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© Kat Morgenstern
September 2004
Vol.III Issue:4

This Issue:

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autumn I bet you thought it would never come! But here it is, at long last, the autumn issue of the Sacred Earth Newsletter. Although it has been a busy summer, after a turbulent start the dust started to settle and I was left to sort through the pieces. The good news is that, as you can see, I am back in cyberspace and somewhat operational (touch wood). Not all has been lost and so I am grateful. Some computer fairy must have been watching over me...

I hope you had a happy and healthy summer and are now enjoying the last of the autumn days, (or the beginning of spring, if you are down-under) bringing in a plentiful harvest. Thanks for hanging in there - I appreciate your patience. I hope you enjoy this newsletter - let me know your thoughts - I always like to hear from readers.
Green blessings
Kat Morgenstern September 2004

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bramble (15K)Autumn equinox always arrives with a shock: summer is over, winter is on the approach! How could it be? It seems only such a short while ago that we laughed and played in the summer sun, but all of a sudden I hear the equinox storms hurling outside my window and threatening looking clouds are being chased across the sky. I sigh. The last of the foraging days are ahead. From now until samhain or all saints a last flurry of activity lies ahead: gathering mushrooms, berries and nuts to fill the winter larder.

Strawberries, raspberries, red currents - most of the berries are already gone. But one remains, serving to remind us of sweet summer days and accompanying us to winter's threshold: the lowly Bramble - also known as Blackberry. How we curse it in spring and summer when we find passage across a field blocked by its thorny arms, when its barbs tear our clothes, tangle our hair, or scratch our skin! When bramble blocks the way it means business. Although it is not impossible to overcome, most will choose an easier route than to engage in direct combat.

Yet, who can resist its sweet berries when summer comes to a close? From the end of August to the beginning of November Bramble bestows a seemingly endless harvest, so much so that looking at the remaining rows of jam jars I always wonder whether I will be able to finish it all before the time comes to make more...

Bramble is an undemanding plant, springing up just about anywhere it gets a chance. In fact, it is often regarded a weed. But, like many other so-called weeds, its humble appearance disguises a lavish gift.

Blackberries are rich in vitamins, especially C and A, and minerals. They also contain flavonoids and tannins, which means that they are not only delicious field fare or jam material, but can also be used medicinally.

The tannins act astringent, thus medicinally blackberries (as well as the blackberry leaves, when picked in spring) can be used to tighten the gums, and to inhibit bleeding. Small children benefit from their action on a 'rumble-tum', arresting diarrhoea, settling an upset, nervous stomach and even soothing a stomach-flu.

The leaves can be brewed into a tea. Sometimes they are mixed with raspberry and strawberry leaves to make a refreshing general purpose household tea. Medicinal they act diuretic and diaphoretic and thus are used to cleanse the blood and lower a fever. A less known, very valuable property of the leaves is their ability to lower blood sugar levels, which should be interesting for diabetics, who ought to consider using blackberry leaves as an alternative to regular tea or coffee. The leaves are also astringent and can be used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat. The berries or juice are beneficial for treating hoarseness. Singers and public speakers should make ample use of this freely available and effective remedy.

On a more spiritual note, the lowly bramble flower has an honoured place among non-traditional flower essences It serves as a remedy for confusion. Bramble essence is said to help one realise the 'essential truth' or underlying pattern of a situation and is thus said to help find solutions to a problem. It is claimed to bring about mental clarity and aid concentration and memory.

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Of course there are gazillions of blackberry recipes - cordials, jam, jellies, ice cream, mousse, pies, chutneys and tons more. I prefer them fresh off the vine with a little cream, but here are some all-time favourites:

Apple and Blackberry Crumble:



Preheat the oven to 200C/400F

Peel and cut the apples into small chunks. Melt the butter and sauté the pieces, stirring frequently. Add the sugar, lemon and cinnamon and walnuts and continue to stir until the apples are getting soft.

Prepare the crumble topping by rubbing the softened butter, sugar, flour and oats into a crumbly mixture.

Add the blackberries to the softened apple filling and stir gently. Transfer the filling into a shallow ovenproof casserole and sprinkle the crumble topping on top. Bake for about 20 minutes or until light golden brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blackberry Jam

Carefully clean the berries and peel and cut the rhubarb into one inch pieces. Place the fruit into a heavy pan with 2 cups of sugar and boil for three 3 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar and a pinch salt and boil for four more minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and sea. Makes three pints.

Blackberry Cornbread

Into mixing bowl, add corn meal, soda, salt, buttermilk, egg; stir well. Add molasses, stir well. Add blackberries, stir into mixture without mashing them. Pour into a well greased iron skillet and bake slow at 350 degrees until pone begins to brown. Reduce heat to 200 degrees until cooked.

