Seasonal Gardening: A Plant Cures AIDS, Used Tea Bags and Saltwater Tomatoes

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening news briefs on a plant that may cure AIDS, using your used tea bags helps stimulate plant-growth and growing better tomatoes by watering with diluted seawater.

| September/October 1988

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    The seeds from a Moreton Bay chestnut used in research to cure AIDS.
    PHOTO: AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE/USDA

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The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Seasonal Gardening: A Plant Cures AIDS, Used Tea Bags and Saltwater Tomatoes

THE ONGOING SEARCH FOR AN anti-AIDS drug leads scientists down some bizarre trails. One current path of research involves an Australian rain forest tree, the Moreton Bay chestnut. Laboratory tests at the National Cancer Institute show that castanospermine, a chemical extracted from the tree's seeds, prevents the AIDS virus from killing healthy cells.

At the same time, Dr. James A. Duke, a botanist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, is trying to raise the exotic chestnut (it's actually a legume) as an ornamental houseplant. "The plant looks somewhat like the popular Benjamin fig except the leaves are slightly larger and glossier," Duke says. It does well under fluorescent lights, needs little maintenance and will grow about six feet high in a container. (It can tower over 100 feet in its native environment.)

Assuming that both the NCI anti-AIDS testing and Dr. Duke's container-training efforts continue to go well, will home gardeners start raising AIDS remedies on their windowsills? Will there be a rush for Moreton Bay seeds, similar to the peach pit collecting craze back when Laetrile was touted as a cancer cure? Not likely, according to Duke. "The seed should not be chewed because it contains toxins in its natural state. The castanospermine is extracted by water and purified with chromatography."



Oh, well. Still, you have to admit that having the source of a possible anti-AIDS drug posing graciously in your home would be a great conversation piece!

Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs

Try tea and see. Don't throw out used tea bags-tear them open and spread the contents around garden plants! Tea leaves contain triacontanol and, according to Indian chemists, very tiny amounts of this potent plant-growth stimulator in the soil can produce significant increases in crop yields.

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