At the Brera Botanical Garden, we collect various species that have characterized the development of civilization over time and still today constitute a huge resource available to humankind and immediately usable.
The Garden’s long tradition of cultivating medicinal plants dating back to the end of the 18th century for educational purposes, continues today with a rich collection where species are classified according to their therapeutic effect on a specific part of the human body. Besides the most common species of our flora, such as sage, mint, mallow or hyssop, you can find native plants from various parts of the world, such as Centella asiatica and Curcuma longa from Asia, Grindelia robusta and the various species of echinacea from America and the castor bean (Ricinus communis) of African origin.
The practice of extracting colours from plants, which is well-known and widespread, has been implemented for millennia in several fields: textiles, art, cosmetics and food. The Garden offers an overview of the most commonly used dyeing plants such as ford (Isatis tinctoria), whose leaves give a blue dye, domestic madder (Rubia tinctorum) which gives a red dye, dyers’ chamomile (Cota tinctoria) and Bidens tinctoria that give a yellow-orange dye or walnut whose fruit, containing tannins, can dye hair and even fabrics in a particular shade of brown.
Among the Garden’s useful plants, there are also some that produce textile and paper fibres. For example, you can find cotton (Gossypium herbaceum) and flax (Linum usitatissimum), the most widespread and used from the past. There is also nettle (Urtica dioica) which by the 1990s had become a valid alternative to the first two. Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), which in late spring attracts a lot of visitors to see its intense yellow scented flowers, provides high quality fibres used for making carpets, bags or ropes. There is also, Edgeworthia chrysantha, whose wood is hand-laid in China to produce a very valuable sort of paper.
One flowerbed in the Garden is devoted to the cultivation of food plants which provide basic nourishment for humans. They are all herbaceous species: cereals, vegetables, leguminous plants, oil plants, fodder. A small selection of each category is displayed seasonally: wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelled, rice… so-called cereals which provide the main source of our food, but also amaranth, soy, sunflower, chillies and tomatoes … It is therefore possible to identify the different botanical characteristics and the great variety of shapes and colors, and to carry out activities aimed at giving the visitor a better understanding of the area of origin and diffusion, the production and the use of crops.