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© Kat Morgenstern
June 2003

Vol.II Issue: 2

This Issue:

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No, I did not get lost in the woods and forgot all about the newsletter - though I meant to get this newsletter out on time for solstice - my apologies, I got delayed due to computer problems. Also, I have decided to change the publication frequency. Producing this newsletter every 6 weeks has just proven to be too much work and somehow I just can't bring myself to cut it down in length or content, so I have cut down the frequency instead. This will now be a quarterly newsletter - expect the next issue at autumn equinox.

Things have been busy as usual since the last issue and many important topics keep cropping up. One that particularly worries me is the topic of bioengineered organisms and their patenting - along with the political pressure that is currently applied on countries that are hesitant about accepting this new technology. I have added a number of resources and articles on these topics in the news section of the website and also included an article and some usefull resources for GE free shopping in this newsletter. Please take a look!

Other than that there have not been too many new developments at the website over the last couple of months as I have taken a much needed breather since doing the general overhaul in March/April. The response has been good so far, though some of you have told me that you are having difficulties accessing the site. This is mostly a problem with older browsers and webTV customers. I am sorry about that, but now that I have recharged the old batteries I will be turning my attention to finding a way to make the site accessible to all. Please be patient and bear with me. Thank you all for your continued support and please don't hesitate to send me your feedback or ideas, I am always eager to hear what you think.

Happy Summer Solstice
Kat Morgenstern, June 2003

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Burdock (Arctium Lappa)To most people, Burdock does not offer a particularly pretty sight, though some might be impressed by its sheer size: burdock can grow more than to 5 foot tall and its huge, expansive, heart-shaped leaves can reach over a foot in length. A distinctive and unmistakable plant, burdock certainly ranks among the tallest and most space consuming herbs, sporting extraordinarily big leaves as well as the stickiest burs. Yet, considering it many values, not the least of which is that it gave the inspiration to the invention of Velcro, it appears to be chronically undervalued. Burdock is rarely welcome in any yard, much less in carefully groomed gardens, though at least the bees and butterflies appreciate it for its generous supply of nectar.

The plant makes its presence known early in the spring, when it begins to sprout a number of large low lying, heart shaped leaves that somewhat resemble those of rhubarb, for which they are sometimes mistaken. The plant is biennial, which means that it does not send up a flowering shoot until the second year. Opinions as to the best times to collect the various parts of Burdock vary according to local traditions. As a rule of thumb it is better to collect the aerial parts while the vital energy is rising - i.e. leaf stalks and leaves are collected before the leaves are fully developed, while the roots should be collected when the vital energy is most concentrated within - i.e. in spring or autumn, preferably during the first year, before they become too old and tough.

Burdock belongs to those special kinds of plants that offer both nutrition and healing benefits, though western cuisine, and for the most part western herbalism has largely ignored this wonderful herb. The Japanese are about the only culture that truly appreciates Burdock as a wholesome, medicinal food - they even produce it commercially and sell it at the market under the name of 'Gobo'. One can sample it at Japanese Restaurants where it can sometimes be found as an ingredient of sushi rolls. The key to its popularity among the Japanese may lie in the well-kept secret of Burdock's lesser known qualities: It is rumoured that Burdock gives strength and endurance, especially with regard to sexual stamina, which has earned it a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Considering its essential character it is easy to understand why:

Burdock's overall mode of action can be described as purifying. It has a stimulating effect on the metabolism and gently, but persistently activates and tones all the organs of elimination, thus inducing a process of inner cleansing. It's energizing quality is hard to describe, but can be likened to putting a good, sustaining log on the fire, such as oak or apple, one that burns slow and steady and develops an intense, but even heat, as opposed to e.g. pine, which burns in a flash. Burdock's ethereal fire fuels all the organic processes, thus improving, cleansing and toning the whole body. However, it must be kept in mind that the fresh herb/root is infinitely more powerful than the dried material.

The leave stems can be peeled and cut and either added raw to salads, or added to various soups, stews or bakes, or even made into a candied sweet. Leaves are rarely used for food as they soon become too bitter and tough to be enjoyable. The roots however, are delectable, although they require some determined effort to collect, as they are long and deeply anchored. They usually need to be dug out. Once brought to the surface they must be thoroughly cleaned and peeled to cut away the tough outer rind. What remains can be prepared as a delicious root vegetable, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavour that some have likened to Jerusalem Artichokes. The roots are excellent when pureed or added to stews and soups. As a healing food, the root is particularly recommended for diabetes sufferers, as it is rich in inulin and helps to even out blood sugar levels.

Medicinally, Burdock root is thought of as a 'liver herb' and it is particularly recommended as blood cleanser for skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. Both, the fresh, grated root or the mashed fresh leaves can be applied as a poultice to wounds, bruises and badly healing sores. Simultaneously a tea or decoction of the root can be used internally to facilitate inner cleansing and support liver and kidneys. The whole plant has a tendency to draw impurities from the body and aid the healing process. Burdock root and Nettle root extract are said to be helpful as a hair tonic to prevent loss of hair.

Traditionally, Burdock is also considered a powerful anti-tumor herb and various salves and decoctions have been prepared with it as a home treatment for this purpose. One of the better-known preparations that fall into this category is a tea known as 'Essiac' of which Burdock is a key ingredient. German researchers have confirmed anti-tumor activity in all parts of Burdock as long ago as 1964.

The seeds are also considered medicinally active though according to older herbals one should avoid inhaling the tiny hairs surrounding the seeds as these are said to be toxic (Perhaps irritant?). The seeds can also be used as a poultice, though they are more frequently recommended as a tea, especially for kidney complaints. Modern herbal medicine usually only makes use of the roots.

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Creamy Burdock leaf stalks

The leaf stalks of the first year's growth make a fine vegetable. Cut off the leaves and chop the stalks into smallish chunks. Steam in a little water with some salt and sugar until tender (no longer than 10 minutes). Make a rue with the cooking water a little butter and some oatmeal. Add some crème fraiche, an egg or a little cheese.

