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Herbal Medicine Community Mourns the Death of Steven Foster

Dear Valued ABC Member and Friend,

It is with a deeply saddened heart that I share with you the unexpected news of the passing of our dear friend, longtime ABC contributor, and member of the ABC Board of Trustees Steven Foster. Steven died suddenly this weekend of unknown causes.

Steven was one of the most brilliant people in the entire American and international herb community. The author or co-author of 19 books and hundreds of articles, and a true master of the herbal literature, especially the Eclectic medical literature of the late 19th and early 20th century, Steven was also a renowned photographer of herbs and medicinal plants with an eye for beauty in every leaf and flower who was unparalleled in the global botanical community.

His keen eye for plants and his ability to photograph them produced a treasure of thousands of beautiful high-quality photos that graced the pages of numerous books and magazine articles, including hundreds of his photos in ABC’s journal HerbalGram, many of them cover photos. If you have enjoyed the beautifully compelling four-color photography in each issue of HerbalGram, you can usually thank Steven for the photos.

A self-taught botanist, and without any higher education, Steven knew as much or usually more about botany and the history of the literature on herbal medicine than many academics with numerous advanced degrees. His knowledge and memory of the botanical literature was almost photographic, and he had a beautifully eloquent way to explain and communicate his herbal wisdom.

I have known Steven since 1978, and he has been one of my closest personal and professional friends for over 40 years. About nine years younger than I, I found him often to be my mentor about so many fascinating aspects of the richness of the botanical literature. He was my go-to guy for numerous areas of information, from history to botany and trade of botanicals, and I know many of my fellow herbal enthusiasts think similarly of him.

On a more personal and lifestyle note, one of the areas on which he mentored me was the love of single malt scotch. Decades ago, when I was visiting him at his home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, he took me to his monthly scotch club, mostly older guys who liked to sit around and tell stories and jokes and reveal their knowledge of certain fine malts — the usquaebach (whiskey, ‘water of life’) from various distilleries. (After all, whiskey is a plant product!) It was my maiden voyage into single malts (my dad always gave me his blended scotches like Cutty Sark and J&B when I was in high school and college, but never single malt), which a few years later inspired me to invite my good friends Loren Israelsen and Rob McCaleb to a scotch crawl from hotel bar to bar when we were at a Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore some 25 years or so ago. That scotch crawl morphed into SMQAA (the wryly named “Single Malt Scotch Quality Assurance Alliance”), which Loren has managed and curated for many years at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (and in other gatherings of herb- and natural food-loving folks), and SMQAA is considered one of the best parties of Expo. Steven is the spiritual father of SMQAA! (Appropriate thanks to my bottle of Glenfarclas 25, and several other malts that helped me write most of this letter late last night.)

But his scotch mentorship should not trivialize Steven’s contributions to modern herbal culture, which are many. Steven was one of the first people to help popularize the herb echinacea, having written the first book on echinacea — Echinacea: Nature’s Immune Enhancer (Healing Arts Press, 1991) — since Eclectic pharmacist and author John Uri Lloyd’s Treatise on Echinacea in 1917. At one time in his career, some colleagues even called him “Mr. Echinacea.”

There is so much one can say about his intellect, his memory, his sense of humor. Steven was an integral part of ABC even before ABC was founded in 1988. He wrote articles in some of the very earliest issues of HerbalGram when it was still a newsletter that Rob McCaleb and I edited and published for the American Herbal Products Association and the Herb Trade Association from 1983 to 1988 (until the formation of ABC and HerbalGram’s becoming a magazine-style journal). Steven has been associate editor of HerbalGram for over 30 years and on the Board of Trustees of ABC for over 22 years (since 1999), and past-Chairman of the Board for almost a decade. His input, commitment, and leadership at ABC is unparalleled. His intellectual, spiritual, and photographic DNA can be found in many areas of ABC.

Steven’s knowledge, expertise and experience, and good judgment helped guide ABC since its founding. Steven was the primary source of many of ABC’s initial publications, including four volumes of ABC’s “Classic Botanical Reprints” starting in 1989, just after ABC was founded, and his information-packed “Botanical Booklets,” extensive profiles on over a dozen popular herbs, of which ABC printed tens of thousands and distributed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when most Americans knew very little about the names of herbs, other than peppermint, garlic, ginger, and a few others.

Steven’s inspiration and imprint can be found in one of ABC’s most important publications: In 1992 or 1993 he wrote the initial text for the primary proposal for the community funding of ABC’s The Complete German Commission E Monographs — Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines (Integrative Medicine Communications, 1988).

There is so much more to write about Steven; he lived a very robust life when it comes to herbs and medicinal plants. We will always be grateful for his gracious help, deeply loyal support, and unique and masterful contribution to our organization. ABC will be setting up a special page on its website at www.herbalgram.org with examples of Steven’s photography and tributes from friends and colleagues.

ABC published a profile of Steven in issue #80 of HerbalGram: www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/80/table-of-contents/article3321/

All of us at ABC send our deeply heartfelt condolences to Steven’s wife Donna, his children Abbey and Colin, stepson Farrar, and Steven’s siblings and other family, and his vast network of friends in the herbal community.

Blessings on his soul’s peaceful journey.

Respectfully,

Mark Blumenthal
Founder & Executive Director