Ozark Roots in the Ukraine

by Steven Foster |

Echinacea-Ukraine-web

What do the Ozarks and Ukraine have in common? Echinacea—a genus of nine species native to  central and eastern North America. Three species are used in commerce, one of which is the common Echinacea purpurea grown as a garden perennial, but it also occurs wild in and is native to the Ozarks. Echinacea purpurea root is the most commonly used herb in the Ukraine, both in terms of commercial production and as a home-grown medicinal herb.

In the 1980s I collected seed of wild-growing Echinacea in the Ozarks and in 1984 produced what was at that time the most comprehensive literature review on Echinacea. The work came to the attention of researchers at the Academy of Science of Ukraine. A steady flow of letters arrived from several scientists in Poltava, a city about 200 miles southeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Seed of wild-collected Echinacea purpurea from Izard and Stone counties in Arkansas was supplied to agronomists in Poltava. By the early 1990s, the progeny of that wild Ozark Echinacea purpurea was cultivated in the Ukraine on a large scale.

My correspondence with botanist Viktor Samorodov and agronomist Sergei Pospelov of the Botany Department, Academy of Science in Poltava, and Victoriya F. Pochernyayeva, professor of clinical pharmacology, with the Public Health Ministry of Ukraine, began a few months after April 26th, 1986, the date of the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union.  The Chernobyl disaster prompted scale-up of commercial cultivation of Echinacea after research by Dr. Pochernyayeva showed that extracts of Echinacea purpurea have a protective effect on free radical damage of organs and tissues exposed to ionizing radiation, a protective affect on the male reproductive system (from radiation exposure), and were useful in treatment of mouth and gums lesions (also associated with radiation exposure). In relatively short order they developed various preparations and modes of delivery. One of the flagship products was an Echinacea vodka.

In June of 1999, an International Echinacea Symposium, hosted by the American Herbal Products Association, was held in Kansas City. I helped arrange for my three Ukrainian colleagues to come to the symposium as featured presenters. Following the Symposium, they piled into my car and came back to my home in Fayetteville, Arkasas and spent a week in the Ozarks. My Ukrainian friends dubbed me “the king of Echinacea in Ukraine.” I trust they will survive the current crisis another chapter in Ukraine’s turbulent history.

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Steven Foster

Describing her first visit with Steven Foster in 1977, Harvard University botanist, Dr. Shiu Ying Hu (1908-2012), wrote, “Our conversation reminded me of something that Confucius said two thousand years ago. ‘In any company of three persons, there must be one who can be my teacher’. . . I found in Steven Foster a teacher who could share a profound knowledge of economic botany, particularly in the cultivation and uses of herbs.” In 1974, at age 17, Steven Foster, began his career at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker Community Herb Department —America's oldest herb business, dating to 1799. There he established three acres of production gardens and managed 1700 acres for the commercial harvest of botanicals. For forty-three years, Steven has photographed and researched herbs from the Amazon rainforest to the highlands of Vietnam. Foster has over 900 photo-illustrated articles published in a wide range of media. Steven also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council, and a Contributing Editor to the organization's journal, HerbalGram. Steven is the author, co-author and photographer of eighteen books, including the NEW 2014 Third Edition of A Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America (with James A. Duke), along with National Geographic’s Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs (2010), and A Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine (2006, with Rebecca Johnson), awarded a 2007 New York Public Library “Best of Reference.” He is senior author of three other Peterson Field Guides, including A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs (with Dr. James A. Duke), 1st & 2nd editions, 1990, 2000; A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs with Dr. Christopher Hobbs, (2002); and A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants of North America (with Roger Caras, 1995). Other titles include Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West (with Prof. Yue Chongxi, 1992); Herbal Renaissance (1994); among others. Foster makes his home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.