Day 4 – which plant to choose?


Over the past three days I have published blogs relating to the Physic Garden in Trinity College Dublin. Where our initial sampling has revolved around the research and imaging of the sage plant we have as yet to finalise which plant we would like to be part of the project.

Jane Stout from the TCD Botany Department suggested that I talk to Fabio Boylan about his research pertaining to medicinal plants. Fabio works in the Pharmacognosy area of Trinity College. I contacted Fabio and we hope to meet over the next week or so. I will share some of the highlights from our conversation in a future blog.

Jane also introduced me and the project to Fraiser Mitchell who then introduced me to Hazel Proctor who designed the garden and wrote the booklet about the garden.  Hopefully I will also get a chance to meet and talk about some of her experiences and knowledge of the garden over the coming weeks. Update to follow.

Prior to these meetings I have spent some time looking into the basic properties of and imagery related to some of the easily recognisible herbal plants found in the Physic garden.

In particular I was taken by the secretary glands that appear in the images of the lavender and peppermint plants. See the mosaic of images above, which are a selection of microscopic images from nettle, lavender and peppermint samples. Of course the spiky hairs/fronds that project from the leaves and stems are also amazing to look at. I look forward to learning more about the physical properties and working of these plants. I am also conscious that I haven’t even started to look into the specifics of their healing properties…..back to work for me!

Day 2, Physic garden: Highlight – Sage


Salvia officinalis (sage, also called garden sage, common sage, or culinary sage) is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use.


Illustration of Salvia officinalis by Kohle from the book entitled Medicinal Plants.

Sage has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women’s fertility, and more. The plant had a high reputation throughout the Middle Ages, with many sayings referring to its healing properties and value. It was sometimes called S. Salvatrix (sage the savior), and was one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague. John Gerard author of Herball (1597) states that sage “is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.” In past centuries it was also used for hair care, insect bites and wasp stings, nervous conditions, mental conditions, oral preparations for inflammation of the mouth, tongue and throat, and also to reduce fevers.

In modern days there has been some studies carried out on humans involving sage. It should be noted that these studies are not widely recognised and more research would need to be done to further their claims. The study involving healthy humans demonstrated improved memory, attention/executive function, alertness and mood following single doses of cholinesterase-inhibiting sage extracts or essential oils. Smaller studies on Alzheimer’s patients demonstrated improved cognitive functioning and behavioral function (Clinical Dementia Rating) following a 16-week administration of a Salvia officinalis alcoholic tincture.  I don’t claim to know much about this subject and would again caution that it looks like more research needs to be done in these areas. 

Illustration of Salvia officinalis by Kohle from the book entitled Medicinal Plants.

The Physic/ medicinal garden

Over the next four days I will add one post per day about our ongoing interest in the Physic garden in Trinity College Dublin.

lavender_ stoechas_in_our_physic_garden.jpgFor this first post I would like to give a brief background to the garden itself. Tomorrow I will highlight the sage plant. The following post will illustrate some of the SEM images we have already taken of the sage plant. Finally I will round up by talking about our dilemma in choosing which plant to focus are research on.

So to start off with Trinity College initiated a physic garden on the main college campus in 1687 to provide plant material to support the teaching of medicine. By 1173 this garden had become derelict, and was partly used to dump offal from the Anatomy Department.

In 2011 to mark 300 years of Botany, Chemistry and Medicine at Trinity College, Dr Henery Oakeley, Garden Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians of London opened the new Physic (medicinal) garden on the main campus of Trinity College. The garden features sixty plants of medicinal interest and aims to highlight where some medicines come from.

Although some plants are still used in herbal medicines, modern drug development relies more on finding novel chemical of medicinal value in plants and then reproducing this chemical through biosynthesis techniques on an industrial scale to produce the relevant drug. Botany is no longer taught to medical students however the links to drug discovery and development are still as strong as ever. The Physic garden showcases medicinal plants of ancient and contemporary medicinal relevance and regonises the linkage between the disciplines of Botany, Chemistry and Medicine. It is situated between the Hamilton and Llyod Building at the East end of the campus. (excerpt taken from – Trinity News and Events – 21st April 2011)

Lichen images from March sampling

Lichen – The Oregon Maple

We found some wonderful examples of different types of lichen growing on some of the trees that were chosen.  The images above were taken from the bark of the Oregon Maple.  See below for a different type of lichen which we found on the Crab Apple tree. 


Lichen – The Crab Apple

Champion Trees of Ireland

Champion Trees - a selection of Ireland's Great Trees- the tree council of Ireland

Two of the trees from Trinity College Dublin feature in this beautifully illustrated book Champion Trees, a selection of Ireland’s great trees.

Platanus orientalis (Oriental Plane Tree), Trinity College Dublin – 4.98 x 11.5 meters.

Acer macrophyllum (Oregon Maple Tree), Trinity College Dublin – 3.68 @ 1.05 x 16 meters – 2nd greatest girthed of its kind in Ireland.

Of note is that the two Oregon Maples in the main square are also thought to be the oldest trees on the Trinity College Dublin campus.

Tree buds SEM images

The following images from the tree bud of the Oregon Maple are really interesting. The undulating surface of the seeds are of particular interest to me. Many years ago I completed a five foot plaster sculpture inspired by a similar seed structure. We may look further at these seeds to get a closer look at the surface and interior structure.

The Oregon Maple

During the sampling process in March we also got some wonderful SEM images from the buds of the Snake Bark and the Cherry Blossom.  See below.  I love the hairy thread-like structures sticking out of the buds.

The Snake Bark – tree bud

Cherry Blossom