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Kill or cure? Plants as medicine at In Service Training day and social

Kill or cure? Plants as medicine at In Service Training day and social

Plants evolved to avoid being eaten – so most of them are poisonous – but that hasn’t stopped us making good use of their toxicity to create useful medicines.

North London Master Gardeners were fascinated to hear the history of plant-based medicine at their winter In-Service training day on Friday (December 11th). We were joined by colleagues from Garden Organic, and guests from TCV, conservation volunteers, for the day.



Our venue was Camley Street Natural Park, a wildlife oasis tucked away on the bank of Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross. The two-acre site, cared for by London Wildlife Trust, is a green lung in the centre of this huge construction site.

Listening to the lecture

Our trainer/speaker for the morning, Dr Henry Oakeley FRCP, has been Garden Fellow at the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London since 2005 and for many years was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Starting with the origin of plant based medicine, doctrine of signatures and the doctrine of the humours, we learned about drugs derived from  foxgloves, poppies and wormwood among others.

After a break we launched into modern medicines from plants, learning about the discoveries which allow us to have the range of effective drugs we have today; morphine for pain relief, chemotherapy and anaesthetics.

Learning about the digester

We followed our fascinating talk with a delicious lunch of vegetarian curries from the Wildwood Cafe, cooked using biogas from the on-site biodigester is used to cook food. Food waste from the cafe is then fed back to the digester along with locally collected canteen and office waste to produce…more cooking gas and fertiliser! Food waste is also collected from local cafes and restraurants and transported to the digester using a zero-carbon cargo bike.

Everyone appreciated their “green” lunch before we braved the drizzle for a guided walk around Camley Street Natural Park, including a look at the amazing digester.

Tour of the park

Fruit trees growing on a barge

In the afternoon Master Gardeners enjoyed a social hub get-toether, swapping experiences while making orange and clove pomanders to take home.


Feedback from the session

  • An outstanding speaker – and the afternoon session was wonderful, practical and theraputic.
  • A really good, informative day.
  • Fabulous! The courses are always good quality and link me into other people and resources.

Master Gardeners help people learn to grow food in Camden and Islington. They are volunteers, trained and supported by Garden Organic and work with people who would benefit from food growing, eg the socially isolated, users of mental health services, people living with a long-term physical disability and others. If you have a minimum of two years of food growing experience and a desire to share your knowledge, contact Liza to find out about becoming a Master Gardener.


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