From Alicia's recipes

Blackberry Sauce

Serve this with duck.

Combine berries, sugar and lemon juice in a pot. Cover and cook until bubbling, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, place in a food processor and blend.

Pass through a strainer to remove the seeds. Chill before serving. Can be frozen for up to 1 year.
Makes 1 Cup TOP
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That all 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 plant species to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.

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

Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. Which animals like it or dislike it? With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? How does it 'fit' into its environment? What can you learn from its chemistry? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem. Its a lengthy process, but vital if you want to truly get to know your plant friends and the habitat you share.

It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, lest they inadvertantly end up on your dinner plate, which could be most unpleasant or in the worst case scenario, even lethal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. Some people hold the false and dangerous belief that what can be found in nature cannot harm them. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE. 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 poisonous mushrooms out there that have evolved to be masters at fooling unsuspecting mushroom hunters. There are also many more potentially deadly mushrooms with edible look-alikes than there are deadly plants with edible look-alikes.

Don't be greedy!

Familiarize yourself with the plants that are listed on the endangered species list for your area. Apart from being unethical, it is also highly illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.

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 harvesting roots 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 from 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.

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Chilling thoughts...

hurry (9K)Have you noticed anything odd about the weather recently? One hurricane after another thrashing the Caribbean and swooping up into Florida, heat wave continuing throughout the western States, floods in China and Bangladesh, ...the list of extreme weather events goes on and on. The human and material costs are enormous.

The weather is changing. Everybody has heard the term - global warming - but are we taking it seriously?

No. While scientists and politicians argue endlessly about whether global temperatures are climbing or falling and what the effects may be, ...the public shrugs its shoulders, what can we do? 'If the climate is heating up maybe I don't have to go so far from home to enjoy a sunny summer anymore' some northern folks might hope...

But the fact is that nobody really knows how climate change will affect any particular place on earth at any particular time, and that is just one of the crucial problems scientists just can't agree upon. The weather can be fickle at the best of times, but with a whole array of 'factor X's thrown in anything could happen anytime, anywhere. 'So why worry about something we can't be sure of, and can't do anything about anyway?' some people may argue. Years of talking have led to complacency, even if most scientists now seem to agree that 'something' is happening.

We are facing an unprecedented situation the parameters and feedback effects of which we do not fully understand - that is why it is so difficult to come up with a reliable model that would help us predict the impending predicament. We have to imagine what could happen and take preventative action to circumvent the worst case scenario - that is what the Kyoto protocol is all about. We know that excessive CO2 emissions, released when we burn carbon fuels, traps heat in the atmosphere, but how will that impact our everyday lives, or the environment at large, or the economy?

Well, we don't know all the feedback mechanisms - climate is a complicated thing. But we do know that ice sheets are melting, glaciers are shrinking and water levels are rising as we speak. We know that we have witnessed more extreme temperatures, more storms, hurricanes and draughts in the past couple of decades than at any other time since records were started. We know that ecosystems are highly complex communities of co-evolving life-forms that have adjusted to a particular set of environmental factors, such as average rainfall or temperature, within which they live and thrive. Variations on such factors may only affect one or two species of a particular eco-system directly, perhaps causing their decline or eventual extinction. But in an interrelated web of life all the other species may be affected by their absence in such a way that the community as a whole will be perilled. A vacuum needs to be filled. Other species, better adapted to the new climatic conditions may take over - more than like to the detriment of the overall ecological balance.

Warmer winters have already been blamed on an increase of harmful insect populations. Larvae, which would normally be controlled by icy temperatures during the winter months survive, giving rise to a menacing swarm of hungry parasites that is not just a bother, but potentially can ruin crops - and livelihoods. Warmer weather also provides better living conditions for bacteria and other pathogens.

Increased flooding around the globe, as we have seen in recent years, also has numerous dire and expensive consequences. Apart from the obvious, death toll among victims, the material damage to crops or dwellings, and homelessness among countless flood victims, there are also less obvious consequences - valuable top soil gets washed into the ocean leaving a wasteland behind. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for disease; environmental toxins and human or animal waste matter, previously confined, often get absorbed in the toxic brew and sloshed around, ...

Elsewhere draughts parch the countryside, increasing fire hazards and threatening to drain the life from the land. Errosion, desertification, salination...leaving barren ground.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, 'weather-related disasters including floods, droughts, and windstorms are growing in frequency and intensity. Since 1980, 10,867 weather-related disasters have caused more than 575,000 deaths and have forced many more people to flee their homes. Since 1980, the cost of weather-related disasters has totaled more than $1 trillion.'

