Native American Medicine Gardens

University of Minnesota's Native American Medicine GardensUniversity of Minnesota Native American Medicine Gardens

The UMN Native American Medicine Gardens are lovingly tended by a network of Native and non-Native individuals, families and organizations. We are honored to have the strong support of the Department of Equity & Diversity.-Wopila

To educate about food sovereignty our indigenous ways of food production, our culture and history

Established in 2003 by Dr. Barbara Graham, Sicangu Lakota Director of the (then) Woodlands Wisdom Confederation, the 4,187 square foot Medicine Gardens were originally intended to bring awareness to links between nutrition and health among Indian people related to health disparities. The Medicine Gardens provide a natural, organic, welcoming, and experiential setting for Native students, staff, faculty and community members to learn about the importance of integrating Native culture into all aspects of life, including food, health, and food sovereignty.

Medicine Wheel Garden:
In 2005, Francis Bettelyoun, Native Master Gardener and Landscape Designer, was hired to oversee the coordination and education in the Medicine Gardens. Three quarters of the first plot, now known as the Medicine Wheel Garden, was formed in the shape of a medicine wheel, which is a traditional, Indigenous tool often used for educational purposes. The medicine wheel is anchored by four plants, native to the area, which sustained Indigenous people. These include a Wild Plum tree and Chokecherry, Buffalo Berry, and Black Currant bushes. Surrounding the defined medicine wheel, are sage and sweet grass, used in traditional ceremonies. In the four quadrants of the medicine wheel itself, grow yucca, tobacco and milkweed. Other traditional plants are continually added. Strawberries, rhubarb, and other berries are grown in the other quarter of the plot, adjacent to the Medicine Garden.

East and South Gardens:
A second plot, measuring 7,424 square feet, added in 2005, is called the East Garden. The East Garden, used for vegetable production until 2009, is being converted to a perennial and herb garden with walking paths. This will be used for educating about perennial plants, traditional uses, and Indigenous cultures, since these sustained Plains and Woodlands people of this area. The northern portion of the East Garden will be used as an educational plot to showcase different types of gardening techniques such as square foot gardening, three sisters, companion plantings, worm composting, mulching and watering.

In 2007, a third plot of 6,360 square feet was added, bringing total square footage of the Medicine Gardens to 17,971, or .41 acres. This South Garden, tended by student and community volunteers, is used primarily for vegetable production. On average, the East and South Gardens have produced almost two tons of food each year. While some of the produce is shared among volunteer gardeners, most is donated to local Native food shelves and retirees.

In 2012, the East and South plot will no longer be used. We will only be taking care of the Medicine Wheel garden.

These gardens are organic and use only local materials that aid in water retention, weed and pest control, and soil nourishment.

In 2005, UMN greenhouse space was given to the Medicine Gardens and continues to be used for seed propagation.

Advisory Council:
Input to the Medicine Gardens is given by a group of Native American traditional gardeners, who comprise its Advisory Council. Advisory Council members represent the Sicangu Lakota, Ihanktonwan Nakota, Oglala Lakota, Miami, Odawa, and Eastern Canadian Metis.

Just as the garden has grown, so have the pool of volunteers who make this garden possible. The first year, approximately a dozen Native language students, ages 3 to 63, planned, planted and tended the original plot. In 2009, volunteerism expanded to 122 Native and non-Native individuals. Volunteers are needed from March through October, in the greenhouse and in the Medicine Gardens.


Contact Information:
The Medicine Garden project welcomes hundreds of interested individuals and groups each summer, Native and non-Native alike, from infants to elders. If you would like more information, want to schedule a visit or inquire about volunteer opportunities, contact Francis Bettelyoun at: 605-201-7576 or or or