Have you ever wondered what the herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) look like before they are processed into all kinds of dried goods, powders, and decoctions? Then we highly recommend you visit the beautifully scaped TCM Medical Plant Garden in Wädenswil.
As a part of the Grüental Campus of ZHAW (Zurich University of Applied Sciences), the TCM Garden is tended by ZHAW professionals and is set up to show a variety of Chinese medical herbs. Although not landscaped like a traditional Chinese garden, it is set up to incorporate the principle of balance, which is an essential part of Chinese philosophy. There are different beds that mimic soil conditions found in different parts of China. For fans of Goji and liquorice root, there is a bed with a more desert-like soil as found in the North-western part of China, while there is also a raised bed imitating a highland setting or another bed with very fertile soil as in plains in Central or Northern China.
The garden is open to the public, though attending one of their guided tours (advertised in German) is recommended if you are not already very familiar with Chinese herbs. The tour I attended this Monday was led by Nina Zhao-Seiler, one of the managers and the initiator of the project. Herself a practising TCM therapist, she knows the plants and their medical usage intimately. Before diving into the subject of the day (“To the roots”), she talked about the changes the garden has undergone since its opening in 2016. A lot of work has gone into finding the right conditions for each plant, and while some plants start growing like weeds, others thrive in different areas than originally planned, whereas still others did not survive.
Nina Zhao-Seiler then guided us through the garden, pointing out single plants and their medical benefits. Different parts of the plants are used, sometimes it is the leaves, sometimes the flowers, and other times the bark or the roots. Because roots were the subject of our tour, she put an emphasis on plants grown specifically for their roots, such as Atractylodes macrocephala (Bai Zhu) which is used in many formulas for its tonifying effect.
Another important aspect of the research going into the cultivation of these herbs is preservation. Because digging out a root usually means to kill the whole plant, it is important to ensure that the species is not literally eradicated over time. Also, the roots may play an important role within the ecosystem they grow, as with liquorice root (Gan Cao): The long roots of this very popular medical plant help to stabilise the sandy ground. Over-harvesting has thus been one of the factors adding up to desertification in many parts of North-western China, so much so that it is now prohibited to harvest wild-growing liquorice plants.
While one hour is definitely not enough to get to know the more than 120 medical herbs of the garden, it became clear that a lot of work and research goes into each of the plants in this garden. Overlooking the Lake of Zurich, it provides a peaceful atmosphere for a stroll. With the changes of the seasons and the individual growing patterns of the herbs, there is always something new to discover. So if you are interested in the project or want to know more about what herbs go into the TCM medicine your therapist prescribed you, make sure to stop by in Wädenswil!