Burdock Bake

The same kind of idea can be modified to make a kind of burdock stalk bake: Prepare some Bulghar wheat and mix with the cooked leaf stalks (take care not to overcook the stalks). Make a 'custard' with 2 eggs, crème fraîche, a little milk and melting cheese, mix with the Bulghar and burdock and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. This recipe can be adjusted to taste: add other vegetables, such as onions, sliced carrots and garlic, and season to taste.

Au Gratin

Similarly, Burdock stalks can be prepared 'au gratin'. Leave out the Bulghar wheat and just layer the pre-cooked stalks. Pour a mixture of seasoned eggs and crème fraîche over the stalks and sprinkle with a fine gouda or similar melting cheese. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.

The leaves are usually a bit bitter and most people don't like them as a vegetable. However, the young leaves are usually palatable, especially when mixed with other, milder greens or when prepared with eggs and cheese. They can also be added to soups.

The roots are hard to dig for, but make an excellent root vegetable, which can be roasted, pan-fried, mashed like mashed potatoes or added to soups.

Dandelion and Burdock Beer
(from 'The New Herbal' by Richard Maybe)

Put the nettles, dandelion leaves, burdock, ginger and thinly pared rinds of the lemons into large pan. Add the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 min. Put the lemon juice, 1 lb sugar and the cream of tartar into a large container and strain on the liquid from the pan, pressing down well on the nettles and other ingredients. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cool to body temperature. Sprinkle in the yeast. Cover the beer and leave to ferment in a warm place for 3 days. Rack off the beer and bottle it adding ½ teaspoon demarara sugar per pint. Leave the bottles undisturbed until the beer is clear - about 1 week.

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All that the earth is fragile and that we must not take from her beyond what she can sustain. Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful blessings to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt the attitude of green guardianship for our mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.

Here are the rules that every forager should live and breath by:

Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem you are a part of and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses, this will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant, than merely learning its name.

It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, so as to be sure you will avoid picking them when you gather your meal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. When you think you know a plant, think again and see what other, non-edible look-alikes might be fooling you. This is even more important when it comes to collecting mushrooms, as there are many more poisonous mushrooms than there are poisonous plants you are likely to mistake for anything edible.

Don't be greedy!

Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be especially conscienscious when it comes to harvesting roots and barks. Remember that often this means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect. Consider growing some in your garden rather than depleting natural stands. Collecting barks can also be fatal to a tree. If you must collect this part, try to collect it from smaller branches rather than the stem, from branches that have fallen, or trees that are due to be cut for other purposes.

However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subjected to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). And don't collect from nature reserves either - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!

Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while - as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of. When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind, but try to bring some back with you - I always carry two bags, one for foraging and one for litter picking. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.

In Association with
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pills.jpg (8K)Why is it, that despite all the clever medical interventions, technological advances, gazillions of pharmaceutical preparations and a constant bombardment of information regarding diet, nutrition and health people are still as sick as ever? In fact, many hitherto unknown diseases keep emerging seemingly out of nowhere. We seem to be very disease conscious, constantly worrying about our health, yet apparently unable to attain that mythical state of well-being that is portrayed as the ideal. The situation is not dissimilar to our relationship with the ideal image of beauty, which everybody wants, but nobody really feels they have or can ever achieve, no matter how much make-up they use to cover up their flaws.

But before examining this strange situation any further perhaps we ought to spend some time reflecting on what we actually mean by 'health'? Most people consider health an absence of symptoms of disease. So long as the body functions, i.e. performs its essential duties, they consider themselves healthy, even if they are overweight, feel sluggish and are lacking energy, suffer from anxiety or sleeplessness, drink too much, have a low libido and are nervous or fearful. The list of such non-serious medical conditions could be endlessly extended, but because such symptoms are not life threatening they are not considered as 'sickness'.

Many of us can not even imagine a state of well-being that makes them feel radiant, glowing, buzzing with energy without being stressed, a healthy appetite without having to worry about excess calories, and sound restful sleep that lets one awaken refreshed each morning as though one had just been reborn.

We know the intricate workings of the body and all its parts, each organ, enzyme and cell and now we are even beginning to decipher the DNA, the very building blocks of life, in search for of the secrets that we believe are the keys to health and disease. Apparently the fault lies in the parts. A reductionistic mindset perceives the human body, and for that matter, the universe itself, as the sum of its parts. If a part does not work properly it must be fixed or replaced to reestablish the smooth functioning of the whole.

Yet, when we examine the root of the word 'healing' we discover that it is related to 'wholeness' and even 'holy'. It denotes a state of equilibrium, a psycho/spiritual/physical balance that implies that the body is but an expression of the spirit. A symptom of a disease therefore is not a malfunction, which must be covered up so that normal function can resume, rather, it is a warning sign of an inner imbalance, a message from the soul to slow us down and urge us to reconsider our alignment with the cosmic order and our path, it urges us to listen within and adjust, not to the symptom but to the cause of the discomfort.

However, in today's world time is money and the emphasis is placed on achievement, not on 'being'. We seek the quick fix so we don't loose our position in the rat race. The values of society cling to material and thus transitional things. For some reason our attention is more focused on how to obtain lots of money or assets, the value of which might shift to nil over night, than to any inner values, which cannot be seen but are part of the permanent strands that make up the fabric of our souls.

Life in general has become very superficial and we are seeking to cover up the wounds of our souls that manifest in ever changing 'symptoms', with an ever evolving array of pharmaceutical band-aids - much to the delight of the pharmaceutical companies that develop them, for their existence and prosperity depends on our continued 'dis-ease', not on our health and well-being. So long as their colorful pills can keep the symptoms somewhat at bay people will come back for more, for to truly take the time and discover the messages of the soul requires some hard work, a lot of time and above all self-honesty to face truths we might rather wish to ignore. And beyond that, it requires action on our part to change our lifestyle and habits in order to realign with the cosmic patterns of our soul. For a society that is conditioned to consume and is taught to expect a quick fix for everything, that might just be too much to ask and so the pharmaceutical companies will live happily ever after...

