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Years ago, I went on a tour of China with my parents. Of the many impressive sites I witnessed, one still stands out — the pharmacy. Filled floor-to-ceiling with fresh and dried herbs, pharmacies in China have a far different look than those in the United States. I was reminded of them when I found myself in the medicinal garden on a recent visit to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens at the University of Michigan. 

To be clear, I am no doctor. However, as October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am motivated to share a few herbs whose historical, cultural and traditional use have long been researched to treat this and other cancers.

Garlic (Allium sativum): Known as the “super bulb,” this perennial plant has been used for thousands of years internally and externally to develop immunity to cancer. The University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens lists garlic as one of its “cancer plants,” saying studies suggest that increased consumption of garlic can decrease risk of developing colorectal and other stomach cancers. 

Periwinkle (Vinca minor): With Halloween on the horizon, periwinkle is a plant that is supposed to have powers against witches, defeat evil and protect the household from wicked spirits. But the Matthaei Botanical Gardens lists research that also suggests it may be beneficial in the treatment against keeping another goblin called cancer out. Several vinca alkaloid derivatives, including vincristine and vinblastine, have demonstrated anti-cancer activity. 

Green tea (Camellia sinensis): A plant originally from East Asia, the Matthaei Gardens says research shows women who regularly consume black or green tea have a significantly lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. 

Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia): As its name “Pacific” suggests, this plant is found in western parts of America. A complex molecule found in all parts of yew has led to the development of the prescription drug Taxol, which is used for treating advanced ovarian cancer. According to the Food and Drug Administration, yew has been found effective in chemotherapy for both ovarian and breast cancer.

Abra Lee is a horticulturist extraordinaire and unapologetically passionate about all things gardening. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @conquerthesoil. 

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