Ohio Northern University Woodland Medicinal Herb Path

By Vicki Motz

We used our UpS grant to establish our second medicinal herb garden on the campus of Ohio Northern University in Ada, OH. This second garden is in the form of a path through a patch of woodland and is an exciting step toward our goal of one garden project per year to raise awareness of medicinal herbalism and enhance the teaching of medicinal herbs and herbal practices. We hope our gardens will influence both our pharmacy students and the ONU community as a whole to develop an appreciation for the value of medicinal plants. The committee assigned to revamping our core curricula in biology is planning on including a tour of the medicinal gardens for all students in the first year course. We plan to create a center of medicinal herbal learning, which will be open to the college, the greater Ada community, and herb folks around the state and the country.

We started the quarter by hosting a booth at the Ada Harvest and Herb Festival. We made a poster about medicinal herbalism, displayed examples of medicinal plants and distributed UpS informational materials.

The plot of land we chose was heavily infested with poison ivy. As a first lesson in herbalism, we took the students to a patch of jewelweed, talked about plant identification, plant anatomy, location in the plants of medicinal components, extraction techniques, and formulation into a useful product. We made an aqueous decoction and an oil infusion, and after three weeks, combined them to make jewelweed soap. We tested it by removing the poison ivy from the path – no one reported any poison ivy rash!

Using hand tools, we cleared a narrow winding path through the wooded area, which allowed us to preserve and highlight patches of Pawpaw, Solomon’s seal, Jack-in the Pulpit, and Raspberry.

We required that the students purchase David Hoffmann’s Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal for reference during the course. The students were given a brief introduction to woodland plants of the area with medicinal properties. Each student chose a plant to research and be their ultimate contribution to the path. The soil was amended to accommodate the growing requirements of each plant. Those plants to which we did not have other access were purchased through Companion Plants in Athens, OH.

To broaden our students’ exposure to other medicinal plants we purchased some dried herbs and harvested many of the plants from the garden we planted last year. They harvested horehound and made cough drops, and mint and chamomile to make tea. They decocted marshmallow for its emollient qualities and used purchased marshmallow root to make old fashioned marshmallows. They extracted St. John’s wort in olive oil and learned to make a beeswax based salve. Lavender was harvested and dried for our day of aromatherapy.

We showed students how to do a steam distillation and used essential oils (including the wintergreen we planted) to make an achy muscle rub using one of Rosemary Gladstar’s recipes. We talked about Rosemary’s book Planting the Future and about when and where wild harvesting is appropriate.

When our plants arrived, we planted Lily of the Valley, Witch Hazel, Black Cohosh, Goldenseal, Ginseng, Jeffersonia, Corydalis, Blood Root, Wild Ginger, Wintergreen, Mayapple, Wood Betony, and Lungwort. Students learned about being non-invasive in the woods and how to water via “bucket brigade”.

We got thick slabs from a fallen hardwood tree that we used like stepping stones through the path to encourage people not to wander off into the uncut areas. The path was mulched, again using a bucket brigade, so we would do as little as possible to disturb the surrounding forest.

We created hardwood numbered posts to mark the individual herbs. Our students put together a self guided tour pamphlet – crediting UpS with funding the garden. Pamphlets were printed, and a pamphlet holder was purchased and mounted at the entrance to the garden. As part of the learning process, students developed PowerPoint presentations about the plant they chose for the path, including plant descriptions, distribution, history, and medicinal use of their plant. A website detailing our path, the plants, and what we learned about them was built and is currently being vetted for posting by the ONU site administrator. UpS’s role in making our path possible appears on our home page, and we have a link to the UpS site.

Our sign was designed by a member of the Graphic Design faculty, cut from a sheet of copper, mounted on a cypress slab, and hung from a tree at the entry to the path. The garden was dedicated on Nov. 16, 2009, and the community was invited to a ceremony to celebrate this event. We served ‘garden fresh’ refreshments reflecting the plants in the garden: wintergreen brownies, raspberry muffins, and wild ginger lemonade. A bench, made of a huge slab of wood donated by three staff members, sits at the path exit, which opens to a grassy area adjoining a pond and invites contemplation. A local artist was so moved by our path that she is contributing a ‘sculptural essay’ that will be installed this winter. The essay will reflect the cycle of life and is intended to be a focus for winter time, when the plants are dormant.

Students were surveyed at the beginning of the quarter and after the path was completed.

100% of our students said they had gotten more out of the class than expected. All expressed some form of bonding with the garden through the process, “It was great; I feel more connected to the plants and the garden because we cleared and planted everything ourselves”; and all felt they had gained useful knowledge of some local herbs and how to use them, “I had some knowledge of herbs, but I definitely learned so much more”, “I would feel comfortable recommending some of the herbs we worked with in class; I need more practice but I have resources available now”.

Self guided tour pamphlets are available at the entrance to both the medicinal herb garden and the medicinal herb path and at the University Inn in Ada. The public is welcome and encouraged to come and share in what our students have created.