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Over the past few years legislators have been working away at designing an intellectual property rights system that governs newly discovered or developed plant varieties. It seems ridiculous that any form of life can be patented at all, but that is exactly what has been happening.

To quote the GRAIN press release: 'Intellectual property rights (IPR) applied to seeds give breeders, or whoever claims to have discovered or developed a new plant variety, an exclusive monopoly right in relation to the seed. Under patent law, that monopoly right is very strong. It will generally prevent anyone from using, selling or producing the seed without the patent holder's permission.'

At present most of the varieties that have been patented are seeds that have a high commercial value but with the numerous advances of biotechnology such patents are becoming ever more commonplace. Until now there has been a clause known as the 'the farmers privilege' which has given farmers the right to save seeds and reuse, barter or sell them in subsequent years. This 'privilege' is now under attack. New laws are coming into effect which are mostly concerned with protecting the continuous cash flow of the multinational seed giants, by severely curbing the 'farmer's privilege' thus forcing them to pay continuous royalties or re-buy fresh seeds each year.

For the past decade or so the seed giants have lobbied hard and succeeded to implement the remodeling of international laws and agreements, which work to the effect of ensuring them the right to control the food chain. They have managed to carve out a legal status for themselves that places them somewhere in the vicinity of God, the almighty, from where they can control the genetic strands of life itself while the general public has been asleep and remains largely unaware of these fundamental changes that are profoundly reconstituting the fabric of life itself.

The ploy is to genetically engineer essential food and other economically valuable plants, so that these become 'inventions', which can be patented and thus fall under the intellectual property law, meaning, that anybody who wishes to plant such seeds has to pay royalties to the company who owns the patent. Thus, farmers who grow these GE seeds are no longer allowed to save their seeds and once in the claws of the seed companies the farmer is indebted to them for as long as he wishes to grow their patented variety of seeds.

Ok, some might say, the farmer does not have to grow the GE seeds and thus can remain free of the royalty pressure and continue saving and growing his own seeds. If only things were that simple! Unfortunately they are not. Nature, doing what comes naturally, cross pollinates non-GE plants with GE plants - you know, that thing that the bees and the butterflies do when they buzz about from flower to flower, or the wind, or the bats or the birds…They don't stop to ask the plant, 'excuse me, has your seed been tampered with in the Biotech laboratory…?' before they plunge in to suckle the nectar and thus spread the pollen far and wide.

This indiscriminate sexual behavior of nature poses an obvious hazard not just to human health, but also to the entire eco-system in which these plants grow - though the full extend of a potential GE disaster has yet to be assessed. There have been no long term health risk trials on humans so far. We don't know how GE foods will affect our health or that of future generations, though statistics have shown that food related incidence of diseases have grown dramatically since GE foods have been released on the market. Of course, as usual, a clear correlation has so far not been established. Nor do we know how GE pollen will affect the pollinators or any other aspect of the ecosystem with which it will come in contact… Some time ago GE maize only intended as animal food was accidentally mixed with regular maize for human consumption, and the resulting corn chips have already caused severe allergic reactions in some of the people who inadvertently ate the polluted food. The fear that insects or birds might be similarly adversely affected is not far fetched. How will this affect the rest of the ecological tapestry? Will the strands that make up this complex web of life be dismantled, thread by thread until it is too late to repair? GE opponents fear the possibility of uncontrollable ecological consequences once the plants and their pollen are released into the environment. The pollen cannot be recalled if the experiment goes wrong.

Some of the genes that are being inserted into regular food plants such as corn are derived from bacteria and fungi and other strange sources. The rational is that if plants can be bread with an inbuilt resistance to certain bugs or fungal afflictions fewer pesticides will be needed to grow them. However, nature always seeks a balance, and just as bugs have developed a resistance to pesticides and antibiotics over the past 50 years or so, they will eventually overpower these inbuilt resistance genes. Then we will have superbugs that are resistant to both, the chemicals and the genetically engineered resistant plants - where will we turn then?

To add insult to injury, the seed companies have already manipulated the laws to the extend that in such cases where their GE seed cross pollinates with a non GE strain, the legal consequences rest not on their shoulders as one might have thought, for polluting another farmers crop for example, no, the blame rests with the farmer who has become the victim of the GE pollution. In the view of the IPR law he has 'stolen' the GE pollen and thus the company has the right to collect royalties for the crop, which the farmer unintentionally produced. Thus, not only is his regular crop ruined, but on top of it he has to pay for the assault. This policy is completely twisted and sick, and you might think it a joke, but such a case has already happened a couple of years ago in Canada. The legal battle that ensued has set the precedence for many such battles to come.

As if that were not enough, another aspect of this grim and evil ploy is the political pressure with which the United States government is trying to enforce acceptance of GE seeds worldwide (under the banner of 'free trade'). So far several countries have put up a certain amount of resistance to the Frankenfoods and seeds, thus curbing the potential disaster, but now the US is trying to take the EU to court over its refusal to accept GE foods and seeds and even blames the EU for perpetuating the starvation and poverty in Africa and elsewhere. If only the EU accepted GE foods, so the argument goes, the poor, underdeveloped nations could grow these novel crops and thus earn some money on exports and feed themselves as well. However, they fail to mention that once these farmers start growing the GE crops they will no longer be allowed to save the seeds and thus will be forced into a slave economy in which they will be forever dependent on the seed giants and forced to accept whatever atrocious permutations of dependency they will impose upon them - seeds that only germinate with the addition of certain chemicals is just one scenario. If they wanted to return to regular seeds they might find that the supply has shrunk and regular seeds are simply no longer available. This already happened in the USA a few years back when the government and biotech companies hailed GE foods as the next best thing to sliced bread and urged farmers to convert all their crops to the new technology. But once they started growing the GE crops farmers found that their crops were unwanted outside of the US and subsequently tried to return to their conventional seeds - only to find that these were now hard to come by...

