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.