ROBERT THROWER MEDICINAL GARDEN
The Robert Thrower Medicinal Garden was founded at the Mobile Medical Museum in 2017 to educate the public about multicultural traditions of herbal medicine that have been practiced around the world for thousands of years. The garden features dozens of plant species, both native and introduced, representing civilizations from five continents. In October 2018, the garden was formally dedicated to Robert "Glenn" Thrower, Jr. (1961-2017), an ethnobotanist who served as Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The Garden is open to the public seven days a week during daylight hours. Community members are welcome to take products from the garden as needed. The medicinal values of plants are provided strictly for cultural and historical context. Please consult with a physician before using any herbs for medicinal purposes.
Here are some highlights from the Garden. We hope you enjoy learning about these wonderful herbs!
Dwarf Yaupon Holly
Native to the southern and south-central regions of the United States, Yaupon is the only known native plant of the Americas that is a source of caffeine. The herb was used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes by many Native American tribes, including the Creek, who named it asi, meaning "leaves." The leaves and branches of the Yaupon would be roasted and brewed into an herbal tea that was shared between the male warriors of the tribe and their honored guests. This drink was said to cleanse the body and spirit, provide strength, calm nerves, suppress hunger, and create bonds of friendship. European explorers were struck by the custom of the Native warriors to vomit in long streams after drinking the tea. Assuming that the herb was an emetic that induced vomiting, European herbalists gave it the scientific name Ilex vomitoria. This assumption has proved to be incorrect. The true cause of the vomiting is still debated by historians.
Mountain mint is a genus of herbs native to North America, with most species concentrated in the southeast region of the United States. It is highly attractive to a diverse range of insect pollinators. Like other herbs in the mint family, mountain mint has been used for pain relief. Its leaves, with their minty aroma, have been brewed into a soothing herbal tea for relieving menstrual cramps, indigestion, fever, mouth sores, and other painful conditions.
The name of this plant is derived from two Latin words, barbascum ("beard") and mollis ("soft"). The leaves and stems of the plant are, indeed, covered with downy hairs. It is native to Western Asia and Central and Southern Europe but has been introduced to other temperate regions, including North America. Medicinal mullein comes in many different preparations, including herbal tea and infusions, smoking products and poultices. It has been used to treat coughs, colds, influenza, tuberculosis and other respiratory conditions, wounds, and digestive problems. The tall flowering stalk of the plant was also used to make candle wicks. Some even associated the "candlewick plant" with witchcraft and black magic.
Mentha x piperita
Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint (M. spicata) and water mint (M. aquatica) that was first discovered and cultivated in 17th century England, but it now grows wild in temperate regions of Europe and the Eastern United States. Along with Japanese mint (M. arvensis), peppermint has the highest known concentration of menthol, the chemical that gives the plant its soothing, icy-hot flavor. The herb's essential oil and its leaves, dried or fresh, have been used to relieve pains and uncomfortable symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, colic, heartburn, and flatulence.
The prairie willow is native to the eastern region of North America, from Florida to Newfoundland. Native Americans found many uses for this herb. The bitter tasting stems were chewed as an emergency food source. The bark was used to make poultices and herbal tea. Willow bark contains salicin, an analgesic and anti-inflammatory chemical. In the nineteenth century, Western scientists produced a refined synthetic derivative of salicin called acetylsalicylic acid, which the Bayer pharmaceutical company marketed under the trade name Aspirin for the first time in 1899.
The serrano is a type of chili pepper native to the mountainous region of east-central Mexico. Hotter than the jalapeño, it is the second most common chili pepper used in Mexican cooking. The chili peppers of the Americas are not related to black pepper. When Native Americans introduced Columbus to the chili, he called it "pepper" because its spicy hot taste reminded him of black pepper, which had been known to Europeans since ancient times through the spice trade. Besides being an important food source, chilis were used by the Aztecs and Mayans for relieving pain and reducing inflammation. The heat of chili peppers comes from the chemical capsaicin. Low concentrations of capsaicin are used today in dermal patches to help relieve muscle and joint pain, while higher concentrations are used in pepper spray and pest repellants.