As awareness and resistance to GE foods has grown in the industrialized nations the pressure is now on in the developing world, which is now heavily being pressured into growing the new wonder crops - why? Because they are an easy target. Politicians and GE proponents realize that they need to run a real life large scale experiment to 'prove' to the rest of the 'Luddite skeptics' that GE technology is safe - and 'Bingo' an excellent opportunity is just coming up on the horizon: As Africa is facing yet another starvation crisis the Bush administration has instantly latched on to the opportunity to conduct a broad scale test of GE foods on a helpless and suffering public (see Force-feed the hungry ). 'Eat GE foods or starve' is the message, and furthermore 'if you don't accept the GE foods we will cut funding to relieve the AIDS crisis' - of course, we are only trying to help, aren't we…? In places such as Africa the seed giants can run their real life experiment under the cloak of benevolence and thus watch the effects of their Frankenstein foods unfold. Far away from home the yet unknown social, medical or ecological consequences of the experiment will not hit home with voters, who might vehemently protest and thus influence the politicians and, god forbid, urge them to curb the rights and powers of these seed companies. Why should Mr. or Mrs. taxpayer in the industrial world care about a GE induced natural disaster that may unfold in some poor third world country as a consequence of 'food-aid' sometime in the near future any more than he or she does about the politically induced starvation that ravages these countries today?

Unfortunately, GE crops and all the complicated threads and issues that are connected to biotechnology, the seriously dangerous dabbling with the building blocks of life and its unpredictable effects, the questionable policy to grant intellectual property rights on any form of life, the control of the food chain by a few power and money hungry corporate megalomaniacs and last, but not least, our own pawn-like role in the whole scenario when we face the magnitude of the mess and feel helpless - they all concern each and every one of us.

Our voice may seem small, but we CAN refuse to cooperate with the corporate megalomaniacs, we CAN demand to know the sources of our foods and inform ourselves and boycott food manufacturers who use GE ingredients - its up to us to choose or refuse - we CAN grow our own veggies, save our own seeds and exchange and swap with our friends and neighbors. We CAN discuss these issues with the local farmers and urge them to grow organic, we CAN share our concerns and worries with everybody we meet or write letters to politicians and local papers. We CAN re-claim control of our lives through our conscious actions and support mother earth who sustains us all.

Life is not a commodity



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karajia.jpg (18K)Peru is an amazingly diverse country that comprises within its borders some of the highest mountains, deepest gorges, lushest rain forest and driest deserts found on the planet. Most people flock only to the well-known tourist destinations: Iquitos and the Amazon basin, Cuzco and Machu Picchu and perhaps the Sacred Valley, leaving the rest of Peru largely undisturbed. Those who are brave enough to venture off the beaten path will be amazed at the incredible natural and historic treasures that are waiting to be discovered in the lesser known places. It is still possible to have a real adventure in this incredible country…

One of the most amazing places, which has remained virtually untouched, is the Chachapoyas region of northern Peru. Breathtaking scenery of lush forests and high mountains where the condors fly, ancient ruins of long forgotten civilizations and the Inca highway that winds its way along the whole length of the ancient Inca empire. There are not many tourist facilities here and not too many tour operators who organize expeditions into this pristine wilderness. Sacred Earth is now partnering with a company who organizes hiking treks with an archeological emphasis, both long and short into the mountains of northern Peru. These tours are mostly for physically fit people who love hiking and want to get away from the beaten path. Conditions can be demanding, but the rewards will awesome. These trips are for people looking for an expedition type of adventure with a perfect balance of nature and ancient culture.

For those who are less physically fit and still want to get off the beaten path, they also offer shorter tours with shorter hikes and 4-wheel drive support. Nights are spent at comfortable hotels rather than camping or at rustic lodges. The 'Discover Chachapoyas' trips offer a good opportunity to explore the highlights of this amazing area in comfort.

The discovery trips run on a flexible schedule.
Minimum number of participants: 2
Click on the links below for detailed itineraries:

Chachapoyas Discoverer:

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Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT)

India's heritage of medicinal plant use is ancient, yet it continues to thrive even today. Ayurveda - the science of life - takes a holistic approach to health and wholeness; it is a philosophy as much as a healing system, which advocates a balanced lifestyle according to one's temperament.

Yet, even in India, where ancient traditions have survived more vibrantly than almost any other place on this planet, modern lifestyles with all their woes are encroaching on the old philosophies. Urbanization and habitat destruction are the leading causes of the degradation of the ancient traditions. Habitat destruction results in a direct loss of biodiversity, which occurs parallel to the dissociation from the natural world due to an increased exposure to 'modern lifestyle conveniences'.

Luckily, many people in India are aware of the treasures conveyed by their heritage and there are a number of individuals and institutions working to slow or prevent the loss of the ancient healing traditions. The Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) is one such organization, which in conjunction with conservation organizations seeks to preserve both, the traditional healing knowledge as well as the healing plants themselves. Below follows an introduction to their work:

The Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) is a reputed non government organisation in the field of Conservation NGOs In collaboration with the State Forest Department and Environmental NGOs the FRLHT has been doing pioneering work to promote the conservation of "medicinal plant diversity" in India. This work has been supported by the ministry of environment and forests, Government of India and Danida. The Foundation received recognition for this work via 'The Norman Borlaug Award'. The UNDP support for extending the conservation models developed by FRLHT and its collaborators to Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra encourages us to further refine the conservation strategy.

FRLHT pursues several aims:

Medicinal plant conservation: raising awareness about endangered species, preserving such species in botanical gardens and promoting their cultivation and protections.

Due to the rapid degradation and loss of natural habitats juxtaposed with the over harvesting of some species, the biological wealth that is so intrinsically important to these systems of medicine is being destroyed or becoming endangered. Over 200 species of medicinal plants are already on the RED list.

Collection and dissemination of knowledge: The organization has multi-disciplinary databases on medicinal plants. They are evidence of the depth and width of 'knowledge' embodied in the Indian Medicinal Plants Heritage.

FRLHT is working on several related projects, such as medicinal plant reserves and the creation of educational and informational resources. They also produce a bimonthly health magazine called AMRUTH.

