The botanical garden has always been linked with the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. It first aim was to provide herbs for medical use. Later, the gardens became used for study purposes and they hosted an extensive collection of ornamental plants, cultivated plants that could possibly be used for economic purposes and rare plants. Despite the differentiating in use, in popular language the garden is still called the Dutch equivalent for "herbgarden" (Kruidtuin).
Nowadays the Botanical Garden is maintained by the municipality of Leuven. In contrast with many other botanical gardens, this garden has free access and is used extensively by tourists and citizens alike. The garden functions sometimes as a place of exhibition for contemporary art.