KU plant research takes root in garden

Kelly Kindscher, left, Hillary Loring and Kirsten Bosnak check over one of the new faucets for an irrigation pump. New irrigation pumps are being installed in the section of the Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden just north of Lawrence.

Kansas University scientists are preparing soil north of Lawrence, where they’ll plant a medicinal research garden. The 5-acre plot east of Lawrence Municipal Airport will be used to plant and test native plants for their medicinal properties.

The garden is a project of the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program at KU. The goal is to identify chemical compounds in plants that can be used in natural health remedies, cosmetic products, food and veterinary products.

“We use the fabulous chemistry facilities at KU and say, ‘OK, with these sorts of treatments, which of them has the highest content of the active medicinal constituents that we’re interested in?” said Kelly Kindscher, senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey.

Kindscher handles the botany side of the project while principal investigator and KU professor Barbara Timmermann leads the research team that tests the plants for medicinal value.

The project is financed by a $5 million grant from the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Kindscher and his team have approximately 20 species ready to be planted. He said they hope to have about 50 or 60 species planted by next year.

“For us, growing medicinal plants, we want to get good yields, and getting this great soil is important for our project,” Kindscher said.

The group is also reaching out to the Lawrence community for volunteers.

“There are people who are really interested in herbal medicine and there are people who are interested in gardening with native plants,” said Kirsten Bosnak, the program’s communications and outreach coordinator. She sees the garden as “a place where different groups can meet.”

The land will not just serve as a research tool.

“We also want to make this an educational facility,” Kindscher said. “We want people to know that native plants are an important part of what’s around us.”

Kindscher’s group has also looked for input from the Native American community. His work is based on historical information.

“It’s great being here in Lawrence with Haskell and Native American influences,” he said, “because that’s where we start.”

He also said the group is interested “in the original Native American uses of plants because they knew a lot about the native plants of Kansas that haven’t been studied.”

The land, which was dedicated last weekend, is open to the public. The group plans to add an additional show garden for educational and recreational use. They also hope good weather and community involvement can help make their medicinal garden grow.

“My ultimate hope,” Kindscher said, “would be to have products that people would pick up to treat their cold or sore throats, and do that with a local Kansas product.”