The immediate challenge for FRLHT in the coming years is to expand its activities in the traditional medicinal field and grow into a self-financing institution by widening its user base and extending high quality professional services to the medicinal plant and herbal sector via relevant research, teaching and outreach programs.

To learn more about this important initiative please visit their excellent websites which offer a multitude of resources on the medicinal plant traditions of India and the conservation efforts working to safeguard their continuation for future generations.

Please visit their Website


This site deals with Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) and its activities, which is coordinating the implementation of the pioneering program for conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants and revitalisation of local health traditions.

This site is called Cooperative Information Network on Medicinal Plants managed by FRLHT.

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Quercus robur L.

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Tanners Bark, Eiche

Planetary Ruler:



acorn.jpg (7K)This magnificent stately tree does not require much description, as it is familiar to just about anyone. There are many different species of oak, but Quercus robur is the most common one throughout the temperate regions of Europe. They can grow to a height of 20 - 30 meters and tend to reach their final height, within the first 100 years of their lifetime. Oaks can grow extremely ancient provided they are allowed to mature; there are some trees alive today that are said to be over 1000 years old. From a human point of view, their reproductive cycle starts late -: Oaks don't produce flowers or acorns until they reach 50 years of age. However, from then on they usually yield an abundance of acorns for many, many seasons to come.

flowers.jpg (12K)The flowers are tiny and not at all flashy or sensually stimulating, nor do they produce a sweet smelling, insect attracting scent, as they rely on the wind for fertilization. For all the inconspicuousness of the flowers the fruit are all the more symbolically pertinent. Acorns have long been regarded as an obvious symbol of fertility, and have been interpreted and used as such in folk-magical customs throughout Europe.

As acorns are too heavy to be dispersed by the wind, the task of planting them has been adopted by certain animals such as squirrels, who like the nuts and bury them for winter storage, but subsequently often forget the exact hiding place, thus giving the acorns a chance to germinate.

Quercus.jpg (10K)Oak leaves are inverted lanceolate (egg-shaped) with rounded, lobed margins. According to one old story, the leaves derived their lobed shape due to an outburst of the devil's anger. The story goes that one day the devil went to God, asking him for rulership over the forests. God replied that he would grant this wish and that the governance should commence from the time when there will be no leaves left on the Oak-trees. All winter the devil had to wait patiently and when spring came and the old leaves finally left the trees, the devil joyfully approached the Oak-tree, checking once more to see whether the time of his glory as the forest king had finally come. But to his great disappointment he discovered that far from being leafless the Oak tree was already happily producing fresh young shoots and leaves. Realizing that he had been conned, the devil hit into the leaves with his claw, and that's how the Oak leaves became lobed.

The bark of the Oak tree is gray and deeply fissured, the wood extremely dense and durable. The inner bark is reddish brown with longitudinal striations. The fracture is fibrous, with projecting medullary rays. The taste is astringent and bitter, the scent slightly aromatic.

The genus Quercus comprises about 600 different species with wildly differing attributes. Quercus robur is the most commonly distributed species in Europe, and the one most frequently used for food and medicine. Other species, such as the evergreen oak (Quercus ilex) or the Cork Oak (Quercus suber) may be locally common but not generally widespread.


Oak trees are an image of endurance, vigor and sturdiness. Naturally, our ancestors associated it with the king of the Gods, Jupiter/Zeus/Thor, the God of thunder and lightening, a deity who embodies the qualities of strength, power and potency. The majestic Oak trees were considered his earthly abode. Oak trees are said to extend as far below the ground as they reach up into the heavens, thus encompassing Underworld and Heavens alike. In Norse/Germanic mythology Thor/Donar/Wodan is a shamanic God who traverses these realms on his eight-legged stallion 'Sleipnir'. When he passes we hear the noise of his mount's thundering hooves as he gallops through the skies.

Quercus cocciferaIt is said that 'Oaks and Ash court the lightening flash'. The rationalization of this phenomenon consists of the fact that Oaks often grow where two water veins cross. Our ancestors on the other hand saw it as the presence of their thunder-god Jupiter/Thor. Lightening was regarded as a fertilizing heavenly fire, a gift of the Gods, which was awe inspiring and frightening, for it could both, destroy as well as fertilize the fields (by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, as the clever, educated 20th century person would hasten to add). Of course, thunder and lightening are also usually accompanied by heavy rains, which are just as necessary to fertilize the earth.

Oaks were rarely planted close to the farm, as their character belonged to the wild, untamed aspect of nature. They were considered far too sacred to be domesticated and besides, their affinity to lightening was not a particularly desirable quality to have around the home. Instead, single standing old Oaks and Oak woods were used as temples for ceremonies and as oracular places. The ancient Greeks heard the voice of Zeus speak to them in the rustling of the leaves and branches of the oracular Oak at Dodona. In Lithuania, Perkumas, the God of lightening and rain was celebrated in the sacred Oak forests while the Celts worshipped Dagda (Tanaris) in Oak-groves just as the Romans celebrated Jupiter, who was said to have found protection under an Oak tree when he was a little baby. The Germanic and Norse tribes perceived their thunder gods Thor and Donar/Wodan in Oak trees, which they considered their most holy sanctuaries. Sacred Oak trees and groves can still be found throughout northern Europe.

Oaks were used as meeting places for the village elders where they held their moots or tings (meetings) to decide on morals, law and order. Decisions thus made under the watchful eye of Thor himself were meant to endure and stand firm like the Oak tree itself. Court was held in their shade, oaths were sworn and no false word was tolerated in its presence. Oaks were held in such high esteem, that anyone who would dare to harm them was sentenced to death.

