Loving Latin

By Steven Foster.

"Sage" as Artemisia tridentata from drylands of the American West.
“Sage” as Artemisia tridentata from drylands of the American West.

Ah the romance of language, or better yet the Romance languages, a mixing pot derived from vulgar Latin (or vulgaris meaning common), which evolved from the sixth to ninth centuries, to become the five most widely spoken Romance languages of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin persisted as the language of scholarship and administration, still used today as the foundation for scientific names in biology and astronomy. The value of classical Latin in naming is that it has essentially been a universal communication tool crossing barriers of time and language for millennia.

Pronunciation is dictated by the local language. There is no correct pronunciation, only convention that forms as habit. For example, we pronounce the Latin genus name Echinacea as “ek-i-NAY-see-a.” Without even thinking about it, we pronounce an obvious “cha” sound—“ch”—as a classical Latin hard “k” sound for “ch”. That is force of habit. Conversely, we use a vernacular English pronunciation for the Latin name of pine trees. In the genus name Pinus, we pronounce a long “I” sound, rather than using classical Latin pronunciation in which the long “I” would be pronounced  as an uncouth long “E”.  Yes, we still suffer from Victorian influences. The pronunciation is just another taste treat. Just let it roll across your tongue, because there is no “correct” pronunciation.

Latin or scientific names of plants or animals allow us to communicate the similarity or differences of one organism compared to another with a single universal language tool. That is the beauty of Latin, alive as scientific names that are both fun and specific.

Ad nauseum—now there’s a good Latin phrase to describe how people throw around words like “cedar” and “sage” to refer to large numbers of biological entities as it they were somehow related. Would you call a semitrailer truck a motorcycle, or vice versa (more Latin) just because both have motors and wheels?  We call our predominant Ozark conifer “red cedar” but it is really a juniper— Juniperus virginiana. Our common garden sage is Salvia officinalis, a species from the eastern Adriatic coast. If you buy a good ‘ol New Age bundle of “sage” for ceremony, you likely get the ubiquitous Western North American species Artemisia tridentata. Calling these completely unrelated plants “sage” or “cedar” is like calling a male human “boy” or summoning a stranger with “hey you.”

Adapted from “Eureka Nature” column in the 20 November 2013 Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper.


“Science” as Fiction Update

By Steven Foster.

Flamingo meets Swan
All is not as it seems . . .

Nature is clean. Nature is pure. Nature is unspoiled. And if you believe that, I would like to sell you beach front property on the Moon. When we buy something labeled natural or labeled organic, that product or food category, whatever it may be, comes with an underlying expectation of integrity, honesty, truthfulness and reliability. The same expectations holds true for scientific literature, in which a process of peer review, critique of theory, vigilance of methodology and veracity of conclusions assumes that the published findings are upheld at least by the reputations of researcher(s), editor(s), and publisher(s). These are general, if naive expectations and beliefs that we hold that things are what they seem to be. Yes, it’s true. I’m a happy curmudgeon and skeptic.

Early in my career, I became intrigued by concepts related to quality, identity, and labeling of herb products. At the time I worked at the Herb Department of the Sabbathday Lake Maine Shaker Community, whose history dated back to the late eighteenth century. When I was there direct expertise in herb production no longer existed. During that time from 1974-1978, I learned by trial and error. We had a catnip tea product. The catnip I grew had a strong, aromatic fragrance, typical of catnip rich in essential oil. We sold more than we were able to grow. We had to buy bulk catnip that turned out to be left over stem and stubble from seed production. No self-respecting cat would respond to a cat toy filled with these floor sweepings.  In the company of cats, my homegrown catnip turned me into a feline pied piper. Both samples were catnip, but the quality was dramatically different. I find the same is true of published science—some is high quality. Some science is floor sweepings, created by “experts” in a narrow scientific specialty who think that they can magically transform their methods into areas of other scientific disciplines of which they are clueless, then draw conclusions, in which they prove their lack of knowledge as evidenced by their sloppy work. Would you send an entomologist in space to repair the Hubble Telescope? Of course, pride and reputation machismo prevent the authors and journals from retracting their errors.

