Cotton To Curry - Kew Gardens Puts Asian Plant Culture Online

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 15 February 2005
shows a woman in a vast field of tea plants picking leaves

...from the tea plantations of south Asia..

A new government-funded project dedicated to lifting the lid on some of the UK’s favourite plants and spices was launched on February 15 by Kew Gardens.

Plant Cultures is a new online archive from the Royal Botanic Gardens and Culture Online that explores the real story behind the South Asian plants that have transformed British life.

Altogether 25 South Asian plants, including curry leaf, henna, indigo, marigold and tea provide the catalyst to bring people and plants together whilst offering an insight into the world of Asian life and culture.

“The Internet is powerful resource and Plant Cultures, commissioned by Culture Online, shows how technology can be used to bring people together to share their knowledge and personal stories,” said Arts Minister Estelle Morris.

The website is allied to an extensive outreach programme that encourages people to share their personal stories, recipes, images and folklore. Entertaining personal stories from the allotment to the medicine chest are presented alongside fascinating facts about plants and rarely seen images.

Shows a photo of an Asian man in blue overalls on an allotment. stories from the allotments of Britain...

“We hope that plant cultures 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,” said Professor Monique Simmonds, Kew science co-ordinator. “We use plants in our everyday life without a second thought. This project recognises just how important they are to our culture”

Flamboyant chef Keith Floyd, author Vicky Bhogal and BBC’s Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq are among some of the personalities supporting the initiative by offering their own top tips and personal stories.

“Britain’s multicultural society has enriched our national larder,” offered celebrity chef Keith Floyd. “I have cooked around the world and know the joys of tamarind, holy basil, lotus and marigold but it wasn’t until I visited India that I discovered the aromatic joys of the curry leaf.”

shows a box of ginger root

Ginger - one of the 25 plants specially chosen for star treatment on the site.

The website promises to give visitors the inside story of these magical ingredients whilst inspiration to get involved is provided by a series of events, workshops, garden visits and trails. They have been put together by various community partners together with environmental projects in Leicester, London, Liverpool and Bradford.

A vast library of prints, paintings, drawings and artefacts are also included. Drawn from the collections at Kew Library, the British Library, the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum, many of them are digitally available for the first time.

Further themed sections explain the cultural relevance of plants in our history, religion, health and cookery, while tips for teachers support more formal national curriculum links.

shows a botanical drawing of a coconut plant.

The website also features thousands of documents such as this botanical drawing of a coconut plant.

Bend It Like Beckham Director, Gurinder Chadha, has also supported the website: “I cook with so many of the plants in the ‘25 list’ and like most Indians cannot live without chillies,” she said. “I hope this new project will bring in people of all ages and all cultures to this great British family tradition.”

Plant Cultures can be accessed at
The project was commissioned by Culture Online, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

All pictures courtesy Plant Cultures/Kew Gardens

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