This kind of awe and respect was harshly ended by the fanatical christianizing efforts of the church, which went on an outright campaign against tree worship. A particularly keen clergyman named Bonifatius made it his mission to stamp out this 'idolizing pagan tree worship'. Under the protection of the army of the Holy Roman Emperor he turned his zeal against the famous Donar Oak, determined to slay it down. In the face of such an overpowering display of force there was little that the mortified 'heathens' could do. Anyone who would raise arms against Bonifatius was as good as dead. Thus, they simply stood by and watched in horror, secretly hoping that Thor himself would avenge such an act of sacrilege by striking the offender down with one of his mighty lightening bolts - but no such thing happened and thus the first exemplary case had been set. Many more sacred Oaks died this sad martyr death in the course of Bonifatius campaign, until he came to the Friesens (Northern Germany/Holland) who were not at all amused and wouldn't have any of it. When he laid his axe on their sacred Oak, they quickly took up arms and struck him dead instead.

church2.gif (34K)Despite all this persecution tree worship would not die out. Eventually the church began to realize that it was fighting a loosing battle and acting according to the dictum of ' if you can't beat it, join it', or at least assimilate it, the Church decided to 'christianize' the questionable trees by declaring them holy to one or the other of their Saints. Thus it came to be that here and there ancient oaks that had survived Bonifatius' ruthless crusade were eventually declared officially 'holy' and to this day, rows of pilgrims come to these trees or their descendents, to pray, make offerings and worship them, now under official 'Christian' auspices. In a tiny village in Normandy a sacred old Oak tree itself was turned into a 'tree-church'. A minute chapel dedicated to 'our lady of peace' is built right inside the tree trunk. The approximately 1200-year-old tree is still alive; an awesome testimonial to the deeply rooted nature spirituality that was once common throughout Europe, preserved to this day, as it were, in Christian robes.

A surviving relic of these ancient times is the living custom of 'beating the parish boundaries', which is still practiced in England to this day. Once a year the vicar and his congregation march around the parish boundaries while the vicar recites gospel truths and psalms under certain landmark trees (Gospel Oaks).

Many individual old Oak trees, or groves became the living remnants of these ancient practices and frequently local folklore would be spun around them. Gog and Magog, two ancient Oak trees in Glastonbury, England are all that is left of an ancient sacred Oak-grove. Old records mention that once upon a time an oak lined passageway led all the way up to the foot of the Tor, the local sacred hill. Once an important spiritual sanctuary of the Druids, all these ancient trees except for Gog and Magog had to clear the way for farming.

In druidic times the Oak played a particularly important role and not just as the host for the Mistletoe, which was the holiest of sacred plants in druidic lore. The very name 'Druid' is derived from the Celtic word for Oak - 'duir' meaning door. Duir, door, Tür, Tor, can all be traced back to the Sanskrit root 'DWR', which also means 'door'. Traditionally, doors were made of Oak, as this is the strongest and toughest wood. It is also a wood of protection and thus wards off any evil spirits.

Esoterically, the door represents a threshold or 'in-between space', a time and place between the worlds. Robert Graves notes: ' In the Celtic tree alphabet the Oak is the seventh tree, holy to all the thunder Gods - Zeus, Jupiter, Hercules, the Dagda, Thor and Jehovah in so far as he was El and Allah. The fires for the human sacrifice of the Oak king of Nemi on Midsummer Day were always fuelled with Oak.'

The worship and sacrifice of the Oak king refers to a very ancient tradition according to which the kings' role was to ensure the fertility of the land. He was, in effect a human representative of the divine life force or vegetation spirit. When the king had become old and feeble he was challenged by a young hero who's task was to kill the king and thus claiming the role of king for himself thereby transferring the life-force from the old to the young. The king is dead - long live the king! This theme still echoes in the familiar legend of the fisher king and the grail castle.

Midsummer is the most important turning point of the year. The sun has reached its highest zenith on its journey around the ecliptic and it marks the longest day before the sun's decline. Midsummer is the threshold, marking the height and fight between the dark and light forces. At Midsummer it is the Oak king that is celebrated as the undying vegetation spirit, but at midwinter it is his brother, the Holly who will take over this role.

In the Celtic tradition midsummer marked the beginning and end of the year and the Oak god was also identified with Lyr or Llew who, like Janus is a dual character, looking in both directions, towards the future and its new promises, as well as back over the dying year. The Oak king is its jovial aspect symbolizing times of fruitfulness, riches and plenty. Images of exuberant summer parties spring to mind, where food and wine seem to be in endless supply. Hence, Oaks have also become a symbol of hospitality and indeed considering the number of organisms each Oak tree can sustain, their generosity is by no means purely symbolic. Each Oak tree could be considered a microcosm, or miniature eco-system.


Traditionally Oak wood was not just burnt at midsummer, but also at Christmas or Winter Solstice. The charcoaled remains are said to protect against lightening and the ashes were strewn on the fields to increase fertility.

Many parts of the Oak were valued for their counter magical properties. In the old days, the evil doings of nasty witches and devils were much feared, for they caused men to loose their virility and women to become sterile and they made the milk dry up in humans and animals alike. Feeding Oak leaves to the cattle or pinning sprigs of Oak on the door could prevent these witches and daemons from carrying out their evil deeds.



Oak wood is extremely dense, strong and durable and has thus found much use in building and construction. Ships were built with Oak wood, and railway sleepers were made from it, not to mention house construction and furniture making. Under water it is virtually indestructible, which is why most of Britain's ancient Oaks were sacrificed to build the Navy fleet that went out to conquer new lands for the Crown. Thus it is on Oaks that the British Empire was built. More than 500 000 trees were cut for shipbuilding alone - what a price to pay! The repercussions of this enterprise are still haunting us today: As a consequence of cutting down the old Oak forests Britain's landscape was denuded and turned into a treeless wasteland. An acute fuel shortage soon followed, which in turn led to the quarrying of coal and thus to the industrial age of steam engines and factories. Ironically, today Britain sends out its commercial fleet to import hardwoods from other countries.

Whiskey, Sherry and Wine barrels were traditionally made from Oakwood. The tannin renders the wine more durable and imparts a mellowing effect on the spirits. Oakwood is also often used to smoke various foods, such as fish, meat and even cheese, both for the flavor and its preserving qualities.


