Situated in a hidden part of Chelsea lies the gardens of all gardens! The Chelsea Physic Garden, first established in 1673, has provided a place where all plants could been grown to be studied by young apothecaries during the 17th and 18th Century.
One particular collection that seemed too perfect to miss was The Garden of Medicinal Plants. This collection has over 60 plants from all different medicinal disciplines, including Dermatology, Oncology and Analgesics.
As aspirin is my chosen subject, my research has noted that aspirin can be traced back over 2000 years to the Greek scholar Hippocrates. His scribes noted that chewing willow bark (part of the group Salix) alleviated the pain of childbirth. Salix's active compound is salicin, the chemical precursor of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which is now synthesised artificially. It works by reducing nerve sensitivity to pain by blocking the hormone prostaglandin, also acting as an anti-inflammatory.
'Plants form the basis of around a quarter of all modern western medicines'.
One medicinal plant known as the White Willow (Salix Alba) is one of the first analgesic plants from which aspirin's pain relief effect was noted.
'Salix Alba ideally prefer to grow in a wet environment, near to a bank. This plant here (above) is growing in quite sandy soil and is fine. It was planted 4 years ago, and I last cut it (pollard it) a year ago, and it's already grown this high.
They don't tend to grow up north, they grow in southerly areas in damp soil preferably. We now know about the use of medicinal plants and their properties, whereas before we were unaware.'
(Nell Jones, Acting Head Gardener, Chelsea Physic Garden)
It's interesting to wonder how we consider chemical production and its negative impact that such chemicals must have on our system, yet these natural resources potentially have the same effect, depending on the dosage. Should we revert back to natural synthesising to take note of how much we actually use, to know exactly what goes into our medicine?
'Several species of willow contain salicylic acid from which aspirin was first synthesised'
Curated by Sue Medway