obvious and grave health problems. The following quote is from The New York Times Business Day section front page: “Pfizer’s surprise announcement Friday, in which it disclosed serious health risks in high doses of its arthritis drug Celebrex, roiled the pharmaceutical sector. Pfizer, a Dow Jones industrial, once again took losses” (New York Times December 21, 2004). Another quote from the paper two days later: “Merck, another large pharmaceutical company (referring to its relation to Pfizer) just recently recalled its own painkiller
Vioxx from the market on Sept. 30” (New York Times December 18, 2004.) Information like this leads to loss of faith in the current medical establishment. Upon completion of this paper yet another article was read by the author linking the pain killer Aleve to heart attacks. This sort of publicity is also partly responsible for the resurgence of interest in complementary medicine and anything sold as “natural.” Thus, the herbal supplement industry is growing and attracting much attention from pharmaceutical companies, the government and the public.
Even further reasons people have been choosing plant based medication stem from the fact that medicinal plants alive and for sale are less expensive and more accessible then most other drugs. This may not seem important at first, but there are a surprisingly large number of people that leave symptoms ignored and untreated due to too much red tape or high prices. Regarding this, it bears mentioning that health care in America is below par compared to many other economically similar countries. I personally think plant based and other forms of complementary medicine should be used to do just that, complement more mainstream forms of medicine. Another, more humanitarian, importance of this study is that approximately 65 percent of the world relies on medicinal plants, not pharmaceuticals, for their health (FDA.gov). These are people in the third world or developing countries who cannot afford prescription drugs. Better study of these plants will help the local healers in these countries understand and use what they already have available. These plants have been proven to be effective as can be seen in their use in mainstream medicine. Over 25% of common medications come from plants (www.drwel.com). Many pharmaceutical drugs are concentrated or isolated derivatives of a naturally occurring plant chemical or are an analogue to those found in nature.
The benefits of medicinal plants are many. They have been proven, through ages of folk use, to be safe and effective through trial and error. This means of deducing which plants are safe and medicinal has helped serve us today in identifying potential useful species for research. There is increasing amount of scientific research into the benefits and precautions that should be taken with these plants, though not nearly enough is being done. Most chemical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies who have little to gain monetarily from plants which are unregulated and not able to be patented. Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, commented on this issue, “Drug companies do conduct research into plants but acknowledge it’s not a priority within the industry, research on other products holds more promise of being effective” (www.cnn.com).
The second aspect of this garden, still concentrating on personal health, will be the organic and subsistence garden section. Today what we eat is usually processed (often with an othe

rworldly appearance) and rarely made with healthy or natural ingredients. We have become completely detached, removed and disinterested from the food we put in our bodies. This is where the creation of home gardens and a movement called Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) can be a wonderful solution to this problem. Such local farms as “Sweet Water Organic” (a popular quest for meaning volunteer organization) practice CSA for its numerous community building, health and ecological benefits. Community supported agriculture is a recent movement in which small local farms charge individual membership to community members for a portion of the weekly (or bi-weekly) share of the produce. The food is less expensive than going through a middleman wholesaler, is fresher, and usually (depending on the farm) is organic. Often there are opportunities to work to pay part off the cost of membership. Besides being a hands-on learning tool for the community, it provides recreation, education, and possibly most importantly, environmentally sustainable, nutritious, pesticide free, fresh produce to members. CSA and home gardens more directly integrate people with their food source. Our society today is in need of this in these dark days of nutrition, with the dominance of processed and fast foods in America’s markets and stomachs.
Home gardens such as this, are another way of producing fresh organic food. About fifty- three percent of households in the United States now garden. They garden only 600 square feet on average. Home gardens make around two dollars per square foot, double that for the premium price of what organic food costs retail. These gardens produce about eighteen percent of the food in the United States (Jeeves). Home gardens and small-scale farming are also more productive then large scale agriculture. If farmers were to break down their farms into smaller plots of land (though no less then one acre), they would be more productive. Large-scale agriculture is also highly dependent on fossil fuel, with modern farming consuming more petroleum than any other single industry.(Jeeves).
Another health benefit of the EC Organic Medicinal Herb and Vegetable Garden is that it will be organic, though to be certified-organic one must prove organic methods for over three years. The popularity of organic food has grown immensely in the past few years.This has recently become very visible with the advent of big corporations, such as “Frito-Lay,” introducing a “natural” line of chips with organic ingredients. It is also evident with large supermarket chains such as Publix, creating organic sections in their stores. People are going for anything touted as natural due to a loss of faith and even rebellion towards conventional health practices. Unfortunately legal issues and regulations have not been developed with much concern for what is “certified organic”, or concerning standards of supplements. As a consequence, not enough scientific research is being done regarding these practices or to uphold these standards of quality.
Organic food is entering the mainstream strictly from consumer demand for good reasons. Aside from the health benefits, organic gardening prevents soil erosion and protects water quality through finding alternatives to toxic pesticides. This garden will be a learning project on how to produce or be involved with ones own healthy food production. I look forward to a golden age of health where one does not have to eat an orange from California if he lives in Florida!
The EC Organic Medicinal Herb and Subsistence Garden Club, will continue maintenance of this garden through the future generations of Eckerd College. The club will correspond with other gardening projects including three already contacted. These include “Sweet Water Organic Farm” in Tampa, a New College graduate currently facilitating their extensive organic garden project; and via email with “The Farm,” a self sustainable community in Tennessee to which many top scientists come to study.

Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica (L.) or Hydrocotyle asiatica is a plant that has been long used in Indian ayurvedic tradition, as well as in folk remedies in other indigenous traditions. Recently gotu kola, has been noticed by western doctors and herbalists as a drug with different medicinal healing properties. Though it is used somewhat differently now then it was in the times of the Rg Veda there are some places where the uses cross over and thus give some substantiality to ancient civilizations knowledge of medicine. Today you can find Gotu kola at most health food stores and it is even being used occasionally in various commercial products.
Gotu Kola’s various names include water pennywort, Indian pennywort, thick-leafed pennywort and gota kola. The original literature written on Gotu Kola comes from India, most discussing gotu kola’s use in medicine. In Indian literature it is used for improving brain function, and creating a sense of alert relaxation. There is some research supporting this in America. Gotu kola hailing from the east and being used little in America was used mostly for healing the urinary tract in western herbalism, until it was picked up by the health food industry more recently. Since then, more western research has been done into the effects of the herb. Some medicinal uses on gotu kola as folk remedies include producing longevity, regenerating the mind, as well as producing a state of calm. In Sri Lanka it was observed that elephants, renowned for long life, fed heavily on the plant. Giving rise to belief in the locals of its effect on longevity. It is said in India that the leafs of the gotu kola plant look like the two hemisphere of the brain. In Sanskrit, it is called brahmi (Brahma meaning cosmic consciousness). It is believed to help the flow of energy in the brain between the right and left hemispheres. In India it is also used as a decongestant and to alleviate sinus problems. (Lad) Taken before bedtime it is believed to promote a sound sleep and alert awakening. A Sinhalese proverb states “two leaves a day will keep old age away”, suggesting its effects that are being researched today on senility.
Within the last 15 years or so since the interest in herbalism has gained more of a foothold in the commercial market (or has the commercial market gained a foothold in herbalism), there has been modern scientific research into gotu kola and its effects on both the brain and its wound healing qualities. Chemicals associated with its sedative effect are triterpenes, and the saponins bramoside, and brahminoside (Crellin and Phillpot) (the last two seeming to come from the Sanskrit word Brahma). Other chemicals associated with its medicinal qualities include flavonols, amino acids, fatty acids, sterols, saccharides, and certain mineral salts. As well as essential oil, polysaccharides, and in particular the glycoside asiaticoside as a wound-healing agent.
An extract of gotu kola known as TECA is currently being used to treat varicose veins, as certain lab results show an effect on stimulating the synthesis of collagen in the walls of the veins which helps them hold their tone and function better. (Graedon and Graedon). This is a remedy approved by the commission E monograph. Clinical settings also are noticing gotu kola’s effects on healing surgical incisions and skin ulcers. In one trial TECA was administered to patients with parasitic infections that damage the bladder. Three fourths of these patients recovered well, with little or no bladder scarring using gotu kola. Many other reports are hailing gotu kola as a powerful wound-healing drug, it seems to inhibit scab formation and thus help with the overall healing process. Doses of gotu kola inlcude .5 to 1 gram three times a day. Tea is made by pouring water over half a teaspoon of dried leaves and steeping for ten minutes. Most standardized extract should be taken in 60 to 120 mg per day, fluid extract (1:1) 2 to 4 ml a day.
There is research that states various possible side effects of the
drug that suggest caution in it being used daily for more then around six weeks. Alleged allergic reactions from gotu kola have been attributed to the presence of propylene glycol. (Crellin and Philpott) And thus should be used cautiously. It is also noted that high doses of the extract have a sedative effect on small animals. Animal research also indicates that some gotu kola constituents can reduce fertility. Few side effects are documented, these include contact rash, others receiving an injection of the drug developed a pain and discoloration of the site. One case involving ingestion the drug included someone getting a rash over the entire body; there is slight concern for photosensitivity as well. Also one component of c. asiatica, asiaticoside, may be a carcinogen. (Graedon and Graedon) . There is also a report that gotu kola should not be used with medications for diabetes or high blood pressure (Castleman).
