LAWRENCE — The plants of Kansas could become medicine.
The Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden, on five acres north of Lawrence, is part of a research program at the University of Kansas that will grow and harvest native plants so they can be tested to see if they contain medicinal compounds suitable for natural remedies, cosmetics, food or other applications.
"There's a great need in the world for natural antioxidants, food, cosmetics or preservatives," said Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey and a faculty member in the environmental studies program at the university. "If we can find some antioxidants from native plants, we can develop them into a commercial product that would be great for the Kansas economy."
The garden is part of a research program funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from Heartland Plant Innovations Inc., a private, for-profit organization created to receive funding from the Kansas Bioscience Authority. The program focuses on two areas: botany and chemistry.
"The goal is to study the plants of Kansas, with the ultimate goal of developing some economic product to the state," said Barbara Timmermann, chair of the university's Department of Medicinal Chemistry.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that so far, 20 plant species have been planted in the garden.
Kindscher said he and his team began collecting native plants, mainly from southwest Kansas, last fall and have developed a list of more than 400 species for potential testing.
Southwest Kansas is a prime collection site because many of the plants have been stressed by drought, he said. When stressed, a plant may react by producing chemical compounds to ward off infection or parasites or enhance reproduction. Those chemical compounds also could have medicinal benefits for humans and animals.
Kindscher said they collect the same plants at the same sites at different times of the day and seasons to see how climate affects their medicinal compounds. They also collect the same species from several locations.