Rich pickings

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Carolyn O'Grady investigates a new website about plants from around the world that enrich our national culture

What do rice, tea, curry, mango, hemp, henna, cotton and garlic have in common? They are all plants or derive from plants and all of them come from south Asia - and they are now the main ingredients of a new website which seeks to explore the links between Britain and Asia through plants.

Launched by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Culture Online (part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) last month, Plant Cultures is a growing online treasury and looks set to supply a wealth of cross-curricular resources for schools.

"This project recognises how important plants are to our culture - from our daily cuppa and the sugar to go in it, and the ingredients of curry, our favourite national dish - to the place we worship, the colour of our jeans - and, for some of us, our hair," says Professor Monique Simmonds, Kew science co-ordinator. "We hope it will be an inspiration for people of all ages, and especially for British Asians, to get excited about plants and their place in our lives."

Kew's education officer Louise Cross says: "We want to give teachers really useful material with which they can make connections between plants and everyday life."

The website promotes an interactive and cross-curricular approach from key stage 2 to A-level and particularly strong links could be made to citizenship, art, geography and education for sustainability. KS2 activities and project ideas include how to grow some of the 25 species of plant featured on the website in your school, recipes and projects on family and religious events that involve plants. For older children the emphasis will be on using the website in project work.

The huge array of images, including paintings, prints, drawings and artefacts drawn from the collection at Kew and other British museums and libraries, makes the website's resources particularly suitable for use with interactive whiteboards. Apart from the pages directly aimed at schools, teachers could harvest much from the rest of the website. Descriptions of plants and stories about them will be interwoven with pages on empires, crafts, gardens, and the use of herbs and spices in medicine. Recipes will highlight how plants used by different ethnic groups have enriched our national larder, and a section on trade will be particularly concerned with fair trade, conservation and sustainability - some of Kew Gardens foremost concerns.

There will also be a library of personal stories by people living in Bradford, among them Pinu Khan talking about how he grows plants, both exotic and more prosaic, on his allotment and Nussrat Mohammed describing how his family integrates food styles: "Chillies, cardamoms, garlic, ginger, turmeric are all part of my ethnicity I so my kids may eat their fish and chips, they may like their pizzas, but I've got to have these products in the home no matter what."

Did you know?

Tea is the most important non-alcoholic beverage in the world. More than three million tons are grown each year. Powdered ginger was so sought after in England in the 13th and 14th centuries that one pound in weight was equivalent to the price of a sheep. In 2003, India produced more than 289 million tons of sugar cane, Pakistan 52 million tons and Bangladesh 6 million tons.

* www.plantcultures.org.uk

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