People who believe in the benefits of Chinese herbs do not have to go to some sacred peak in China to pick them. They can obtain them for free right here in Singapore.
A herb garden, about the size of two football fields, at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has been providing free herbs since 2009 to more than 3,000 visitors, including people with cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The NTU Community Herb Garden, near the university's Jalan Bahar entrance, is home to more than 300 species of Chinese herbs with medicinal properties which are consumed to prevent or remedy illnesses. The Sabah snake grass, or Clinacanthus nutans, for instance, is the most popular herb in the garden as it is believed to reduce cancer markers which indicate the presence of cancer.
Another herb is the black face general, or Strobilanthes crispus, which is said to help with kidney problems and diabetes.
The garden not only attracts butterflies due to its pesticide-free environment, but also visitors from all over the world. People can obtain the herbs for free if permission is granted. They come from countries such as Indonesia and Japan. Two celebrity chefs from New York also visited two years ago to obtain hard- to-get herbs for their dishes.
The "constant gardener" here is Mr Ng Kim Chuan, 64, who started the garden seven years ago and is still tending it from sunrise to sunset every day. He is helped by three contract workers and a few student volunteers.
ATTRACTING THE YOUNG
I hope it will become a place for public education about the benefits of Chinese herbology. Financial constraints and manpower are still challenges, but the more people know about it, the more support we will get.
MR NG KIM CHUAN, on his vision for the NTU herb garden.
Mr Ng is a research assistant at NTU's School of Biological Scien- ces, which uses the herbs harvested from the garden for research.
He said he does not have any formal background in traditional Chinese medicine or gardening but started the garden out of interest.
In 2001, he lost his brother to lymphoma, a cancer affecting the immune system.
Since then, Mr Ng has been reading widely about the health benefits of Chinese herbs. He has heard success stories from friends who had consumed the herbs.
"I cannot declare that these herbs can cure diseases," he said, although he takes them himself.
"The main motive was to grow them for health benefits rather than as medication."
The garden, which had sourced its herbs from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, is sustained by an endowment fund and relies entirely on the goodwill of donors to maintain operations.
Professor Zhao Yan, a senior lecturer at NTU's School of Biological Sciences, said: "Chinese herbs may help older cancer patients who are not suitable for chemotherapy, or improve the health of patients post-operation."
But patients should consult their oncologist to find out the best option for treatment, he added.
Mr Ng said he plans to beautify the garden to attract the young. "I hope it will become a place for public education about the benefits of Chinese herbology. Financial constraints and manpower are still challenges, but the more people know about it, the more support we will get."