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Austin Jewish Academy Students Learn about Herbs in ABC Gardens
Two groups of first- and second-grade students from the Austin Jewish Academy at the Dell Jewish Community Campus visited ABC in October to tour the gardens and learn about medicinal herbs from ABC education coordinator Gayle Engels.

Each group was made up of 18 students and four adults who learned some uses of medicinal plants and how to identify them. The lessons focused specifically on herbal teas and aromatherapy, including essential oils such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). The students learned about plants they knew from their home gardens, but had not known were medicinal, and about many new herbs they could use for both medicinal and other practical purposes.

Using plants from the demonstration gardens, Engels made some teas from peppermint (Mentha piperita), a good herb for settling the stomach, and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), which is calming and relaxing. She showed the groups how to sweeten the teas using stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) extract as a non-caloric sugar substitute. The students greatly enjoyed the teas, according to Engels, and most of them tasted both varieties and asked for seconds.

Teas were not the only things the young visitors were interested in tasting, though. Engels said the naturally curious kids wanted to taste or eat almost every plant in the gardens. Though happy with their enthusiasm, Engels stressed that they should not eat anything they find in a garden without asking the appropriate adult first. She taught the students which plants are proper for consumption and which are not. It gave an opportunity for a lesson in garden safety and the proper care of plants as well as oneself through the use of medicinal herbs.

The day was a rewarding experience according to Engels, who felt the children truly learned something about herbs and their applications.

"I think the kids really had their horizons expanded," she said. "They learned a lot and seemed to have a good time doing it."

–Jon Lucksinger