Kew Gardens will open a field hospital this month to reveal the healing properties of traditional medicines such as foxgloves, leeks and leeches
Tuesday, May 6 2003
By Ian Valentine
Herbal remedies once dismissed as old wives' tales or simple superstition are now the focus of new research by pharmacists.
In London's Kew Gardens, researchers are investigating the potential for traditional cures such as the leech in microsurgery and yew trees to combat cancer.
Visitors to the Field Hospital - built of reclaimed wood to recreate an Edwardian collector's pavilion - will discover the healing properties of bygone remedies, such as butterbur, which helps migraine and asthma sufferers, and foxgloves, from which Digoxin is procured to treat heart failure.
The centre, which will be open from May 24 until September 28, examines many medical practices of the past. For example, it explains why sphagnum moss was used as wound dressings in the trenches of the First World War - it was later found to contain penicillium.
Leeks and onions were traditionally used to treat gastroenteritis or high blood pressure, while pennyroyal tea was once thought to induce abortion by Victorian ladies. Less squeamish visitors can also find out the benefits of blowfly maggots, which eat dead tissue from gangrene, ulcers and burns.
The cannabis plant has been used in medicine for 2,000 years and is now being tested as a relief for multiple sclerosis. Based on this and other cases, scientists are looking back through local literature and foreign documentation to see if there are forgotten cures, which could be of use today.
The project co-ordinator Peter Bennett told Countrylife.co.uk: 'It is a unique structure based on a herbalist hut which will give a insight into the peculiar remedies used throughout the layers of time.'
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