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NUHS Botanical Garden celebrates 10 years of hands-on student learning

This summer, the NUHS Botanical Garden marks the tenth anniversary of students joining together to share their passion for plants and medicine.

Despite restrictions due to COVID-19, the on-campus garden continues to thrive this year with about 40 varieties of plants, each with a unique medical purpose. Some plants include elderberry for immune system boosting, marshmallow for gastrointestinal health and lemon balm for anxiety, stress, insomnia, and indigestion.

The garden first started as a student-led project. Today, under the guidance of faculty member Lorinda Sorensen, ND, MSAc, students continue to provide hours of necessary care and maintenance needed to keep the garden going year after year.

"Every time I go, I remember why I chose this profession and the things that I want for myself and for my patients," said Dervis VilaTorres, an NUHS naturopathic medicine student. "I also remember that like the garden that is hard work, with enough effort, kindness, love and passion, everything eventually flourishes."

Although garden work this year has been slightly different due to COVID-19, in June, small groups of students were still able to care for the garden while wearing masks and gloves and keeping at least 6 feet apart. A larger group of students recently gathered for the second work party of the year with the similar restrictions. The parties are organized through either the NUHS Botanical Garden's Facebook group or the Naturopathic Professional Student Association (NPSA).

"Most years we would have work parties once a month from April to September or October, with smaller group in between. But the larger work parties get more done, and are fun," Dr. Sorensen said.

For students there are multiple benefits to working in the garden. In addition to meeting co-curricular learning requirements for their degrees, the hands-on garden also helps students better understand the plants they're learning in class.

"I think it benefits students in my profession because it serves as another study resource," VilaTorres said. "It provides students a space out of the classroom to see, smell, touch and become familiar with the plants, their medicinal uses and applications. Sometimes we learn about herbs and know everything about them except we forget how they look or what parts are used in an herbal preparation." 

Students also use the garden to relieve stress and calm down after a long week of schoolwork, said Ruby Sakyi-Addo, an NUHS naturopathic medicine student. "It has been a privilege for me to help in the garden," Sakyi-Addo said. "[After graduation,] I will miss the garden dearly."

The garden is always in need of more volunteers largely for weeding and watering. Ideally, the garden benefits from 1-3 students who can identify the herbs and help teach other students, Dr. Sorensen said. At the moment, the garden is also in need of hand tools and a lockable storage container for the tools.

To donate items or volunteer visit the NUHS Botanical Garden Facebook page or contact Dr. Sorensen at lsorensen@nuhs.edu.

See our video here.

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