Eagle Hill Institute in Maine with Steven Foster
Join me 14-20 June 2020 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).
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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, NC: Forest History Society.
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 Books. (A 2007 New York Public Library “Best of Reference.”
Foster, Steven, and Varro E. Tyler. 1999. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. 4th ed. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.
Foster, Steven, and Yue Chongxi. 1992. Herbal Emissaries — Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
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. 2 vols. London: Jonathan Cape.
Haines, Arthur. 2011. Higher Vascular Plants of New England. Framingham, MA: New England Wildflower Society; New Haven, CT: 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 Maine 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.