The Coast News Group
Chamise is one of the most widespread and iconic chaparral shrubs of California. The research consortium may recommend this plant for inclusion in the medicinal plants collection. Photo courtesy Quentin
ColumnsJano's Garden

Study of plant-based medicines at Botanic Garden gets boost

Exciting news earlier this month from the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas:

“Last week, San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) launched a national medicinal plants collection and research consortium, made possible by a $384,000 grant from The Conrad Prebys Foundation. During the next year, SDBG and collaborators at the Salk Institute will establish what will become a best-in-class model for the curation and conservation of economic plants and the development of plant-based medicines.

Just as willow tree bark has been used as a pain reliever for centuries, and study of the active ingredient, salicin, led to the development of the world’s most commonly used drug, aspirin, the consortium intends to unlock more plant-based solutions and foster new medicinal discoveries.”

Both amateur and professional gardeners have been abuzz ever since the announcement.

For many backyard gardeners who have grown chamomile flowers to make a nighttime tea, or use mint to ease digestion, this lofty addition to the SDBG educational program will enlighten visitors to the wonders of medicinal plants.

“In the coming months, we will organize a San Diego-based consortium of scientists and stakeholders from plant biology institutions, drug development researchers, and experts on traditional uses of plant medicines,” said Ari Novy, CEO and director of the Botanic Garden. “This group will help guide the development, curation, and use of a diverse, medicinal plant collection, with the goal of improving human health outcomes and plant conservation. The collection will also be available to medical and botanical researchers, conservation institutions, and other interested communities worldwide.”

In a recent interview, Novy shared some of the logistics that will take place when the collections become available.

“There is the front of the house and there is the back of the house — meaning some of this important work will take place where the public can see, and other parts of the collection will be in our nurseries for research purposes,” Novy said.

According to Erin Decker, Director of Grantmaking at the Foundation, “The Conrad Prebys Foundation is delighted to fund this project, as it supports our vision for growing a stronger and healthier San Diego through an innovative and collaborative approach. This national plant collection and consortium form a cutting-edge model that will contribute to both environmental conservation and economic development goals by studying and developing plant-based solutions.”

In addition to maintaining the medicinal plant collection,” Novy continued, “SDBG will establish a medicinal plant garden to teach the more than 200,000 children and adults who visit us each year about medicinal plant conservation, cultivation, use, and discovery.

“On the laboratory side of the project, the medicinal plant collection and the consortium will enable research on thousands of plant-derived compounds and their potential impacts on the health outcomes for hundreds of diseases. “


For those of us who have dabbled in creating medicinal teas and cosmetic products that may heal the skin and ease aches and pains, it is worth researching a wide variety of books that give not only cultural growing requirements for herbs, but also recipes and how-to instructions for teas, tinctures and salves.

I recommend two books that are filled with information, and the book published by Cornell University is now offered free online! Both “Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers” (Cornell Cooperative Extension, 1993, and “Healing Herbs” (Cummins and Holmes, 2017) are fantastic resources for any gardener.


Take a handful of fresh, chopped herbs and place in a quart heat-resistant glass jar (Ball Jar or similar). Pour boiling water to fill to the top. Cover and let steep for at least 15 minutes and up to 8 hours. This mix can also be placed outdoors in the sun to produce sun tea. Strain when ready to use and serve hot or cold. (Remember to check for allergies before consuming.)


2 parts chamomile

1 part passionflower

¼ part lavender

This blossom tea promotes relaxation and sleep. Depending on your energy level, this may be a blend to drink during the day to ease anxiety or stress.


A number of years ago I had the pleasure of working with a fellow Master Gardener, Sue Elkan, on her 10-acre flower farm in Cooperstown, New York.  She studied with an herbal expert in Vermont, Rosemary Gladstarr, whose amazing courses are now available online at

After attending the class, Sue returned to her flower fields to work with calendula flowers, which were processed into a healing salve.


As spring arrives in North County, we all look forward to the upcoming additions to the San Diego Botanic Garden with the inception of the Medicinal Plants Collection and Research Consortium.  More details will be available soon, and for information regarding how to plan a visit to SDBG, call (760) 436-3036 or visit

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and Master Gardener and teachers gardening in North County. Her current class, Pine Street Senior Garden Club, is held at the Carlsbad Senior Center. To register call (442) 339-2650 or To contact Jano email her at [email protected].