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Eagle Hill Institute in Maine with Steven Foster

Steven_Foster

Join me 16-22 June 2019 at the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine, located way Downeast, up the beautiful Maine coast in America’s most eastern county, Washington County. The Eagle Hill Institute (formerly the Humbolt Research Institute) offers fascinating Natural History Science Seminars, and this is one in that series. Sign-up and join me in returning to my Maine roots!

General Registration Information at this link.(Workshop fee: $495; Lodging: $55-$195; Meal plans: $94-$278 – fees subject to change—check the Eagle Hill website for pricing).

Find registration form here.

Eagle Hill Institute

The Eagle History Institute setting is located on the densely forested summit of Eagle Hill, the highest part of Dyer Point, the peninsula between the Schoodic Point section of Acadia National Park and Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. Trails through its boreal forest lead from the summit of Eagle Hill to a number of overlooks offering inspirational views of the Maine coast, with its rocky and evergreen-lined shore and its many islands, bays, and peninsulas. Other trails are just a short distance to Dyer Bay and a blueberry field” — from Eagle Hill Institute website. 59 Eagle Hill Road, P.O. Box 9, Steuben, ME 04680 |Phone: 207.546.2821, Fax: 207.546.3042, [email protected]

Ecological Habitats at Eagle Hill

The campus features residential accommodations, classrooms facilities, dining facility, the extensive Eagle Hill Library with a specialized natural history collection, with on-line access to several thousand journals. With wi-fi available throughout the campus, the internet becomes an ocean of information via Eagle Hill’s high-speed connection.

Eagle Hill is the highest point on one of a series of peninsulas that extend into the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of eastern Maine. To the immediate west is the Schoodic Point section of Acadia National Park and to the immediate east is Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. The Institute lies within a coastal fringe of northern boreal forest with mostly spruce and fir and a mix of maples, birches, and other species. Most of the coastal area is sparsely inhabited. To the north, the land is used for logging but is still essentially wilderness. An unusually rich variety of habitats can be found within a short distance of the station: many different marine habitats as well as marshes, fens, bogs and heaths, blueberry barrens, lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, and extensive forested lands. — From Eagle Hill Institute website The Ecological Habitats in the Vicinity of Eagle Hill.

Whether you’re a seasoned natural history professional or curious outdoor enthusiast, a working knowledge of medicinal plants promises new appreciation of how humans relate to plants. The use of plants for health purposes has preoccupied humankind for millennia, across all cultures and every conceivable geographic region and landscape. Better known for lobsters than ginseng, Maine is home to a hidden treasure trove of pharmacologically active, useful and fascinating plants, each with a story all their own. We will emphasize field identification, tradition and current scientific understanding of regional medicinal plants (and beyond), both in the classroom and the field, stopping along the way for a photograph or two.

Anemone americana, Hepatica americana, Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa, roundlobed hepatica, round-lobed liverleaf. The flowers range from white, to pale or deep blue or violet. Noted as a cough medicine about 1830, it was an obscure medicinal plant until the 1880s when patent medicines promising to treat liver disease and purify the blood created an immediate demand. So great in fact, that in 1880, a demand for over 212.5 tons of the herb was created. It is a lovely, early wildflower in the eastern deciduous forest.

Medicinal Plants: Traditions and Contemporary Perspectives

The Diversity of Medicinal Plant Exploration

In any given temperate flora, upwards of 25 percent of vascular plants can be documented as medicinal plants and many have a rational scientific basis for their traditional use. Maine has a flora of about 2,100 species of vascular plants (compare that to 940± bird species for North America, north of Mexico). About a third of the Maine flora is represented by non-native species. Theoretically upwards of 500 species could be included in the total number of medicinal plants in Maine.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis attracted much attention by the early nineteenth century medical community. Externally, the dried roots was used as a wash to treat “ill-conditioned ulcers.” It was considered to be an emetic and cathartic. Even a small dose of the fresh root was well-known to produce symptoms such as heart-burn, nausea, faintness, vertigo, diminished vision, and vomiting. This early-blooming poppy family member contains benzophenanthridine alkaloids, including sanguinarine.

