The Royal College of Physicians’ medicinal garden in London offers an extra enriching and educational environment for client organisers and their delegates at the venue.
With over 1,100 plants with links to medical history, the outdoor space at the RCP offers planners and delegates a chance to take a break from the conference room.
The RCP garden fellow, Dr Henry Oakeley, identifies 10 of the garden’s medicinal plants with surprising attributes :
- Citrus medica
This giant lemon, the size of a rugby ball, contains vitamin C which is essential for our health. It was the first lemon to come to Europe about 2,000 years ago – from the land of the Medes (Iran-Turkey region), hence the name.
- Papaver somniferum
The sap in the seed heads, opium, is the source of morphine, a vital medicine for over 7,000 years, for the relief of pain and suffering.
- Illicium anisatum
This is Japanese star anise, whose poisonous seed heads contain the crucial chemical from which Tamiflu, for treating bird and swine flu, was synthesised.
- Galega officinalis
Goat’s Rue (sometimes known as Holy Hay) is a pale blue member of the pea family, poisonous to cattle, but, since 1956, it is the source of Metformin, the most widely used medicine for treating diabetes in the world.
- Ephedra sinica
This ancient flowering plant first appeared 250 million years ago and has shown no evolutionary change for 110 million years. It contains a chemical, ephedrine, which acts like adrenaline, and was used for asthma. More recently this has been converted to amphetamines and ecstasy.
- Melilotus officinalis
Yellow sweet clover, when stored wet and allowed to ferment, became the source of Warfarin, the anticoagulant so essential for preventing blood clotting. Fresh, it has no value.
- Digitalis purpurea
Small pieces of dried leaves of this, the purple foxglove, were found to be a cure for heart failure in the mid-18th century. The active medicine, digoxin, is still extracted from the leaves.
- Atropa belladonna
Deadly nightshade, it contains atropine, once used to dilate the pupils, to treat sea sickness, as a pre-med, and more recently as an antidote to nerve gas poisoning.
- Arundo donax
The giant reed, used to make the reeds of oboes etc. Russian scientists found that extracts numbed their tongues when they tasted it – and lignocaine, the local anaesthetic that we use today, was synthesised from it.
- Musa basjoo
The banana is one of over 60 plants in the garden named after doctors. In this case, Antonio Musa, Greek physician to Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.
The RCP offers garden tours for groups and delegates upon appointment.