As one of its common names 'tanners bark' suggests, the bark is very rich in tannin and has long been used for tanning leather.

An infusion of the bark can also be used as a dye for wool. With salts of iron it yields a black dye, with alum root it yields brown and with salt of zinc it makes a yellow dye.

Native Americans are said to have dyed their skins red with the bark of Quercus prinus.

In Brittany compressed tan was used as a fuel.

The bark of the cork oak has long supplied the cork industry, though natural cork for use as stoppers for wine bottles is gradually beingreplaced with artificial cork. Still, sork has superb insulating properties and is still sought after as a building material, especially for insulating floors.


pigs1.jpg (19K)The nuts (acorns) can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. In former times they were used as a main dietary item for pigs, though when times were tough the peasants didn't turn them down either. A nourishing, starchy flour can be obtained by grinding dried acorns. To reduce the bitterness of the nuts they should be washed repeatedly in running water or boiled in several changes of water. The flour can be used to make bread. Some American Indian tribes used it as a staple dietary item, using it for bread, pudding soup etc.

At one time the value of a piece of woodland was estimated in terms of the number of pigs that could be fed on the acorns it produced (hence the saying, 'the best ham grows on Oaks'). In the autumn the herd of pigs was released into the the oak forest to gorge themselves on the nuts. The swine herd would accompany them and beat the trees to assist the release of the nuts. Acorns, used in this way, were also one of the earliest forms of taxation. This may be why Oak leaves were printed on coins (e.g. Germany) - apart from the fact, of course that the Oak is also a symbol of strength, stability and wealth.


Folkloristic medicine made widespread use of various trees, not so much as remedies, but for the purpose of transferring the evil spirits of disease from the sufferer to a strong healthy tree, which seemed much better equipped to cope with it. The practice is known as 'transfer magic'. A variety of rituals were associated with this custom and all of them involved reciting certain spells, which caused the demon of disease to take leave from the body and take up residence with the tree.

Oaks, as the strongest of all the trees, were deemed effective against many different kinds of affliction, among them were gout, fever, toothache, headache and even broken bones. Sometimes bits of the sufferer's garment, some hair or fingernails were plugged into the tree with the help of nails (often coffin-nails), thereby banning the disease daemon into the wood.

Another practice, much used by arthritis, rheumatism and gout sufferers, as well as for malformed children, was to crawl through holes in the stem of the tree or gnarled roots.

Sometimes such holes would occur naturally, though more frequently they were cultivated. A young stem was split and then tied together again at the split ends. The gap in the middle was maintained until the two sides would heal naturally.

A charm-bag filled with Oak bark, worn close to the body was said to prevent prolapse of the uterus. Old Oak leaves were collected and boiled to extract the cold from chilblains.

Rainwater found in hollowed Oak stems was used against freckles, warts and blood in the urine. Oak was also believed to be particularly useful against the bites of venomous beasts.

Then, as now, Oak bark was used for its astringent qualities in the treatment of swollen glands, inflamed gums and loose teeth, for profuse sweating and as the no. 1 antidote against all sorts of poisons. Furthermore, it was widely used against bleeding and discharging (inflamed) wounds, against bed-wetting and hemorrhoids and against inflammation of the eyes.

Whilst some of the practices seem indeed obscure, others make a lot of sense considering the strongly astringent quality of Oak bark. It resists poison, not just because it is a herb ruled by the protective Jupiter, but also because the astringency prevents the poison from being absorbed by the stomach. Astringency reduces inflammation and acts anti-diaphoretic.



Dried inner bark from young branches


May, autumn


Tannin, gallic acid, egallitannin, phlobatannin


Anti-inflammatory (esp. mucous membranes), astringent, antiseptic, tonic, haemostatic


Chronic diarrhea, chronic dysentery, externally for nappy rash, gargle for sore throat, loose teeth, laryngitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, douche for leucorrhoea, liniment for burns and chilblains, sitzbath for hemorrhoids, eczema, psoriasis, swollen glands.


Use the bark of young branches and twigs but remove only in patches. If the whole circumference is removed the tree is likely to suffer severely or may even die. The leaves may be collected from May - July and should be dried in the shade. In spring the young twigs may be used to express the fresh juice, which can be made into a tincture by adding the same amount of alcohol and leaving it to macerate for two weeks. Strain and keep the clear liquid in a n air-tight dark bottle in a cool place. Administer a few drops on sugar or honey.



Oak bark should be considered wherever an internal astringent is called for. It can be used for chronic diarrhea, dysentery and mucous discharge, as in excessive stomach or lung catarrh. It is also used for gastritis and for stomach and duodenal ulcers, but should be avoided in cases of nervous stomach and intestinal complaints. An infusion is useful for all types of internal and external hemorrhages, such as from and ulcerated bladder or stomach, tuberculosis and liver inflammation. As a gargle it is useful for bleeding gums and sore throat, tonsillitis, laryngitis and pharyngitis. As a sitzbath or enema for hemorrhoids and prolapsed colon and as a douche for leucorrhoea. Used internally and externally at the same time it is a useful remedy for varicose veins. Externally it can be applied to burns, chilblains and nappy rash, skin irritations, weeping eczema, contact dermatitis and insect bites, sweaty feet and infected or discharging wounds and ulcers. A liniment may be applied to goiter, swollen glands and hardened swellings or tumors. A snuff made from the powdered bark is a preventive remedy for consumption, a decoction made from the bark and acorns with milk is considered an antidote and best first aid remedy for poisoning, whether from plants, mushrooms or nicotine. The distilled water made from the buds before opening can be used for inflammations, burning fevers and infections. Ground, roasted acorns (acorn coffee) are a good fortifying remedy for the elderly or sickly in cases of debility, weak digestion and anemia. The leaves are slightly diuretic and strengthening for the stomach. Externally, a decoction of the leaves may be used for tumors, wounds and blisters. All preparations of the Oak (bark, leaves, acorns) are toning and astringe the tissues.

