Nature Unearthed

Nature-unearthed_21-May-13Nature amazes us with her diversity, intricacy and beauty. I experienced a diverse slice of nature exploration in May 2013. First stop, the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati—one-stop shopping for nature and pharmacy literature dating to the late 1400s. I barely had time during my short two days as a guest of the Library to walk up and down the endless rows in the closed stacks of 250,000 volumes. Quickly reading book spines; gingerly removing treasures from the shelves. Gently cradling them in my hands, flipping a few pages, I was awed as if shaking the hand of the famed. What to do in such a treasure trove with so little time? If I can’t shake their hands, why not read letters penned by the hand of Thomas Jefferson to a famous naturalist such as Francois André Michaux? Jefferson penned a letter to Michaux, the younger, on 14 December, 1813, praising his publications. F. A. Michaux (1770-1855) was the son of French botanist André Michaux (1746-1802). Father and son collected in the Americas on behalf of the French government, but funding evaporated during the French Revolution. The father was sent home, accused of spying for the French. In the early 20th century when the Lloyd Library purchased F. A. Michaux’s North American Silva (1817), the letter from Thomas Jefferson was a random surprise tucked between two pages. I must admit, I do love exploring natural history in a climate controlled environment.

Next stop, the Cincinnati Museums Center Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, Ohio. There, to conduct the first medicinal plant workshop in their Advanced Naturalists series, an intensive limited to 10 participants. The 16,000 acre nature preserve, 80 miles east of Cincinnati, features the extraordinary Eulett Nature Center with labs, classrooms, state-of-the art everything—a nature workshop instructor’s dream— immersion in nature with naturalists who taught me more than I taught them.

Then I came home, and rather than exploring nature in a library or interpreting it in a workshop, nature reminded me who is in charge. Deep rolling thunder, vibrating big nature ruled. The walls rattled. The deep low tremors pulsed up into my bones from the balls of my feet. No different than a fly—me—just a small human in nature.

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-six 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.