Medicinal plant research by its very nature is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. It includes numerous academic disciplines such as taxonomy, genetics, biogeography, ethnobotany, history, classic field systematics, phytochemistry, emerging analytical fields such as metabolomics, and broad-ranging disciplines encompassing pharmacology and medicine. Whether a member of an uncontacted Amazonian indigenous group or a patient undergoing leading-edge chemotherapy treatments, medicinal plants touch our daily lives in surprising ways.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. One of the most important American medicinal plants throughout history and today. Valued as a nonprescription drug for use in external analgesic and skin protectant products, and as an external anorectal, primarily for symptomatic relief of hemorrhoids, irritation, minor pain, and itching. Available wherever over-the-counter drugs are sold.

Focus on the Plants Around Us

Exploring medicinal plants in a particular locale, such as Washington County, Maine, affords use the opportunity to focus in on the local flora and immerse into a microcosm of discovery.

Sambucus canadensis, Sambucus nigra var. canadensis, elderflower, elder, common elder, American elder, elderberry

To understand modern use of medicinal plants, the past blends with the present. Our survey begins with the human experience of discovery. In the last 100 years, American society became separated from day-to-day knowledge of plants as medicines. We can approach thid vast subject with with a sense of discovery and awe at the sheer volume of information available to us in the digitized twenty-first century. A word of caution, when it comes to authoritative information on herbal medicine “www” can stand for the “world wide wasteland” where anyone can “publish” anything without the benefit of editors, fact-checking or peer review. However, the internet is an extraordinary source of discovery for centuries of information on plants and their uses. One must learn how to sift through relevant resources, just as an herb harvester must learn how to garble recently harvested plant material to produce a raw material for use.

Prunus serotina, wild cherry, black cherry according to Foster and Duke’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, 3rd ed, 2014, the “Aromatic inner bark traditionally used in tea or syrup for coughs, fevers, colds, sore throats, diarrhea, lung ailments, bronchitis, pneumonia, inflammatory fever diseases, and dyspepsia. Useful for general debility with persistent cough.” All plant parts contain potentially toxic cyanide-related compounds.

A New Era of Discovery

Since the mid-1450s well over 130 million books have been published, many in the last 100 years. Any book published more than 100 years ago can reasonable be placed in the public domain, meaning that any copyright restrictions have expired. Through an extensive international effort, many of the world’s extraordinary libraries are digitizing their collections. To date over ten million books have been digitized.

Gerarde's Herball 1597 title page
John Gerarde’s 1597
The Herball of General History of Plants
Josselyn-J-1672-New-Englands-Rarities-Discovered
John Josselyn’s 1672
New England Rarities

Millions of books such as the important classic English herbals of the 16th and 17th centuries can be downloaded as portable pdfs. For example, it is known that the Pilgrims who landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 carried with them a copy Ram’s Little Dodeon—A briefe epitome of the new herbal or history of plants [collected from a Dutch herbal].  One of the first books to enumerate food and medicinal plants found in Maine is by John Josselyn (1630-1675)—New England Rarities Discovered: In Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of That Country published in 1672. You can buy an original from an antiquarian book dealer for about $17,500. Or you can download a pdf copy for free from www.biodiversitylibrary.org or from www.archive.org.

John Gerarde-1636-Herball

The new digital reality give us access to the world’s great libraries and rare books that heretofore required an appointment, credentials, and significant time in a rare book room in a major library. This creates the opportunity to discovery where a particular use for a plant may have originated. For example, a folk preventative and remedy for gout, passed down through generations, is eating copious amounts of wild strawberries in early summer. This is a serendipitous discovery of the founder of modern botanical and zoological taxonomy, Carlos Linnaeus (1707-1778) who suffered from a severe gout attack in 1749, and by chance ate a handful of wild strawberries which relieved his gout (as noted in his diary). Almost all of the published works of Linnaeus are now on-line as downloadable pdfs.