Changing ocean temperatures also affects the ecologic balance below sea level - fish populations are very specific with regard to the temperature ranges they can tolerate, a few degrees either side may spell their total demise. The ecologic balance of the ocean does not only affect what we might find on our dinner plate. Although we know very little about the role of the ocean, we do know that it is vitally important to keeping our climatic living conditions balanced and comfortable to support a wide range of living species - and not just those within its water.

What we are tampering with is the balance of life. We know that the game is dangerous, yet some politicians seem to refuse to take action until there is undeniable proof. We can't afford to wait that long. By that time it will almost certainly be too late to do anything about it.

The US is responsible for about 25% of CO2 emissions worldwide, the largest polluter among the community of all nations. Yet, it has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty on the grounds that it would be too costly for the US economy (the most powerful economic force in the world) to implement energy efficiency changes that could reduce emissions and avert the unfathomable, yet very real threat we are all facing.

The fact is that the US, as the single largest polluter, has a responsibility, not just towards its own people, but towards the entire world. Unfortunately, pollution, CO2 emissions or the subsequent weather changes do not stop at the border. They spread around the globe and the consequences are felt by all. Often the poorest people suffer worst from climatic disasters. Island nations are in the front line of danger - rising water levels mean that they will literally be inundated. Shanti-towns don't withstand much flooding and their inhabitants often loose everything they have in just one big storm.

All this is very depressing and seems an issue too large to fathom. It is easy to get completely overwhelmed by its magnitude. But what can we do - you and I?

First of all we must acknowledge that not dealing with this problem is going to be a whole lot more expensive and risky than to try our best to do something about it and although it may seem as though there is not a lot we can do, we must all start somewhere - with our own lifestyles. Here are some suggestions that will help you save money and help reduce co2 emissions at the same time:

  1. Make consumer choices based on energy considerations, e.g. buy only new appliances that have excellent energy efficiency ratings;
  2. Elaborate packaging costs a lot of energy and resources to produce and usually serves only one purpose: to be thrown away and fill up garbage dumps. Try to buy things with as little unnecessary packaging as possible.
  3. Buy things that are produced locally - transport of items from half way around the world is very energy costly. Plus, you will support your local economy.
  4. Take steps to insulate your house, especially around the windows and roof.
  5. Don't leave the lights on unnecessarily and use energy efficient light bulbs, or at least low wattage bulbs and applications.
  6. Use a thermostat to regulate temperatures and set it at a reasonable constant. It is not really necessary to recreate the tropical weather conditions of your summer holiday in your own home in the midst of winter.
  7. Support tree planting schemes or schemes to save tropical forest. Most of the world's carbon is locked up within living trees, e.g. in the Amazon. Forest destruction spells increased CO2 levels.
  8. Consider walking, taking the bicycle or using public transport.
  9. Consider organising a car sharing or pooling scheme.
  10. Lobby the US government to ratify the Kyoto treaty.
  11. Lobby industry to adopt energy efficiency standards


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Way down in the southwest corner of the Peruvian Amazon, where the Tambopata River and the Madre de Dios River converge, lies the Tambopata Nature Reserve, one Peru's most formidable Rainforest Reserves, that includes within its perimeters, both montane and lowland forest, offering visitors a spectacular range wildlife diversity.

Tambopata Research Center

trc (24K)Tambopata Research Center was originally set up as a field research station. Now it also welcomes visitors to its rustic, yet comfortable facilities. Visitors are encouraged to take an active part in some of the ongoing research projects, and will gain an unforgettable insight into the fragile ecology of the rainforest and the fascinating work of field biologists.

parrots (31K)Posada Amazonas

The Posada Amazonas, run by the same organization as the TRC, was purpose built as a eco-tourist lodge. It is special in that it is a joint venture between the ecotravel company and the local native village. Most of the staff, including the guides are native people. The idea is that the lodge will eventually be run completely the local community, thus providing a source of income that protects their natural resource instead of depleting them.

Find out more about Peru by visiting our destination guide or check out the eco-travel section to discover other exciting travel adventures

By choosing eco-travel adventures such as this one you will be making a direct contribution to support conservation efforts in the Amazon.

Books on Peru

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caduceus (21K)Ask any western physician where the roots of his craft might lie and inevitably he or she will cite the ancient masters, and point straight to the cradle of western civilization. Indeed, every freshly graduated doctor pledges to the Hippocratic oath, or a modern version thereof. This oath, ascribed to the great physician Hippocrates, is a timeless code of ethics devised to keep the profession noble and pure. Sadly, its high moral standards are far too often compromised in modern practice, but that is another matter and shall be discussed another time.

