Back in the late 1970s, one of the great mentors to young herbal enthusiasts was Paul Lee, PhD, a philosophy professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, and the person who coined the term “herbal renaissance” to describe the then-burgeoning interest in herbal teas, extracts, cosmetics, etc. Harvard trained and heavily steeped in the classics and ancient history of ideas, Paul was fond of regaling his mentees (noted author and photographer Steven Foster was one) with constant allusions to ancient and medieval herbal lore.
Among his notable initiatives, Paul created the first Herbal Symposia, connecting the hippie herbalists with members of academia. It was through Paul that many of us first met Jim Duke, Norm Farnsworth, the late Varro Tyler, Walter Lewis, Ara Der Marderosian, and others. Paul was also responsible for bringing the renowned organic gardener Alan Chadwick to the University to start a demonstration garden on the slopes of the University, stimulating students to learn how to grow natural foods. After not receiving tenure at UCSC (allegedly he spent too much time gardening), he was asked by one of his clueless colleagues, “Paul, what does philosophy have to do with gardening?”
One of Paul’s persistent stories was how most old universities in Europe were built around gardens, many based on herbs and medicinal plants that were then the basis of most medicines. The oldest of these gardens was at the University of Padua in Italy. Founded in 1545, the Padua gardens are still extant today and are going through a process of revitalization. For this issue our prolific assistant editor Courtney Cavaliere has written about the history of the garden, and our good friend classicist Prof. John Riddle has contributed to this beautiful pictorial of the Botanical Garden of Padua.
In the summer of 2001, I listened to renowned North American ethnobotanist Prof. Daniel Moerman give a fascinating lecture on “Native American Prescription Sticks” at a joint meeting of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB) and the International Society of Ethnopharmacology. Prof. Moerman’s presentation included photos of short pieces of wood and tree bark that contained stylized carvings of plants. Created by Native Americans from Midwestern and Great Lakes tribes, these sticks were apparently intended as mnemonic devices to help preserve the then-vanishing native wisdom of various herbal formulas. About a dozen of these “prescriptions sticks” remain in museum and private collections. Prof. Moerman recently found the time in his busy schedule (he edits SEB’s journal Economic Botany) to generously share his research and photos of these sticks with us for a compelling article on vanishing indigenous knowledge and the somewhat mysterious way in which some native Americans peoples—their oral cultures faced with extinction—tried to preserve their herbal heritage.
Also in this issue, we introduce the first in a series of Product Specific Monographs being developed by ABC, profile a research project being conducted in the Amazon with vanilla orchids, and examine the factors that led to a poor saw palmetto harvest for 2007. We further introduce 14 new members of the ABC Advisory Board. This list includes many friends and colleagues who have graciously accepted our invitation to join the board, in many cases formalizing years of professional and personal friendships and numerous contributions to the nonprofit educational programs and mission of ABC. We look forward to working with these friends and experts in this new capacity, particularly as we begin a new calendar year and ABC’s 20th year as an organization.