According to Culpeper:

The leaves and the bark and the acorn cups bind the dry much. The inner bark and the thin skin that covers the acorn are used to stay the spitting of blood and the flux. The decoction of the bark and the powder of the cups stay the vomiting, spitting of the blood, bleeding of the mouth or other flux of blood in man or woman and the involuntary flux of natural seed. The acorn in powder taken in wine, provokes urine and resists the poison of venomous creatures, and the virulence of cantharides. It cools the heat of the liver, breaks the stone and stays womens courses. The decoction of the leaves work to the same effect. The water that is found in the hollow places of the Oaks is very effectual against any foul or spreading scabs.


As Oak bark is extremely astringent, it should be administered in conjunction with a mild laxative when given internally, so as not to constipate the patient. Homeopathically a tincture of Oak is used for alcoholism, offensive breath, constipation, diarrhea, dropsy, fistula, dizziness, gout, intermittent fevers, leukemia splenica, spleen affections. Some Native Americans have been known to let acorn flour go moldy and then use the mould in the treatment of boils, sores and other inflammations. The infusion applied to the scalp is used to treat loss of hair and dandruff.


It should not be used for nervous stomach or intestinal complaints.


Often given with Ginger before meals. Standard dose is 1 teaspoon of the bark to a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 - 15 min, drink 3 times a day. Tincture: 1 - 2ml 3 times a day. For external use, make a standard decoction.


Oak bark is such a useful all-round astringent that it can be employed for all parts of the body where astringency is called for. To increase the specific action it may be combined with other herbs that are specific for a particular organ or system. For internal use it may be necessary to use it conjunction with a laxative to counteract its binding properties.

For weakly children and those who constantly suffer from rashes and swollen glands, it is recommended to prepare an Oak bath, by simmering 1 kg of Oak-bark with 1.5 liter of water for approx. 15 min. Walnut leaves may also be added to this decoction. Strain and add to the bath water. Administer a drink made from acorn coffee and cocoa with milk.

To make acorn coffee, collect the acorns in autumn, shell them and cut them into small pieces. Roast them in a frying pan without burning until dry. Grind in a coffee grinder and keep in a tight jar use 1 tsp of the powder per cup of coffee and simmer briefly. Add cinnamon or cardamom for taste.

To make acorn flour, the acorns are washed and drained several times until the resulting water is clear. This is done in order to get rid of the bitter taste. After this procedure they may be dried in the oven and ground into flour. Generally it is mixed with wheat and/or rye flour for baking.

Another method is to boil the shelled nuts for two hours changing the water every time it becomes brown. Dry the nuts and grind coarsely.

Edward Bach recognized the essential character of the Oak deva well when he chose the Oak flower as a remedy to fortify the endurance and will power of those who are normally strong but have reached their limits.

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REPORT: TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (June03/3)

Third World Network:
11 June 2003

At the TRIPS Council meeting on 4-6 June, discussions took place on the review of article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement, on intellectual property and traditional knowledge, and on the relation between TRIPS and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The highlights were: (1) a new paper by the Africa Group reiterating their demand that patents on all life forms and living processes be prohibited, that countries be able to use a sui generis system of their choice, and that traditional knowledge be better protected; (2) a paper by a group of developing countries elaborating on their earlier proposal that TRIPS require patent applications involving genetic materials or traditional knowledge to disclose the country of origin accompanied by evidence of prior informed consent and benefit sharing arrangements; and (3) a paper by Switzerland proposing a mechanism enabling (but not requiring) disclosure of source through WIPO.

To read the rest of the article, click here

More articles on legal cases concerning GE seeds:

There have been several recent developments in the battle Monsanto is waging to enforce its global intellectual property clamp on genetically modified seeds:

Botswana: San Bushmen Launch Ecotourism Project

Source: Press Release, Conservation International (Washington, DC),
1 May 2003

One of southern Africa's most ancient and vulnerable communities, Botswana's Bukakhwe San Bushmen, have launched a community-run ecotourism project built on preserving their traditional values and protecting the region's declining wildlife.

Working in partnership with Conservation International and Wilderness Safaris, the Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust recently inaugurated the new venture called Gudigwa Camp. The ecotourism venture is fully owned by the Bukakhwe San Bushmen and all proceeds will be funnelled back into community development projects. The initiative aims to reduce pressure on wildlife in Botswana's Okavango Delta by providing alternative sources of income that respect the Bukakhwe's cultural heritage.

"This integrated and socially responsible approach to tourism will help deliver important local benefits," said Ms Pelonomi Venson, Botswana's Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. "The community will be able to maintain their ancient customs, tourists get to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Bukakhwe San Bushmen and the region's endangered wildlife is protected."

Hunting, increased human settlement and livestock encroachment have had a negative impact on some of the region's most endangered species like the African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Gudigwa's cheetahs, Wattled cranes, lions and leopards are also under pressure. This new project gives the 700 members of the Gudigwa community sustainable alternatives to livestock grazing and incentives to protect local fauna.

The Bukakhwe San Bushmen of Gudigwa live in northeastern Botswana in the upper extremity of the Okavango Delta. Tracing their roots back to Namibia and southern Angola, they have maintained their cultural heritage for thousands of years, amid their unique wetland surroundings.

Gudigwa Camp will host up to 16 guests at a time in comfortable grass huts modelled on traditional Bushmen shelters. Through walking tours, community members will teach guests about San cultural heritage including the use of medicinal plants, gathering water in the dry season, traditional storytelling, song and dance.

Biopiracy in the Amazon

Source: Phytomedica List Manager [], a Brazilian NGO based in the state of Acre, has developed a special section of its website focusing on local problems of biopiracy: The pages are available in Portuguese and English.

Read the rest of the announcements, click here

Cameroon: 38 new plant species discovered

Source: Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé), 24 April 2003

Some 38 plant species, new to science, have been discovered in five biodiversity sites (Korup, Mount Cameroon, Mount Kupe, Mount Ijim and Mount Kilum) in the North West and South West provinces. This was the main revelation during a training workshop organised at the British Council under the auspices of the British Darwin Initiative.