Greece - the cradle of civilization, as it is so often called. That is supposed to be where the roots of modern medicine lie. Indeed, many threads lead to Greece, to the altars of Asclepius of Hygieia and Panaceia, the ancient gods of the healing arts. But the story of western medicine is a far more entangled web. The roots have long distance 'runners', to borrow another botanical term.

What we have come to know as classic Greek medicine is a melange of ideas from many far-flung places of the ancient world. In those distant days scholars were eager to learn and to travel, to exchange ideas and discuss their philosophies with one another and their counterparts of foreign cultures. Thus it came to be that philosophies from Egypt, India and the Arab world became intricately and inseparable intertwined with the ancient Greek medical philosophy.

The Greeks regarded the known universe as a composition of four elements, two 'male'- fire and air, and two 'female' elements - earth and water. Each element's essential nature expresses itself to a greater or lesser degree in the world of natural phenomena, including the symptoms of disease. In the body these elements were represented by the corresponding 'humours': Sanguis or Blood, (air) is warm and moist; Phlegm, (water) is cold and moist; Choler or Yellow Bile (fire) is warm and dry and Melancholer or Black Bile (earth) is cold and dry. The fifth element, aether or spirit was non-material, yet it permeated and animated everything in existence.

It was Galen (125 - 199AD) who popularised and enshrined these philosophies for centuries to come, though they were originally attributed to Hippocrates (400 BC). Some scholars, however, believe that the Hippocratic writings are a collection of teachings by different authors. Significantly they arose during the same period in which Alexander the Great reached India. It seems more than likely that western medical philosophy received a large infusion of inspiration from Ayurvedic teachings.

As with the Ayurvedic system, the Greek philosophers also created correspondences between the humours and the organs of the body, temperaments and seasons etc.


Humour Season Element Organ Qualities Temperament Characteristics
Blood spring air liver warm & moist sanguine courageous, hopeful, amorous
Phlegm winter water brain/lungs cold & moist phlegmatic, calm, unemotional
Yellow bile summer fire gall bladder warm & dry choleric easily angered, bad tempered
Black bile autumn earth spleen cold & dry melancholic despondant, sleepless, irritable

The humours also indicated certain temperamental dispositions, as in fact they still do - we still talk about sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic or melancholic temperaments.

Sanguine Temperament - corresponds to the element of air. Characteristics include a fair to ruddy, well developed muscles, large full veins and a large pulse. They are optimistic, confident and extravert types who are rarely anxious. They like being physically active and often overdo it and thus are prone to suffer sports injuries and other accidents.

Phlegmatic Temperament - corresponds to the element of water. Characteristics include a fair complexion, light hair, general softness and lack of muscle tone. The skin can feel cool and moist. The pulse is soft and wide. Excessive metabolic activity tends to draw heat inwards leaving the exterior cold. This type is prone to feeling cold. The Phlegmatic type is slow and sluggish, and does easily get excited. There is a tendency to put on weight.

Choleric Temperament
- corresponds to the element of fire. Characteristics include a slim, wiry body frame. The skin may be yellowish and feel oily. They are prone to excessive nervous activity, think quickly but can't concentrate. These types are passionate and easily become angry or excited, but their fuming evaporates in a puff. They live on their nerves and their adrenaline and are therefore susceptible to mental and nervous disorders such as anxiety. Their pulse tends to be sharp and quick.

Melancholic Temperament - Belongs to Earth element and usually has a darkish complexion and appears boney. The skin may be dry, the hair brittle. The metabolism is slow, their energy level low. This temperament tends towards a serious state of mind and is prone to depression.

Of course this is just a rudimentary characterisation. The ancients applied astrology to their medical art and considered each individual according to their planetary merits. Indeed, it was Hippocrates who said "He who does not understand astrology is not a doctor but a fool. - this opinion apparently was shared by many of his fellow" doctors, even until quite recent times. It was only in the late 18th century that medicine and astrology parted for good.

According to the doctrine of humors disease was the result of an imbalance between the bodily fluids (distemper). To adjust the balance various methods of treatment were considered, but, as in Ayurveda, the first strategy was to implement dietary adjustments. An excess of phlegm for example would call for foods that could be considered 'warm and dry'. If these did not work other methods, such as blood letting or purging were tried, according to the specific imbalance of the patient.

