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.”

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Watercress—A Kindred Herb

By Steven FosterWatercress, Water Cress, Nasturtium officinale, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum

As we transition through the seasons, signs of the past blend with what is to come. Cool spring-fed creeks hold for me a reminder of spring; before winter has yet to begin. Perennial and annual wildflowers along creek banks have gone to seed and turned dormant. The leaves of deciduous woody plants fade from green hues to fall colors, whether vibrant or dull. It’s easier to get to the water’s edge, though stick-tights, beggar’s lice, and other hooked, barbed or Velcro-like seeds and dry fruiting bodies will snare your clothing, hitching a ride, choosing you are their seed-dispersal vector.

One plant that hunkers down during the hot weather, then turns lush in spring fed moving water in the Ozark winter is watercress. Bunches of watercress sometimes make their way to groceries or places where specialty vegetables are sold. As a rather hot-tasting mustard, one can only eat so much of it. Watercress is best used as a secondary leaf ingredient in a fresh salad or a great soup vegetable.  It is a kindred herb, a neglected free food, best at this time of year before it flowers and produces seed in the spring, at which time the leaves become more pungent and less palatable. By Thanksgiving ,watercress has shed it’s straggly summer growth and its fast-growing leaves are tender, lush and vibrant. Take it from waters that are free from pollutants, as the leaves can uptake toxins and heavy metals from water. Of course, you should wash it well before consuming the leaves.

Botanists now call it Nasturtium officinale, after a few years of suffering through the Latin Watercress, Water Cress, Nasturtium officinale, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticumname Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum. It is not to be confused with our garden nasturtium with its bright orange and yellow flowers. That plant, Tropaeolum majus hails from the Andes, and borrows  its common name from the Latin name of watercress, given their similar flavors, though they are unrelated in every respect. The essential oil in watercress leaves have organosulphur compounds that give them their bite and distinctive flavor.

It is impossible to determine where this plant originates. It occurs in virtually every country with cool fresh, running water. It was observed in America as early as 1630, and was likely already here before Europeans arrived. Here is a plant that defies all cultural and geographic barriers and blurs the line between food and medicine.

Copyright 2013 Steven Foster. Photos created 19 October 2013, Spring Creek, Rockbridge, Missouri

Derived from Eureka Nature column, 24 October 2013, Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper

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

The Nature of Autumn Color

By Steven Foster

FallColors-10126357For me the fragrance of fall is that of new beginnings. The metaphor of new beginnings is usually reserved for spring; but I think of spring as a season of awakening. The start of a new school season, the dawn of cooler weather, the inception of fruiting, and yes, the arrival of a new football season, are all new beginnings that I associate with autumn. Somehow the smell of autumn triggers memories for me that in turn spark feelings. Fall fragrances evoke a longing to know when to be still to take-in the embroidery of the chromatic flush that will take us through winter’s dull tones. The season to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn is upon us.

Sweet Spring in AutumnWhen we look at total color patterns, big waves of yellow are moderated by orange, and if everything works as predicted, followed by a short brilliant burst of red. However, some of our earliest turning woody plants such as gum trees (Nyssa species) and sumacs (Rhus species) are in the red spectrum, defying autumn color norms. The first big wave of glorious yellows and reds are from sugar maples (Acer saccharum). Color also depends upon the mix of vegetation, where trees grow, and where they originate. The sugar maples, for example, are associated with northern deciduous forests, and often occur on north-facing slopes. Our mixed oak-hickory upland forests usually present a dull pastel of browns and yellows. Trees in valley floors, such as sycamores along water ways, tend to turn earlier than trees on ridge tops.

