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Life in the slow lane
A MODEST university herb garden started by volunteers has become a magnet for all sorts of people from all over the world - including cancer patients, medical researchers, organic food enthusiasts and celebrity chefs such as Mads Refslund of the famous Acme restaurant in New York.
The unassuming garden in Nanyang Technological University grows 300 types of herbs over two acres (or approximately 8,000 sqm) of sloping land at the edge of the university. Simply called the NTU Community Herb Garden, it has given out for free many types of medicinal herbs to more than 3,000 patients and visitors since 2009.
Danny Teo, deputy director of NTU development office in charge of the garden, says: "Many patients come to us to look for natural remedies for their ailments. Some talk about pains that don't go away, others can't sleep. When they take these herbs, it seems to alleviate their symptoms."
Some patients, he says, turn to these natural remedies because they believe these are less harmful to their bodies. Others take it because they cannot afford costly hospital medication. But, whatever the reason, Mr Teo and his team of gardener and volunteers do it all for charity - that is why there is no charge for obtaining herbs from the garden if permission is granted.
"Our reputation has grown. Now we have datuks from Malaysia, ibus from Indonesia and even people from China flying in just to get the herbs from us. Some come straight from the airport, and then go right back to the airport to fly to their respective countries. The herbs have to be taken fresh, and they're usually consumable for about three weeks after they are plucked." Among the popular herbs is the Sabah snake grass (scientifically named "clinacanthus") which is believed to reduce cancer markers and post-chemotherapy pain. Also in demand is a South African leaf (its correct name is still being decided on by botanists) which has various properties to control blood pressure and cholesterol.
Though the university undertakes much of the costs of maintaining the garden, it recently established the NTU Community Herb Garden Endowment Fund to seek further financial support from the public.
Last year, celebrity chef Refslund of Acme and chef David Pynt of Burnt Ends visited the garden together to forage for lesser-known herbs and plants to include in their dishes. Ordinary food enthusiasts have also dropped by for the same reason.
Mr Teo says: "A lot of people come here and are amazed at the wide variety of herbs that grow well here. We let them try what they want, and, in exchange, some of them make a donation. We hope more people will discover the herbal remedies that nature has provided."
To find out more about or donate to the garden, e-mail email@example.com