Hands-on learning took on a whole new meaning Tuesday afternoon for Kansas University pharmacy students as they traded white lab coats for blue jeans and microscopes for shovels.
The students were among the hundred or so people who helped plant the school's new educational medicinal garden just south of the KU School of Pharmacy building on KU's West Campus.
"It's a nice change of pace," second year pharmacy student Tabatha Snyder said.
The garden is part landscape, part history and part educational project. Much of the inspiration came from the first dean of the pharmacy school, Lucius Sayre, who studied the medicinal use of native Kansas plants. After his death, a KU drug garden was developed in the 1930s.
With the planting of the new medicinal garden, many of those plants have returned to the pharmacy school, said Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey who heads the botany arm of the project.
"It's a history lesson," Kindscher said.
The garden has 70 different species, which will be identified through signs and organized in five different beds.
On Tuesday, volunteers were planting everything from curly top gumweed, which is good for curbing poison ivy, to echinacea, what Kindscher calls the 'patron saint of Kansas medicinal plants' and known for boosting the immune system to help ward off colds, flu and infections.
Most of the plants are native to Kansas, but some came from Montana, New Mexico and West Texas.
"It is fun," Kindscher said Tuesday after passing on instructions to volunteers. "What is better than work where you get dirt on your hands?"
Medicinal gardens are common in pharmacy schools throughout Europe, but rare in the United States, said distinguished professor Barbara Timmermann, who is the head of the project and chair of the school's medicinal chemistry program.
She noted that 25 percent of today's prescribed medicines come from plants. Those in the garden have chemicals that ease pain, fight malaria and help the digestive system.
"I can pull together what students learn in books and bring them out here to really see the plants," Timmermann said.
Nalini Singh, who organized students to help with the garden, spotted plants she had learned about in one of Timmermann's classes.
"It is kind of cool to see a lot of the ones Dr. Timmermann taught about in class," Singh said. "We get to touch, smell and see them instead of view them on a slide."