Blue Flag | Iris versicolor

Once we have a sense of traditional or historic use, modern print literature and database resources such as PubMed—the database of the National Library of Medicine, (the world’s largest medical library), Google Scholar, and other free resources will help us to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Portland Headlight

Questions to Explore

In five days time, we can reasonable expect to explore 100 medicinal plant species found in Washington County near Eagle Hill. The 2018 class found 113 medicinal plants on our daily hikes. Questions to explore include:

  • 1). What is the plant’s identity and how do we i.d. it?
  • 2). Where does the plant originate and what is its habitat? Is the plant indigenous to Maine (or where you live)? Is it rare or widespread? Is it an invasive alien? What is the plant’s geography in Maine and elsewhere?
  • 3). What do we know about medicinal use in a historical sense, and is that relevant today? For example, common along the Maine coast is Rosa rugosa, rugose or beach rose. It is an alien from East Asia, introduced around 1845. In China the fresh and dried fruit is eaten, and the flower petals, collected in the early morning are sweetened and used in pastry fillings in China. The dried flowerbud is a Chinese herb meiguihua, used in prescriptions to regulate blood circulation and digestive pain. 
  • 4). What types of scientific information, such as chemical, pharmacological, or human studies are available to suggest confirmation of, or perhaps refute traditional use?
  • 5). How do we sift the wheat from the chaff using digital and print resources?

Activities

Information resources aside, the best way to learn about herbs is to go to the fields, bogs, and woods and touch them, smell them, taste them and learn how they might be used. Medical botany is an extension of plant appreciation. Daily hikes and field trips are at the heart of our exploration of medicinal plants. Eagle Hill and Washington County have numerous easily accessible moderate trail systems with varied habitats in nearby natural areas. 

Nature dictates a flexible schedule, with roughly half the day in the field, and half the day in the classroom, lab, or library. Classes will include photo-illustrated talks and exploring information resources on plants that we observe. Along the way we will take time to hone photographic and observation skills, learning to “see” what me might otherwise overlook had we been paying attention. After the evening meal, we will engage in informal discussion, presentations or identify collections. Our schedule (except for the timing of three exquisite meals prepared daily by Eagle Hill staff) will remain flexible to accommodate weather and other variables. 

No library of books, electronic network or database of information can replace the knowledge gained from the tactile experience inherent in being human—touching, tasting, observing and smelling the plants that grow around us. A walk in the woods is a chance to get to know the plants around us.

Dinner at Eagle Hill

Reference materials:

Duke, James A. 1986. Handbook of Northeastern Indian Medicinal Plants. Lincoln, Mass.: Quarterman Publications.

Duke, James A., Mary Jo Bogenschutz-Godwin, Judi duCellier, and Peggy-Ann K. Duke. 2002. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press.

Foster, Steven. 1995. Forest Pharmacy — Medicinal Plants in American Forests. Durham, N.C.: Forest History Society.

The all new third edition of a Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: eastern and Central North America.

Foster, Steven. and James A. Duke. 2014. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America. 3rd edition. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Foster, Steven, and Christopher Hobbs. 2002. A Field Guide Western to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Foster, Steven, and Rebecca L. Johnson. 2006. National Geographic’s Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

Foster, Steven, and Varro E. Tyler. 1999. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. 4th ed. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press.

Foster, Steven, and Yue Chongxi. 1992. Herbal Emissaries — Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Desk Ref-Paper

Grieve, Maude. 1931. A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses. London: Jonathan Cape.

Haines, Arthur. 2011 Higher Vascular Plants of New England. Framingham, MA: New England Wildflower Society; New Haven: Yale University Press.

Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney and Jill E. Weber. 2010. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono: ME: University of Main Press.

Moerman, Daniel E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press.

Josselyn Botanical Society. 1995. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Maine. Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine Bulletin 13. Orono, ME: Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, Bulletin 844.

Scribner, F. Lamson. 1874. Useful and Ornamental Plants of Maine. Pp. 157-237 in: Nineteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture for the Year 1874. Augusta, ME: Sprague, Owen & Nash.

Yanovsky, E. 1936. Food Plants of the North American Indians. U.S. Dep. Agric., Misc. Publ. 237, pp. 1-88.

Portland Headlight-039

Published by

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.

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