If there’s a buck to be made, someone is going to find away to make that buck. If you don’t know what it is that you’re buying, the possibility of not getting what you expect increases. With the pressure for academics to publish or perish, I promise you, if your study is rejected by one journal, no problem, as you can always finds a journal happy to take your scientific paper no matter what the quality of the science might be. The bottom line is that you can’t always believe what you read whether it’s at website, words on a product label, “science” in a scientific paper, or reporting on a scientific paper, even if it part of “all the news that is NOT fit to print.” My next post will have the details.

I have come to believe that the only published word that is what it seems to be is fiction.

Adapted from my “Eureka Nature” column in the Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper for 6 November 2013. This entry is also an opinion piece sparked by this response to a scientific paper.

American Botanical Council Celebrates 25 Years!

As Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council, it is my delight to share this press release—Steven Foster

HG-58-2003-Cover(AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 31, 2013) On November 1, the American Botanical Council (ABC) celebrates a quarter century of promoting the responsible, science-based use of herbal medicine. The independent nonprofit’s 25th anniversary is a major milestone for the Austin, Texas-based organization and speaks to its enduring message of informed, research-supported healing through nature — one that has resonated with thousands of members and supporters both locally and in many countries around the world.

HG-77-2008-Cover“I’ve been affiliated with and have supported ABC since its inception, because I believe in its mission,” said internationally renowned author and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, MD, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Dr. Weil, whose image has twice graced the cover of TIME Magazine, said, “As more health professionals are trained to use medicinal plants and other natural therapies, healthcare costs will decrease and health outcomes will improve. Education is required for this to happen, education of the sort that ABC has provided over the past 25 years and I’m sure will continue to provide.”

HG-96-2013-CoverIn the 1980s, when the modern herbal medicine movement was experiencing a revival and consumer awareness and exposure to natural medicine was slowly increasing, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal saw the need for an authoritative, science-based source of information on botanical medicine to act as a touchstone for herbal education and quality for all aspects of the herbal industry including consumers. The Texan visionary, whose passion for herbal medicine earned him the nickname “Herbal Cowboy,” together with two internationally respected medicinal plant experts — the eminent ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD, and the late distinguished pharmacognosist Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD — established the educational nonprofit American Botanical Council in 1988.

“I think of Mark as the great herbal diplomat,” said Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist, prolific author, educator, and founder of the nonprofit conservation organization United Plant Savers. Gladstar, whom Blumenthal nicknamed the “Godmother of American Herbalism,” praised his efforts over the past 25 years as being “beautifully, seriously, and joyfully effective.”

Continue reading American Botanical Council Celebrates 25 Years!

Ginseng Season

By Steven Foster ©2013

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng roots,  西洋参, xi yang shenAmerican ginseng is in the news at this time of year because it is the ginseng harvest season (1 September—1 December in Arkansas). American ginseng Panax quinquefolius is a native plant that is harvested for its root valued for a broad range of health benefits, many of which have been the subject of Canadian clinical studies, often related to use by First Nation peoples (as Canadian’s refer to native peoples), such as Type II diabetes. Use in North America is limited.

The vast majority of American ginseng grown commercially or harvested from the wild (estimated at over 95% of an estimated 30 tons of exported root) goes to the Hong Kong market. American ginseng root has been exported to China since its discover in Canada in 1715.  There are three basic types of ginseng root in the trade 1) cultivated root, grown under artificial shade; 2). wild-simulated, representing roots grown from seed in tended plots in a habitat similar to that in which one finds wild ginseng; 3) wild ginseng.

Since 1975 wild ginseng (and the nearly indistinguishable “wild-simulated root) has been listed in Appendix II of Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Appendix II listings are allowed in international trade if the CITES authorities in the country of origin determine that export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. The CITES authority in the United States is the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Each year the USFWS Division of Scientific Authority issues a determination of “non-detriment”  in order for ginseng exports to continue. Recent years have limited wild ginseng harvest to wild-simulated and wild root harvest in 19 states as long as roots are at least 5-years old (basically, plants old enough to have produced fruits). Ginseng is only propagated from difficult-to-germinate seeds. In 2012 the USFWS encouraged five states to improve their regulation and management of ginseng, notably amending their regulations to that the harvest season begins September 1 or later (to assure seed set).

