A Visit to Two Medicinal Herb Gardens

By Michael Pilarski, April 21 and 22. 2017

University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden
& Bastyr University Medicinal Herb Garden

On Friday, April 21, I had the pleasure to visit the University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden. It was the warmest day of the year so far for the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. Thousands of people were out enjoying the day, but I only saw one other person looking at the medicinal plants.

I made up a game for myself. Before I read the label, I looked at every plant and guessed what genus and species it was. This I proceeded to do for every label in the garden I could find. Last I heard there were over 500 species in the garden. It was (or is?) the largest medicinal herb botanical garden in the US.

I was amazed by how many species I didn’t recognize.  I’d estimate that I could guess correctly down to species for 25% and guess correctly as to genus for  another quarter of the species. Which would leave half that stumped me. (Many species hadn’t had leaf emergence yet, so I had to guess by the dried remains of last year.)

Compare that to the Bastyr Herb Garden (which I visited the next day) where I could instantly recognize most of the plant species. The few that stumped me were in the Chinese Herb section.  Bastyr has fewer species and focuses on the most commonly used herbs. The garden is well maintained and has some of the healthiest specimens of the species I have seen.  This year a fair amount of species were showing Nitrogen deficiency (or perhaps it was the late cool, wet spring).

Visiting these two gardens would be a treat for any herbalist or herb grower. Both gardens are open to the public 7 days a week. They are about a half-hour apart by car. Here are URLs to obtain directions.

University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden

The UW has on-campus parking. It can be reached by bus or foot.


Medicinal herb garden at UW, Seattle.

Bastyr University: You can take a self-guided tour of the Medicinal Herb Garden and Reflexology Path. You can also visit the library (one of the finest herb libraries in the US), the bookstore and eat in the cafeteria. You can get a free parking permit in the office, but short-term parking is not a problem.


Medicinal herb garden at Bastyr, Kenmore.

Here are some of the species that caught my eye at UW that I want to add to my collection.

Ligusticum hultenii and other L. species.

Silphium laciniatum. Compass Plant

Bunion bulbocastanum, Earth Chestnut

Scrophularia ningpoensus, Chinese figwort.

Cinnamomum camphora. Camphor Tree, Seeing this tree in Seattle surprised me since I know it as a widely naturalized weed tree on the Hawaiian Islands.

Aralia spinosa, Spikenard

Satureja thymbra. Thyme-leaved Savory

Ageratina occidentalis, Western Snakeroot.

Melia azaderach. China-Berry Tree. Also a widely naturalized weed tree on the Hawaiian Islands.

Asperula tinctoria, Dyers Woodruff

Vitex negundo. Here as a small tree. I only know the V. negundo incisa which is a shorter, multi-stemmed shrub.

Peucedanum cervari.

Teucrium flavum. Yellow Germander.

Parthenia integrifolia, Missouri Snakeroot.

Houttaynia cordata. A rhizomatous perennial that typically grows 9-15” tall and spreads indefinitely and often vigorously by rhizomes.

Bletilla striata. Chinese Ground Orchid. A robust spreading groundcover.

Saururus cernuus, Lizard’s Tail.

Desmanthus illinoensis. Illinois Bundleflower.

Camassia leichtlinii. Camas

Rhodiola rosea. Roseroot,

Menyanthes trifoliata. Buckbean, Bogbean.

Lycium chinense. Matrimony vine is an occasional weed in the Inland Northwest and I am going to start cataloging wildcrafting sites I come across. 

(I’d like to do a more thorough cataloging in the future).