Herb Garden

Two NYCC students working in the Chinese medicinal herb garden


Through its Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, NYCC entered into the arena of herbal medicine education. Students in the Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program receive extensive training in the field of traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Didactic and clinical courses cover the energetic nature and medicinal action of over 400 individual herbs, as well as the basics of selecting, modifying and developing appropriate herbal formulas consistent with the pattern of disharmony a patient demonstrates.

Currently, training involves handling and identifying dried plant parts imported from Asia. Unfortunately, exposure to dried herbs does not provide a full exposure to the entire personality of the living plant. Colors, flowers, shapes, tastes or aromas can provide clues to the medicinal actions of the plants that may not otherwise be apparent in a dried sample. Robert Newman, botanist, Asian plant aficionado, and Oriental medicine educator observes: “Trying to understand the nature, personality and characteristics of dried medicinal herbs without ever having seen the live plants is missing something essential. It’s not much different from kids not knowing where the food on their plate comes from. That’s a serious disconnect. We must make every effort possible to repair that relationship, to grow the live herb plants in order to gain a deeper connection to their properties.” With that in mind, the Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine of NYCC developed an extensive and attractive Chinese medicinal herb garden on its Seneca Falls campus.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

-Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, scholar & orator

In the summer of 2004, the Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine faculty identified the importance of exposure to living plants, and established small herb garden plots on the north and south sides of the campus library. High Falls Gardens in Columbia County, NY (HFG, a farm-based, nonprofit educational organization, www.highfallsgardens.net) donated over a dozen species of medicinal Chinese herbs that were planted and tended by students and faculty of the AOM department. The perennial species continued to flourish in those beds until the creation of the Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden in 2007, and their contributions to the depth of herbal education at NYCC is greatly appreciated by the MSAOM students.

Student Garden programs have been established at several of the colleges of acupuncture and Oriental medicine in the U.S. as a means to enhance herbal studies and to provide a contact point for the local community. High Falls Gardens has been obtaining funding to create or improve the student gardens, and has been offering Asian medicinal plant seeds and botany instruction. In 2006, the High Falls Gardens Fund, under the auspices of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in Great Barrington, MA, was awarded a $200,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for a three-year program, Botanical Studies for Oriental Medicine. “This new funding will help U.S. students and practitioners of Oriental medicine get to know where their herbs come from, how they are grown and who grows them,” said HFG director Jean Giblette. “This program will provide them with vital knowledge that will build their capacity to evaluate the qualities of domestically grown medicinal herbs, to communicate their requirements to growers, and to help deepen their patients’ connections to nature and sources of nutrition.” This grant allowed the program to expand to 15 teaching sites based at graduate colleges of Oriental medicine in various locations around the country. Each site will collaborate with local farmers, botanical gardens, university and extension specialists to develop resources for the students.

The Finger Lakes School of NYCC was one of only two AOM programs in the Northeast to be chosen as a garden teaching site. As NYCC is located in a relatively rural location with a nearly 300 acre campus, the medicinal herb garden expanded into one of the most impressive Chinese medicinal plant collections located at a school of AOM. It even includes multiple species of medicinal trees.

While the NYCC garden does not produce medicinal substances for use by patients, it is recognized that expansion and exploration of domestically grown plants is tremendously important. More information about this national movement can be found at www.localherbs.org, the website of the Medicinal Herb Consortium (MHC), a national network of farmers who grow Chinese medicinal herbs in the U.S. A March 2008 Acupuncture Today article describes the full context of the website, which functions as a portal for Oriental medicine practitioners to place orders for ecologically, domestically grown herbs. The MHC is documenting support from the profession of Oriental medicine in order to capitalize their national effort to recruit, train and guarantee prices for the farmers. See: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=31676.

The physical garden site at NYCC was designed by former FLSAOM Dean Jason Wright, and is located near the ponds behind the Academic 3 building. It is composed of eight raised, stone beds surrounding a circular flagstone patio. The beds and patio are designed to represent the ancient Chinese Ba Gua and Tai Ji symbols, which embody the ever-transforming and dynamic balance of all natural forces. The concepts exemplified by these figures are fundamental to systems of martial arts, design, philosophy and medicine.

Panoramic tour of the garden