Medicinal Plants at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve


Over the next two years, art group Nomad, in association with climate change project Cape Farewell and the Teesdale & Hollybush TRA, will launch a research-based project called Phytology* at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.

Phytology is an action-research project bringing together artists and botanists to explore the ecology and medicinal properties of wild plants and weeds common to derelict and undeveloped urban sites. The partnership of artists and botanists will seek to create a fresh language in which to challenge perceptions of the value of un-manicured growth, revealing practical biomedical usefulness, and suggesting a wider eco-connectivity. This will involve the creation of a meadow full of medicinal plants at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.

Cleavers seedlingsSo far, an area has been cleared and soil imported ready for planting (see photo above), and seedlings of a wide range of native medicinal plants are growing in trays (see photo left). They will be planted out during this year. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust, and the funding will include employing a gardener for two days a week, allowing the nature reserve to open to the public on these days.

The project aims to question ideas of value, and in particular the perceived low value of common weeds and plants. It will do this by its context, stressing the apparent incongruity of a meadow in such a place. The meadow itself will have been developed from a planting scheme devised by ethno-botanist Dr. Peter Giovannini, using common plants chosen for their biomedical potential. The project will also investigate the relationships among peoples perception of herbal medicines and their contemporary and historical role in society.

The scheme will draw on scientific information articulating the biomedical properties of plants such as nettle, dandelion, sage, presenting an alternate version of work generated by units such as Kew Gardens Sustainable Uses of Plants Group and Chelsea Physic Garden. The plants medicinal potential and biomedical value qualities will be re-visioned by commissioned artists who will endeavour to reach new audiences not necessarily attuned to both botanical & biomedical information.

Collaborators include Caitlin Elster, Colin Nightingale,  Naseem Khan, Melissa Thompson, Dr Peter Giovannini, Talya Baldwin, Vhils, Michael Smythe and the Teesdale & Hollybush TRA.

For more information, see Nomad’s website, the Phytology Facebook page, or Cape Farewell’s website.

phy•tol•o•gy – n. The study of plants; botany


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