Kavita Shukla, age 16, has recently received a Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship—that was inspired while visiting her grandmother in Bhopal, India, where tap water teems with bacteria. One day, after Shukla swallowed some water while brushing her teeth, her grandmother gave her fenugreek—an herb long used in Indian cooking and medicine. Shukla didn’t get sick and she began to wonder whether the herb could really protect against bacteria. Soon, the Shukla family’s refrigerator was full of berries, some rotting, others remaining remarkably fresh.

Now, after two years of experiments, Shukla has shown that paper treated with fenugreek does indeed preserve fruits and vegetables for weeks.

No one knows the why or how of fenugreek’s preservative properties, but the apprenticeship should help her find out. Pictures here.