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Duke and Foster Lead Pharmacy from the Rainforest Trip to the Amazon

It was a sultry day in late October, 1994, when James A. Duke, PhD, introduced a group of travelers in Peru to purslane (Portulaca oleracea L., Portulacaceae), a “weed” common to South and North America filled with potential cancer-preventing antioxidants. At the time, Dr. Duke was a co-founder and trustee of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and an economic botanist for the USDA; his audience members were the participants in ABC’s first Pharmacy from the Rainforest ethnobotanical trip.

ABC sponsored that first trip in conjunction with the Texas Pharmacy Foundation (TPF) and International Expeditions (IE) in response to a survey of Texas Pharmacy Association members expressing interest in learning about herbal medicine. Thirty-seven pharmacists received continuing education credit for participating in the workshops that fall. Thus began 12 years of exciting eco-tours to various locations including Belize, Costa Rica, Kenya, South Africa, and Germany. All tours have been accredited for continuing education for physicians and pharmacists.

During this first trip, participants spent a day at the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) research station on the Sucusari river, a small river flowing into one of the Amazon’s major tributaries, the Rio Napo, which has headwaters in the Ecuadorian highlands, and flows into the Amazon north of Iquitos in northern Peru. Here they attended workshops and took an early-morning walk on the spectacular rainforest canopy walkway, a series of suspension bridges high in the trees, 12 stories above the jungle floor. ACEER is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting conservation of the Peruvian Amazon by fostering awareness, understanding, action, and transformation. Since ABC’s second trip to the Amazon, ACEER has been one of the sponsoring organizations (Dr. Duke and ABC founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal have been members of the ACEER board for many years).

Over the years, many aspects have changed about the annual Amazon trip while others have remained constant. ABC and ACEER have remained committed to the highest quality phytomedicinal education for healthcare providers and others who travel to Peru on the ethnobotanical tours. Dr. Duke has continued to participate, delighting attendees with his humor and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of the plants that grow in the Amazon River basin as well as in the Andes. However, he has been talking about slowing down a little and not going on the Amazon trips any longer. Since his retirement from the USDA in 1995, Dr. Duke has been busy writing books, running a botanical consulting business and building the Green Farmacy Garden at his homestead in Fulton, MD. He has many reasons to want to stick closer to home and says this will probably be his last year to lead the trip to the Amazon.

Thus, ABC and ACEER are encouraging everyone who has ever wanted to go on one of the Amazon trips to do so this year so they can benefit from Dr. Duke’s vast knowledge and experience. The two organizations are also trying to contact the alumni of prior trips to make this a reunion experience.

This year’s participants will travel to the following: new ACEER facility in southern Peru, ACEER-Tambopata at Inkaterra where they will visit the Nature Interpretation Center, the Jardín de Plantas Medicinales, Children’s Rainforest Garden, and the 3.5 km Useful Plants Trail that highlights an additional 125 species of economically valuable plants. They will also have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest from the 1,135 foot-long Canopy Inkaterra, opened in 2005, a complex of 7 hanging bridges, 6 treetop observation platforms, and two 95-foot-tall towers, woven through the crowns of the tallest trees, offering visitors glimpses of rare and unusual flora and fauna, impossible to see from the ground.

Noted herbal expert and veteran botanical photographer Steven Foster will accompany Dr. Duke as his co-leader. Steven has over 30 years experience with herbs, has written numerous books (his latest, Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine, is published by National Geographic and is reviewed in this issue on page 69), and he is the principal supplier of botanical photography for HerbalGram. Steven will conduct a workshop on botanical photography so that everyone who brings a camera will be sure to come home with the best-quality photos possible!

For more information on itinerary and registration for the July 30-August 6, 2007 trip and the optional extension to Machu Picchu August 5-9, see ABC’s Web site (; select the “Botanical Medicines from the Amazon” button) or call ABC at 512-926-4900.

—Gayle Engels

Terraced hillside view of Machu Picchu. Photo ©2007 ABC