Exchange students from a Japanese high school gathered Tuesday morning in Elizabeth Park in West Hartford to learn about plants and medicine as part of their two-week exchange program.
By Ryley McGinnis
Japanese high school students on a two-week exchange program learned Tuesday morning at Elizabeth Park about the power of plants in creating medicine and treating unsuspecting diseases.
In partnership with the University of Saint Joseph, a class of high school students from Japan came to Connecticut on exchange for two weeks. On their last full day, these students started off their morning in Elizabeth Park’s medicinal garden, which was started by University of Saint Joseph Professor Dayne Laskey in 2014.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about modern and natural medicines, the reality is that about half of medications contain natural remedies,” said Laskey. “We want to bridge that gap in knowledge, so we use this garden to educate people.”
Back in 2014, the garden started with only 12 plants and funding for the garden came from a small community grant. Now, the garden has doubled and educational lessons have grown as well, like the one these exchange students participated in on Tuesday.
Their two-week exchange program consisted of a holistic view of Connecticut and American culture, said Christina Alevras, the organizer of the exchange program and a professor at the University of Saint Joseph. The students took classes at the university, went to New York City, and saw numerous historical sites in Connecticut as part of their experience.
“This is the first time these students have traveled outside of their home country, and over these two weeks they’ve really come out of their shell,” said Alevras.
Laskey went through each plant, their medicinal value, and safety risks for eating the plant regularly. He focused on “safety and efficacy” of each plant to try and teach the students that not all plants are safe to consume in their natural form, even if they have important medicinal value.
“The difference between safe and toxic comes down to dosage,” said William Wilson, one of Laskey’s student helpers from USJ. He is a second-year pharmacy student, along with Ornesha Watson, Laskey’s other student helper. They both work with the garden to keep it weeded and watered and they give information tours.
Watson said she first got involved when she gained an interest in finding out where the drugs pharmacy students work with every day in class come from. After Watson and Wilson saw a presentation Laskey gave, they both volunteered to help with the medicinal garden.
Wilson stressed the importance of bridging the gap between natural and modern medicine, especially since some people take dangerous risks when they grow these kinds of plants on their own. “It really matters how you dose it, some of these plants are very toxic,” warned Wilson.
They both love the involvement with the community the garden provides, whether it be educating people on why modern medicine is important and how it does actually contain naturally-derived products, or just people asking questions about one medication or plant with another. “They get to see us outside of our white coats, and I think it makes people more comfortable with asking questions,” said Watson.
Laskey said this education is the main purpose of the garden, and he wants to show how medicines go from a plant to a pill in a bottle.
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