Sweet potato is native to Central and South America and grows best in subtropical climates. It is a member of the morning glory family and only distantly related to the common potato, which is in the nightshade family (in North America, sweet potatoes are also called "yams" but the true yam is from yet another family). The sweet potato was cultivated by the indigenous peoples of the Americas for 10,000 years before European explorers brought it to Europe and Africa in the transatlantic slave trade. It was used for both food and medicine. The leaves and tuberous roots were applied for the treatment of burns, digestive issues and diabetes.
Native to southern Africa, society garlic gets its name from Dutch colonial settlers who thought it was a more refined alternative for flavoring dishes than garlic. It was a peppery seasoning and medicine for the Zulus. In traditional muti medicine, society garlic is used to treat infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and colds. Its bulb is also used as an aphrodisiac.
The sunflower is native to North America and has been cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years. Through careful plant breeding, Native American growers were able to increase the seed size of the sunflower by 1,000 percent. The seeds were an important food source, while the leaves and roots were used to treat such conditions as rheumatism, fever, kidney and pulmonary disease, and skin lesions. The sunflower also has a prominent role in many Native American mythologies and spiritual beliefs. While parts of the sunflower are phototropic to some extent, it is not true that the head of the sunflower follows the sun every day, contrary to popular belief.
Dill is an herb in the celery family that is native to Eurasia. It was known for its healing and magical properties for thousands of years. Dill seeds were often used to ease stomach pains and digestive problems. The name "dill" comes from the Saxon word dillan, which means "to comfort." The aroma of dill was believed to protect nurseries from evil spirits at night. The herb was also a common ingredient in magic spells and potions to protect against witchcraft. Today it is a popular seasoning in many dishes of Central and Eastern Europe.
Green Bell Pepper
The green bell pepper is a cultivar of the same species as chili peppers. But it has been bred to maximize sweetness and to have no capsaicin, the chemical that makes other peppers spicy hot. A whole green bell pepper has twice as much Vitamin C as an orange of the same size, 134% of the Daily Value. Green bell peppers are also rich in iron and several other nutrients. They contain a chemical called lutein that helps to prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Turmeric is an herb in the ginger family that is native to Asia. The rhizome, or rootstalk, of the plant is ground into a yellow powder that has many culinary, medicinal and decorative uses in Indian and other Asian cultures. The chemical in the turmeric rhizome that produces the yellow color is known as curcumin. Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, reputed to have anti-inflammatory benefits, though its effectiveness has not yet been clinically proven. As a dyeing agent, turmeric has been applied to everything from yellow mustard to the robes of Buddhist monks.
The tea plant is native to China and was spread by Portuguese missionaries and traders to Europe by the 17th century. Tea has been used as medicine for thousands of years. In China, drinking tea originated between 3800 and 5000 years ago. Until the sixth century, it was used primarily as medicine, especially for aiding sleep and digestion, reducing fever and detoxifying the body. Black, green and oolong tea all originate from different preparations of Camellia leaves. All these varieties of tea contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help to prevent heart disease, certain cancers, and other illnesses.
The genus Rubus, which includes blackberries as well as raspberries, is one of the most diverse and widespread types of herbs in the world. Also known as brambles, Rubus species have been used as medicine by various civilizations since ancient times. The common blackberry of eastern and central North America was valued for its medicinal properties by many Native American tribes, including the Cherokee, who used an infusion of blackberry leaves to treat diarrhea. Blackberries are rich in Vitamin C and antioxidant chemical compounds called flavonoids, so they are a good health supplement for preventing heart disease and certain cancers.
Apart from being a popular culinary seasoning and garnish, parsley has a very long history as a medicinal herb. Historians have traced parsley's origin to the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, garlands of parsley were worn to ward off evil spirits and death. From the Mediterranean, it spread to England in the 16th century, where it was used as a diuretic and aid to menstrual health. Parsley infusions and extracts have also been used as abortifacients. If consumed in large quantities, parsley can be toxic, potentially causing internal bleeding, anemia or kidney damage.