Medicinal gardens

UW’s Medicinal Herb Garden, 2015. Photo by UW Sustainability

Medicinal gardens are intentional spaces cultivated for the purpose of growing plants with medicinal properties. These gardens have been historically significant across various cultures and civilisations (Heywood, 1991). The plants grown in medicinal gardens are selected for their therapeutic qualities and may include herbs, flowers, shrubs, and trees.

The cultivation and maintenance of medicinal gardens can serve several purposes. Medicinal gardens provide opportunities for education about the therapeutic properties of plants, their traditional uses, and the importance of biodiversity in maintaining health and wellness. These gardens may serve as living laboratories for studying plant-based medicine, including botanical research, pharmacology, and ethnobotany. 

Many medicinal plants are endangered due to over-harvesting, habitat loss, and climate change. Medicinal gardens play a role in conserving these plant species by providing a controlled environment for their cultivation and propagation.

Medicinal gardens serve as valuable resources for promoting the understanding, conservation, and sustainable use of medicinal plants for health and well-being. Some medicinal gardens are integrated into healthcare facilities or community spaces to promote holistic health and wellness practices. Patients, caregivers, and community members can access medicinal plants for self-care and complementary therapies.

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Name of NbS

Medicinal gardens

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems

Location

  • Urban
  • Periurban
  • Rural
The Art Whistler Memorial Garden, Vailima Botanical Gardens, Samoa. Photo: Junior S Ami.

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Medicinal gardens have a close relationship with Indigenous knowledge, as they often incorporate traditional healing practices and the use of native plants with medicinal properties. Indigenous communities around the world have developed deep understandings of local flora and their therapeutic uses over generations. These traditional knowledge systems are often passed down orally and through experiential learning within communities.

In many Indigenous cultures, medicinal gardens are not only spaces for growing healing plants but also serve as living repositories of cultural heritage and traditional wisdom. The plants cultivated in these gardens hold significance beyond their medicinal value; they are intertwined with spiritual beliefs, cultural practices, and community identity.
Indigenous peoples of Te Moananui Oceania have developed sophisticated botanical knowledge, understanding the healing properties of numerous plant species and their applications in treating various ailments (Cock & Cheesman, 2016; Schmidt, 2017; Bradacs et al., 2011). Traditional healers, known by various names such as Kahuna in Hawai’i, Tohunga in Aotearoa New Zealand, and Taulasea or Foto Samoa in Samoa, possess deep knowledge of local plants and their therapeutic uses.

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Climate change benefits
  • Changes in phenology 
  • Increased pests/weeds
  • increased incidence/distribution of disease
  • Increased temperatures
  • Loss of food production
  • Urban heat island effect

Medicinal gardens offer several climate change benefits linked to being green spaces that sequester carbon dioxide. By fostering community engagement and education about sustainable practices, medicinal gardens can contribute to building climate resilience at the local level.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Disaster risk reduction and resilience
  • Empowerment/equality
  • Waste management and hygeine

Medicinal gardens offer numerous socio-cultural benefits to communities. They serve as spaces for cultural preservation and knowledge transmission, where traditional healing practices and botanical wisdom are passed down through generations. These gardens also provide opportunities for intergenerational learning and community bonding, fostering a sense of cultural identity and cohesion.

Medicinal gardens can promote holistic health and well-being by offering accessible and culturally relevant healthcare resources. They empower communities to reclaim Indigenous healing traditions and self-care practices, reducing reliance on external healthcare systems. These gardens can serve as hubs for social interaction, education, and empowerment, particularly for Indigenous communities. 

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Food production (for humans)
  • Genetic resources (diversity)
  • Habitat provision
  • Medicinal resources
  • Pollination
  • Soil building
  • Species maintenance

In addition to promoting biodiversity and water conservation, medicinal gardens offer several other ecological benefits. They act as green spaces within urban environments, providing habitats for wildlife and contributing to urban biodiversity. 

These gardens can serve as corridors for wildlife movement, facilitating the dispersal of seeds and promoting genetic diversity within plant populations. 

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Herb Garden, Hamilton Gardens, Aotearoa New Zealand, 2016. Photo by Michal Klajban.

Technical requirements

The technical requirements of establishing and maintaining a medicinal garden in Te Moananui Oceania depend on various factors such as the local climate, soil conditions, available resources, and the specific plants being cultivated. Also key is having the right knowledge holders involved or driving the project. Some general technical considerations include: 

  • Site selection: The location must have adequate sunlight exposure, good drainage, suitable soil, and protection from strong winds. Consider the cultural significance of the site and its accessibility to the community.
  • Plant Selection: Research native medicinal plants. Consider factors such as plant size, growth habits, medicinal properties, and availability.
  • Watering and irrigation: Develop a suitable watering or irrigation schedule.
  • Pest and disease management: Implement integrated pest management strategies to control pests and diseases to avoid relying on chemical pesticides. This may include crop rotation, companion planting, and the use of natural predators or organic pest control methods.

Maintenance, evaluation, and documentation. 

Issues and Barriers

Establishing medicinal gardens in Te Moananui Oceania may face various challenges. Limited access to suitable land, and a lack of financial resources and funding impedes the acquisition of land, infrastructure, and necessary resources for garden establishment and maintenance. Insufficient knowledge and skills in gardening and traditional healing practices could pose barriers. The limited availability of native or traditional medicinal plant species may further complicate garden establishment.

Opportunities

Medicinal gardens in Oceania offer diverse opportunities for health, wellbeing, and cultural revitalisation. They serve as spaces for preserving Indigenous knowledge and traditional healing practices, fostering intergenerational learning, and strengthening community connections. These gardens provide opportunities for sustainable agriculture, supporting local food security and economic empowerment through the production and sale of medicinal plants and herbal products.

By integrating Indigenous wisdom with modern approaches, medicinal gardens in Oceania have the potential to address contemporary health challenges, promote environmental stewardship, and contribute to the resilience and vitality of communities across the region.

Medicinal gardens can be integrated into botanical gardens, community gardens, urban agriculture, backyard gardens, and edible home gardens.

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Financial case

The financial case for medicinal gardens in Oceania lies in their potential to generate economic value while promoting health and well-being. These gardens offer opportunities for sustainable income generation through the production and sale of medicinal plants, herbal products, and related goods or services. By cultivating native and traditional plant species, medicinal gardens can tap into growing consumer demand for natural and culturally authentic remedies, supporting local entrepreneurship and job creation. Furthermore, medicinal gardens can enhance the value of surrounding properties, attract tourism and visitors, and contribute to local economic development. 

Additionally, cost savings may be realised through reduced healthcare expenditure associated with preventative and complementary medicine practices.

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References
  • Bradacs, G., Heilmann, J., & Weckerle, C.S. (2011). Medicinal plant use in Vanuatu: A comparative ethnobotanical study of three islands. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 137(1), 434-448.
  • Cock, I. E., & Cheesman, M. J. (2016). Oceania: Antidepressant medicinal plants. Herbal Medicine in Depression: Traditional Medicine to Innovative Drug Delivery, 483-527.
  • Heywood, V. (1991). Botanic gardens and the conservation of medicinal plants. Conservation of medicinal plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 213-228.
  • Schmidt, B.M. (2017). Oceania. In Schmidt, B.M., Klase Cheng, D.M. (eds) Ethnobotany: A Phytochemical Perspective. John Wiley and Sons. 309-328.