Plants as a Common Denominator

Across continents and cultures, the Roots to Healing exhibit highlights plant versatility

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

If you climb the three flights of marble stairs to the top floor of Northrop Auditorium, you will come across a quiet, brightly lit gallery, and your footsteps will echo on the stone floor. This hall is home to the College of Biological Sciences Conservatory’s Roots to Healing exhibit. The exhibition calls attention to the importance of plants in our everyday lives. As our food sources, oxygen suppliers, and means of restoring both physical and mental health, plants touch almost every aspect of our lives. Younger generations have an increasing interest in plant-based healing and health due to its natural, holistic image, and Roots to Healing aims to show that Minnesota is poised to be a leader in this field.

Covering the sparkling white walls of the gallery are large graphics, photos, and drawings that are categorized by plant biome. From the tropical to the temperate to the arid, there are over 52,000 medicinal plant species, but Roots to Healing focuses on just a handful. Minnesota favorites milkweed and lady slipper, and the crowd-pleasing cannabis, are easily recognizable to even the most botanically illiterate. There are also plants that many would not expect to have medicinal uses, such as the prickly pear cactus, which can alleviate high cholesterol, that has its roots in Mexican and Aztec cultures, and bitter melon, which aids psoriasis and liver disease, a plant that maintains a strong connection to Hmong culture. Remedies made from these plants here in Minnesota by these historically underrepresented communities are displayed alongside the information.

On the wall opposite the plants is an imposing indigenous medicine wheel on display from the Oglala/Brute Lakotah Nation, as well as multimedia art from Andrea Carlson, an artist with Anishinaabe and Scandinavian heritage. The pieces are a beautiful contrast to the more technical information displayed parallel to the art. The exhibit comes full circle in demonstrating how plants help us physically, mentally, spiritually, and artistically, across many cultures.

The Roots to Healing exhibit is open during Northrop building hours through Dec. 31.