Educator's Guide: Science: Medicinal Plants


"I do not believe I have ever seen greater misery from sickness" wrote Medical Inspector General Thomas F. Perly. Disease, not the bullet, was the number one killer in the Civil War. Of the 620,000 deaths, more than half were from disease. Thousands died from scurvy, dysentery, typhoid, diphtheria and pneumonia. In the first year of the war, farm boys were suddenly exposed to measles and mumps. These "childhood" diseases were the number one killer in 1862. Antibiotics were far in the future, so the medical staff depended on nature to cure the ailments. Some were very effective, while others produced a "psychological cure." Even today we depend on nature for medicines. Penicillin is a mold, interferon comes from the bark of the North Pacific Yew and the cure for one type of leukemia comes from a periwinkle found in Madagascar.


Start the activity by asking your students to describe ways in which plants are important to people. List their answers on the chalkboard. Make a set of medicinal plants trivia cards. Pass out a copy of the plant pictures and the descriptions. Have the students color the pictures, cut them out and paste them to index cards. Have the students cut out the descriptions and glue them to index cards. Make | four cards labeled WILD. Place all the cards in a I large paper bag. Divide the class into two teams and explain that the object is to be the first team to collect at least five sets of medicinal plant cards. Put a list of the plants on the chalk board. Have each team appoint a spokesperson. Ask each team a different trivia question from the activity list. Team members can discuss the question, but the answer must come from the spokesperson. There is no penalty for missing a question but the other team gets a chance to answer it. If they give a correct answer the team draws one card from the bag. A "WILD" card can replace one of the drawings or descriptions.

Classroom Activities:

  • Art
  • Science


  • K - 12


Students will learn how important plants were to doctors in the Civil War. Students in grades K - 3 can simply color the plants and take a walk at the park or around the school, when the various plants are blooming. The teacher can explain to them how they were used in the Civil War.


Copy of the medicinal plants activity sheets, index cards, crayons or markers, glue, scissors, large grocery bag.

Medicinal Plants Activity Sheets:

CAUTION: Do not sample any of the plants, many are poisonous!!

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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