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Since 2002, Windward Community College students have been researching traditional medicines derived from natural sources.

Windward students pick kī nehe, also known as Spanish needle, from the college’s medicinal garden. The students research plants like kī nehe to determine their medicinal and nutritional values, including things like vitamin content, explains Windward CC botany and microbiology professor Ingelia White, “Once we know the vitamin content of that plant, the students will be able to make food pharmacy.”

Food pharmacy is the next step where students create recipes and different products from plants, like kī nehe.

“It is really high in antioxidants,” said Windward CC student Michael Dennis. “We make a number of products out of the extracts and the powder that you grind with it. You can make tea, tooth powder, all kinds of candy, chocolate dipped candy, all kinds of lollipops and soap.”

The student laboratory research findings and recipes for meals and bioproducts for each plant are published in a series of booklets sold by the college.

This scientific process is called ethnopharmacognosy and is one of the two, plant-related fields that make up a unique program called agripharmatech, developed and run by White at Windward Community College.

The second is plant biotechnology—developing and improving plant production by making crops more nutritious and disease resistant and less dependent on pesticides.

Students in Windward Community College’s agripharmatech program create products from plants like this tea made from kī nehe.

Using state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, students work with orchids to learn how to identify plants, perform tissue cultures, create clones and perform gene transformations.

The work done by Windward agripharmatech students has been recognized around the world.

“My research was on gene transformation of an orchid to provide resistance to cymbidium mosaic virus,” said Nyan Stillwell, an agripharmatech graduate. Stillwell presented his work at the Fourth Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids in Ecuador.

The 30-credit, two-track program takes two to three semesters to complete and is an excellent foundation for a four-year or graduate level degree.

White says she has graduates who go on to pharmacy school. “And I have students who become medical doctors, and I have students who, are not only horticulturists and ethnobotonists, but also nurses.”

Some students who complete the program have gone straight to work in the agricultural industry.

“It is a chance for people to come and do something that is going to set them apart when they are looking for a job,” said Heather McCafferty, a Windward botany instructor.

Students take either the biotechnology track or the ethnopharmacognosy track, or both, to earn a certificate of achievement in agripharmatech.

“It’s hands on. We make the products, we grow the products, we do the extractions, we do all the work, we do the studies,” said Dennis.

“It’s exposed me to all kinds of new ways to view plants,” said Stillwell. “It’s provided me with the foundation I need.”

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