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Medicinal herb garden

In 1892, the University of Minnesota hired an energetic and opinionated 25-year-old named Frederick John Wulling to be the founding dean of the brand new College of Pharmacy. The U's Medical School balked at the college's inclusion as a place of real scientific endeavor.

But Wulling knew the value of his profession and had two stipulations for accepting the deanship--the promise of a four-year course of study for the pharmacy degree (finally implemented in 1927) and a medicinal plant garden. Seventy percent of the drugs at the time came from plants, but those plants were delivered to pharmacists bound in bundles, as powders, or tinctures. Wulling was asking his students to get their hands dirty by planting and harvesting the plants themselves and thus know them and their properties more intimately.

Unable to get an agreement for an on-campus garden for his students, Wulling went ahead and planted one in his own backyard at 3305 2nd Ave. S. After two years of maintaining and funding it himself, he gave the regents an ultimatum--give him more money for lab equipment and a proper medicinal plant garden or he was leaving. The regents met his request. Wulling toured medicinal plant gardens in Europe and came back to establish, in 1911, what would be one of the nation's best.

Where you can now watch modern dance, listen to jazz, or catch the latest music sensation, stood Dean Wulling's garden. Northrop Auditorium on the Twin Cities campus occupies the spot where 15,000-25,000 plants of 492 species flourished as a living laboratory for pharmacy students.

Nearby, the College of Pharmacy built a lovely ornamental, yet sophisticated plant house with drying ovens, a drug milling system, an aquarium for aquatic plants, and its own heated tunnel connecting the plant house to the pharmacy building.

Wulling's respect for and curiosity about plants and their potential continues in the work of many University researchers. Among them are Zigang Dong, director of the U's Hormel Institute, and Joel Slaton, assistant professor of urologic surgery.

Dong is using a five-year $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the effectiveness of tea in preventing cancer. Evidence from epidemiological and experimental studies, including data from Dong's group, indicates that compounds derived from tea have a strong inhibitory effect on cancer development with few side effects.

In 2004, the National Institute of Health (NIH) gave the Center for Spirituality and Healing a $2.3 million grant to study whether taking Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) extract can boost and maintain the body's immune response following radiation therapy to treat breast cancer. Slaton and fellow researchers will measure if the tumors shrink and if the women experience less fatigue and a better quality of life after taking the extract. While the clinical trial involves breast cancer, the results may have implications for prostate cancer patients as well.