Sassafras leaves
An unusual five-lobed Sassafras leaf

There is no single, definitive answer to the question of why trees turn color. Much of our understanding is physiological. Healthy leaves with good leaf volume in later September help to predict good autumn color. If we are generally free from rain, wind and overcast skies for the first three weeks of October, we will have better color. We want cool, bright, sunny days with no freezing temperatures. A major factor among a myriad of variables is the diminishing length of the autumn day, hence the amount of daylight. Production of chlorophyll ceases, and as the green chlorophyll degrades, sugars and anthocyanadins (the vast group of compounds responsible for color combinations of fruits, leaves and flowers) begin to dominate the leaves, aided by the variables of moisture and temperature changes. The recipe changes from year-to-year and species-to-species. This is conventional wisdom.

In the last 20 years an entirely new field of study—plant-animal interactions—hints of Diospyros virginiana, persimmonbroader mechanisms, a more wholistic view, beyond mere physiology. Fall colors are integrated in nature signaling to fruit-loving animals and insects that fruits are ready to pluck, thus aid in seed dispersal. In some trees, the colors may send a signal to insect herbivores that feeding time is over. The new science of autumn tree color suggests the process is a mix of defensive, seed-dispersing, signaling, and physiological functions all working in symphonic harmony to create the intricate beauty we enjoy.

When to expect the peak of fall color, you ask? Trying to predict the peak of fall color is not as easy as predicting when the next Full Moon. Autumn color, while falling into a predictable time range is subject to the variables of light, cold, heat, moisture, and the little understood symphony of all of nature working in concert. If you record peak color days over time, predictable patterns will repeat themselves. Short of keeping a journal, our digital devices record the date we snap an image in the metadata of the image itself. I bought my first digital camera in 2004. Since the fall of 2005 in the Ozarks near the Arkansas-Missouri borders my best  fall foliage photos (dates as recorded by digital camera) are taken during the last week of October through the first week of November. Therefore, my prediction for peak foliage this year along the counties skirting the state borders is precisely October 26th (give or take a week).

Predictions aside, our role in the process is simply to enjoy the beauty of nature.

©2013 Steven Foster, adapted from my “Eureka Nature” column in the Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper for 3 October 2013 and 8 November 2012.

Herbal Field Trip & Medicinal Herb Workshop

When:  Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6, 2013

Where: Ozark Folk Center State Park, Mountain View, Arkansas

On April 5, 2013, from 10 A.M. until 5 P.M.  the annual Herbal Fieldtrip will take place at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. Rosemary Gladstar, Steven Foster, Sasha Daucus, Susan Belsinger, Committee of 100 Herb Garden Chairman, Jennifer Blankenship and OFC herbalists, Kathleen Connole and Tina Marie Wilcox will teach on the hike. Participants will divide into small groups and rotate through several different hikes in order to experience the expertise of each teacher.  Light rain or shine, bring a sack lunch, water, walking stick, and weather-appropriate apparel. This year the hikes will be excursions in the Heritage Herb Garden and explorations of trails on Ozark Folk Center State Park land.

On April 6, 2013, from 9 AM through 5:30 PM, experience Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbs for Family Health, hosted by the Committee of 100 for the Ozark Folk Center. Hear Steven Foster’s Enjoying the Spirit of Herbal Science. See Susan Belsinger’s Favorite Homegrown & Homemade Herbal Remedies. Learn about Hawthorn—A Humble Native Shrub for the Heart and Circulation by Tina Marie Wilcox. Pharmacist Jennifer Blankenship will present, Chinks in the Armor and Sasha Daucus will provide a sensory experience entitled Herbal Imagination. An herbal lunch is included on Saturday.  The fieldtrip and workshop fees are as follows: Before March 28, $90; After March 28, $100. Field Trip only: Before March 28, $35; After March 28, $45. Workshop only: Before March 28, $65, After March 28, $75. The full schedule and fees may be found at on the herb event page or call 870-269-3851 for more information. Call 800-264-3655 for lodging reservations and inquire about the special herb weekend rate.

Cost for Herbal Field Trip and Medicinal Herb Workshop combination:

Before March 28, $90                               After March 28, $100

Field Trip only:

Before March 28, $35                              After March 28, $45

Workshop only:

Before March 28, $65                               After March 28, $75

Contact Person: Tina Marie Wilcox