Today you can find gotu kola on the shelves of almost any health food store, it is gaining popularity as are many other herbs, simply because they work. I have noticed appearing in supplements on the market today that incorporate a mixture of herbs and phytochemicals (polypharmacy), that gotu kola is used in some mixtures used for depression. These also usually incorporate a combination of GABA, L-dopamine, passionflower and St. Johnswort as well. This is possibly due to gotu kola’s calming yet slightly stimulating quality. If I were to market gotu kola perhaps I would make a study pill meant to be taken a couple of weeks before and during finals. This pill would include Ginko to increase blood flow to the brain. Calamus root as an age old remedy on memory and the nervous system. Perhaps some rosemary for reputed effects on nervous system. Gotu kola as well as basil, for its uses in ayurvedic literature for positive effects on the brain. Also I would throw in some vitamin B12 and perhaps riboflavin. This I am almost quite sure would work very well, in making one more mentally alert and capable. This is due to personal experience and research. I use these supplements during times of test taking and notice slightly less fatigue which I attribute to gotu kola though I do not feel overly stimulated or an increase in heart rate, I also notice more of an ability to concentrate. Another idea for an herbal remedy that I believe would do very well is a tincture marketed for scar and wound healing. Since gotu kola is not advertised as a wound-healing agent I believe this has a lot of potential on the market. I’m sure once people got the results, it would become a huge seller. I myself have given it to different friends who wanted cuts to heal and have found it very helpful. One girl I gave it to that had a horrible accident on a bike cut her face completely. She found it to be a miracle drug, perhaps with vitamin e it would be a better product. Many of the medicinal claims here made in this paper have come from my research as well as my own personal experience. This is why I chose it as a plant to write about as I see much potential to create a sense of alert relaxation, ease of depression, concentration, and wound healing.
Medicinal uses of plants have been gaining more and more popularity, which is why they are gaining more respect and recognition in western culture. Herbalism is also gaining increased attention from governmental organizations seeking to regulate and restrict access to such herbs. Though there would be benefits of this it would drive out the independent herbalist producer, and hand over much authority to the pharmaceutical companies. This can be looked at as a double-edged sword, a curse and a blessing. Gotu kola in particular is one herb with much medicinal promise that has much to be researched of in the west. Its just a nugget of value waiting to be exploited by western pharmaceutical company’s, supplement industry workers, and entrepreneurs of all sorts! A member of the ubelliiferae family, gotu kola is related to carrot, parsley, dill and fennel. But it has neither the feathery leaves nor the umbel arangment of tiny umbrella like flowers, goto kolas creeping stem grows in marshy areas and produces fan shaped leaves about the size of a brittish penny hence the name pennywort. A cup lke clutch of inconspicuous flowers develops near the ground

Graedon, Joe, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.
1999 The People’s Pharmacy New York: St Martin’s Paperbacks.

Crellin, John, and Jane Philpott.
1989 Herbal Medicine past and present. London: Duke university press.

Lad, Vasant M.D.
1984 Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. WI: lotus press.

Castleman, Michael.
1989 Blended Medicine. New York: Rodale.

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One Response to Medicinal Herb Garden Project

  1. Alina Elliott says:

    I am an 8th grader. I need a science project idea, fast!

    I want to do something botany related.

    But I don’t want to do anything too hard.

    All I want is a passing grade (B-C grade)

    I also need a project idea that I can find a lot of research references for.

    Please, help! I’m horrible with science projects, and thinking of a reasonable idea is the hardest part of the entire project!

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