On March 7, 2019, the New Hope Network posthumously inducted famed ethnobotanist and author James A. Duke, PhD, into its Hall of Legends. The Hall of Legends recognizes some of the greatest contributors to the natural products industry and their efforts to bring health and wellness to consumers. Helen Lowe Metzman, chief gardener at Duke’s four-acre Green Farmacy Garden in Fulton, Maryland, since 2006, and Mark Blumenthal, American Botanical Council (ABC) founder and executive director, accepted the award on behalf of the Duke family. The ceremony occurred during the Natural Products Expo West tradeshow in Anaheim, California.
In her acceptance speech, Metzman remembered Duke as “an amazing man who spoke in poetry and prose” and revealed that after his death on December 10, 2017, and in accordance with his final wishes, some of his ashes were spread in the Peruvian rainforest, under the guidance of a shaman. Some of his ashes also were buried in Duke’s herb garden in June 2018 as part of a celebration of life that was attended by more than 100 friends, colleagues, and family members and was sponsored by ABC and the Maryland University of Integrative Health.
Duke, who was a co-founder of ABC, had a distinguished career in economic botany, including more than 35 years at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and traveled extensively to the Amazon, Panama, Puerto Rico, China, and many other places to study indigenous plant use. During his tenure at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, he created and maintained “Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases,” a vital research tool for botanists and chemists. He also authored or co-authored dozens of books that aimed to introduce both academic and consumer audiences to herbal medicine practices and traditional remedies.
In Blumenthal’s acceptance speech, he said: “I wish everyone could have met Jim. He was the kind of person who stands out in your life…. You find subtle ways in which they shaped and affected you.” Blumenthal also recalled that Duke was “a man who walked humbly; most of the time barefoot…. He just carried a small little satchel when he went down there [to the Peruvian Amazon] with just a few pairs of shorts and a T-shirt, not all the backpacks and stuff that the hippie environmental herbalists had.”
Herbalist, author, and ABC Board of Trustees member Steven Foster added: “This accolade is well-deserved for a scientist and herb expert who bridged the gap between science and popular understanding of medicinal plants, while raising the importance of using botanicals as an integral aspect of a healthy lifestyle.” HerbalGram honored Duke’s life with articles by Metzman and Foster in issue 117.1,2
- Metzman HL. From the Desk of James A. Duke. HerbalGram. 2018;117;40-43. Available at: http://herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/117/table-of-contents/hg117-feat-jad-fromdeskof/. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- Foster S. James A. Duke — A Life of Botanical Bounty. HerbalGram. 2018;117:44-57. Available at: http://herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/117/table-of-contents/hg117-feat-jad-alifeofbot/. Accessed March 8, 2019.