This contemporary physic garden is the inspired creation of Professor Elaine Perry, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University who directs research into plant medicines. It occupies a tranquil site above the Devil's Water at Dilston in the Tyne Valley. Herbs and trees with properties for health and healing grow in abundant quantities, clearly labelled with regularly updated information on their traditional uses and scientific, clinical evidence.
What is a physic garden?
A Physic Garden is a garden where plants with medicinal properties are grown. Originally, hundreds of year ago, Physic gardens were for practicing physicians to grow plants for the medicines they prepared, based on knowledge handed down for generations, which they prescribed for their patients.
What could a Physic Garden offer today?
There are two quite remarkable aspects of herbal medicine: first that plants make chemicals which are healing; and secondly that people discovered which plants at what dose to use for which disorder.
The first mystery is to some extent solved by knowing that plants make their own antibiotics, anti–inflammatories and range of chemical armoury against predators which act on the nervous, digestive and other systems. The second mystery is still open to speculation. Some believe it was a matter of trial and error though considering how many plant species are around and that some are highly toxic at the wrong dose this must have been fraught with hazard. Others think that discovery depended on intuition – in the same way as some animals know what to eat when they are sick. Whatever the process it must have involved a kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ plant selection procedure (in terms of the balance between efficacy and safety) which provides an invaluable database for medicine today. New discoveries of effective medicines are still being made based on this traditional knowledge – for example the chemicals in the Yew tree are used against types of cancer.
At Dilston Physic Garden
At Dilston Physic Garden (DPG), visitors can learn about traditional herbal medicine as all the plants are displayed with detailed labels about their uses, can get to see, touch and smell each of the plants through the seasons, and also join courses in medical herbalism and other aspects relating to the wonderful healing properties of individual plant species. The garden is closely linked to the Medicinal Plant Research Group (MPRG) in the Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria and Durham and is now a registered charity set up for education and enjoyment.