The USFWS, United Plant Savers (a medicinal plant conservation group) and the American Herbal Products Association have created separate “Good Stewardship Harvesting of Wild American Ginseng” brochures for each of the 19 states which allow wild ginseng harvest. Arkansas is one of those states. See web page: AHPA Good Stewardship of American Ginseng Page. Click on state names to view or download their brochure.

Adapted from “Eureka Nature” Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper, 10 October 2013

A Common Forgotten Herb—Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata

Verbena hastata, Blue vervain, American Blue Vervain,  American VervainBlue vervain, American Blue Vervain,  American Vervain,  Swamp Vervain, Wild Hyssop, and Simpler’s Joy are just some of the common names applied to Verbena hastata.  A member of the Verbenaceae, it is native to most of the 48 contiguous U.S. states and adjacent Canada, occurring in fields, thickets; often in moist soils. Traditionally, the herb was used to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant and to induce sweating. Use by indigenous peoples was adopted by early European settlers. Despite widespread and long-use in herbal medicine in North America, there is scant research on this widespread native plant. It contains hastatoside, an iridoid, with anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. An ethanolic extracts has been shown to have antidiarrheal effects and induces gastrointestinal motility. The majority of the 24 images in this photo gallery are new, taken at Avena Botanicals beautiful herb gardens in Rockport, Maine.

©2013 Steven Foster

The Beleaguered Butternut—Juglans cinerea

Juglans cinerea, Butternut, White WalnutHere’s a link to a new photo gallery of Juglans cinerea, butternut or white walnut which is threatened and dramatically declining throughout its native range in eastern North America, due to a fungal disease called butternut canker. An important food, fixed oil, medicinal and material plant in colonial America. When imported laxatives were scarce during the Revolutionary War, an extract of Butternut bark was widely used; also considered useful for dysentery. Various Native American groups used bark tea for rheumatism, headaches, toothaches and to stop bleeding and promote healing of wounds. Oil from nuts used for tapeworms, fungal infections. Leaves fragrant and when powdered were used externally to treat  ringworm. Tapped in spring for its sap, boiled down to Butternut syrup and sugar, which is comparable to that from Sugar Maple. These photos are of two large butternut trees at the Sabbathday Lake Maine Shaker Community, most shot on 24 August 2013. The Shakers were among the Butternut’s greatest promoters and suppliers. Account books from the 1860’s find some New England Shaker communities selling as much as 600 pounds of Butternut bark a month. The Shakers  also manufacturered a Butternut bark extract, the primary form in which the drug was administered. Then, like today, laxatives were one of the top sellers in over-the-counter drug sales. ©2013 Steven Foster

Noted Herb Expert Joins American Botanical Council as Chief Science Officer

Dr. Stefan Gafner Brings Years of Technical Expertise as Pharmacist and Natural Products Chemist to Nonprofit’s Educational Publications and Programs

(AUSTIN, Texas, July 16, 2013) The American Botanical Council (ABC) is pleased to welcome Stefan Gafner, PhD, to its staff as the organization’s first-ever Chief Science Officer.

For more than a decade, Dr. Gafner has served as a research scientist and director of analytical chemistry in the research and product development department of the natural products company Tom’s of Maine, a leading manufacturer of natural oral and personal care products. Among other products he researched and developed at Tom’s, Dr. Gafner co-developed a breath-freshening licorice extract that is a component of Tom’s bestselling Wicked Fresh® toothpaste.

Dr. Gafner received his degree in pharmacy at the University of Bern School of Pharmacy in Bern, Switzerland. He earned his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences — with a focus on phytochemistry (the chemistry of plants) — at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, from the internationally respected phytochemist Professor Kurt Hostettmann. His doctoral thesis focused on the search for new antibacterial and antifungal compounds from African medicinal plants in three plant families (Asteraceae, Bignoniaceae, and Myricaceae). Dr. Gafner conducted his postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois – Chicago in the College of Pharmacy’s highly regarded Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy (the study of medicines from plants and other natural sources).

Highlights of Dr. Gafner’s impressive career include the discovery of dozens of new natural products, the development of more than 40 methods for the identification and authentication of herbal extracts, and the validation of methods for more than 20 over-the-counter drug ingredients for consumer products.

He has participated as an expert peer reviewer for many respected scientific journals including Phytochemistry,Planta MedicaJournal of AOAC InternationalJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and the Journal of Natural Products, and he co-chaired the organization of the American Society of Pharmacognosy’s 48th annual meeting.

“ABC welcomes Dr. Stefan Gafner as our first Chief Science Officer,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “Stefan will provide significant energy and expertise in furthering ABC’s nonprofit mission to educate the public about medicinal herbs and other beneficial plants.”

Blumenthal also noted that Dr. Gafner’s laboratory analytical experience will be especially helpful with respect to the technical aspects of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program — a nonprofit consortium that ABC is managing that educates industry, researchers, and health professionals on how to identify adulterants in botanical materials and helps to ensure proper identity and authenticity in herbal raw materials.

“It is a privilege to join the American Botanical Council as its first chief scientific officer,” said Dr. Gafner.

“I remember hiking the Swiss Alps as a high school student with my camera and two friends taking pictures of every wildflower we could shoot,” he reminisced. “Fellow hikers would sometimes look at us as if we were from the moon, but on occasion, also stop and ask us about the plants we were looking at.

“I never fathomed that this passion would lead to a career in pharmacognosy and allow me to join a pioneering organization like ABC,” added Dr. Gafner. “I am delighted to be part of a group with its primary goal to educate people on the benefits of medicinal plants, and look forward to the prospect of working closely with Mark Blumenthal, one of the most respected people in the medicinal plant community, and with an advisory board that lists many of the renowned scientists in the area of medicinal plant research.”

Dr. Gafner continued, “I’ve never seen so many new technologies applied to plant science — this is possibly the most interesting time to be involved in medicinal plant research and I’m just thrilled to be part of the team whose mission it is to make it more available to the public.”

“I was delighted to learn that Stefan Gafner will become the first Chief Science Officer of the American Botanical Council,” said noted author and herbalist Steven Foster, chair of ABC’s Board of Trustees. “Stefan is an energetic scientist who embodies the needs of the many facets of ABC stakeholders. He is a practical pharmacist and phytochemist who understands the commercial landscape of the world of herbs, and perhaps most importantly, from my perspective, he is equally at home in nature as he is in the lab.

“Fifteen years ago,” Foster elaborated, “Stefan introduced me to the Alpine wild herbs of his native Switzerland, where he generously drove me to remote mountain villages to explore local herbs. Stefan brings a collaborative spirit, love of nature, and broad scientific experience to ABC.”

Dr. Gafner also received high praise from other professional colleagues.

“Stefan Gafner is a superb choice to serve as ABC’s first Chief Science Officer. He is an exceptionally skilled pharmacognosist and pharmacist, and comes to ABC with great experience in herbal supplements and personal care products from his service at Tom’s of Maine,” said ABC Advisory Board member John Cardellina II, PhD. “I think he brings a wonderful mix of energy, commitment, and understanding of the critical issues facing the herbal industry to ABC. He will be an immediate asset to ABC projects such as the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program.”

Cindy Angerhofer, PhD, executive director of botanical research at Aveda, said, “I have had the pleasure of working with Stefan for nearly 15 years in the natural products industry and academic community. His passion and extensive background as a Swiss pharmacist and PhD phytochemist seem ideal for this new role.

“Stefan has been an excellent mentor and role model for the technical team at Tom’s, as well as a competent educator of customers, the trade, and scientific peers,” continued Dr. Angerhofer. “The creation of this new position at ABC is an exciting development for the organization, and I have great expectations for Stefan’s contributions as the Chief Science Officer.”

About the American Botanical Council: Founded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs, teas, medicinal plants, essential oils, and other beneficial plant-derived materials. ABC’s members include academic researchers and educators; libraries; health professionals and medical institutions; government agencies; members of the herb, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries; journalists; consumers; and others in more than 81 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas, where it publishes the peer-reviewed quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, the weekly e-newsletter Herbal News & Events, HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), reference books, and other educational materials. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, a powerful herbal database, covering scientific and clinical publications on more than 250 herbs. ABC also co-produces the “Herbal Insights” segment for Healing Quest, a television series on PBS.

ABC is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. Information: Contact ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, Phone: 512-926-4900. Website: www.herbalgram.org. Contact: Public Relations.