Causes of Warm or Hot Dystemper Symptoms
  • Excessive activity
  • excessive anger
  • anxiety or worry
  • excessive environmental heat
  • deficient elimination
  • burning up of metabolic ash
  • active putrefaction
  • fever
  • infection
  • too much warm or hot foods, such as hot spices.
  • flushed complexion
  • unpleasant sensation of heat
  • easily fatigued
  • excessive thirst
  • irritation or burning in epigastrium
  • bitter taste
  • fever causes great discomfort
  • increase in perspiration
  • increase in mucous production
  • aversion to hot foods
  • craving for cold foods
  • hot weather aggravates feverish symptoms
Causes of Moist Dystemper Symptoms
  • excessive eating or drinking
  • too many moist foods
  • exposure to too much dampness
  • lack of activity
  • an excessively moist and soft skinpuffiness of the tissues
  • weak digestion
  • excessive salivation
  • thin catarrhal conditions
  • puffy eyelids
  • tendency to loose stools
  • chronic ulceration
  • much need for sleep
  • wet weather aggravates
  • Causes of Cold Dystemper Symptoms
    • excessive ingestion of cold substances
    • fasting
    • debilitating activity or excessive inactivity
    • chronic fevers
    • slowing of elimination of the humors due to their thickening and coagulation
  • pale complexion
  • desire for heat
  • craving for hot spices
  • dyspepsia
  • thirstlessness
  • thick catarrhal discharges
  • accumulations of toxins and metabolic by-products
  • constipation
  • weak joints
  • cold weather aggravates
  • Causes of Dry Dystemper Symptoms
    • fasting and starvation
    • deficient fluid intake
    • excessive activity
    • excessive exposure to drying environments
    • excess drying foods, such as salt, vinegar or alcohol, or habits such as smoking tobacco
    • acute conditions that have turned chronic due to the drying up of the secretions.
  • rough and dry skin
  • desire for moistening foods and drinks
  • dried and hardened phlegm
  • aversion to drying foods
  • insomnia
  • dry weather aggravates
  • astroman (97K) Hardly surprising, a huge canon of correspondences soon emerged, along with endless arguments regarding the 'hotness' 'dryness' coldness' or 'wetness' of various substances, which culminated in Galen's attempt to create some sort of coherent system, categorizing each substances by its degrees of heat, moisture, dryness or coldness. His work, although religiously followed for several centuries to come, transmuted the sublime into the ridiculous and eventually Paracelsus was the first to publicly question the ancient doctrine and, - gasp - , to burn the old books.

    However, Paracelsus was not adverse to the idea of elements and his own writings are full of metaphysical concepts that heavily draw on alchemical symbolism borrowed from the ancients. owever, there is a difference between seeing the essential nature of a thing or disease with the perceptions of the inner eye, and following blindly the doctrine of a systematic categorization scheme that superimposes a rigid categorization rather than trying to understand the symbolic essence.

    The system later became known as the 'doctrine of signatures', a system of references, which sought the symbolic key to understanding the world of appearances and blended the teaching of 'likenesses' with that of 'correspondences'. This doctrine and the whole idea of correspondences became discredited and today survives only as mythology - and as secret teachings in certain occult circles.

    Yet, the original Hippocratic teachings actually provide a blueprint for a holistic approach to western medicine, a system that seeks to understand the body as a socio-spiritual body/mind entity.

    Environmental factors that could predispose to development of certain symptoms were considered just as much as diet or profession, or the mental and emotional constitution. A patient was regarded within his physical and spiritual context - through astrology - a fundamental aspect of these ancient teachings that modern practitioners prefer to ignore or deny. Today most of these teachings have been lost. They only survive as obscure branch of astrology - medical astrology. Neither modern medicine, which prides itself of its ancient roots, nor holistic medicine acknowledges these cosmological ties. Yet, increasingly, patients and doctors are becoming dissatisfied with a mechanistic model of medicine as we struggle to formulate a medical practice that acknowledges the soul's existence and role in our physical well-being. Perhaps the ancients were right, and the answers lie obviously the stars.

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    Plant of the month: Henbane


    (Hyoscyamus sp.)

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    Nightshade family

    "Among other herbs which are poisonous and harmful, Henbane is not the least, so that the common man, not without fear should spit at that herb when he hears its name spoken, not to mention when he sees it growing in great quantity where his children are running at play."

    Simon Paulli, Flora Danica 1648

    Fear and loathing are the usual responses to this not altogether innocent herb of the nightshade family. All too often is it described as a noxious, evil-looking and poisonous weed that is best avoided. Herbalists of all periods have painted our mental image of this herb in non too flattering terms: A filthy looking plant, covered with sticky hairs, its gray-green, sharply toothed leaves are limp and liverish in appearance. The flowers are bell-shaped, dirty yellow or sickly pale purple and marked with deep purple veins. The whole plant, according to some authors, looks and smells like death. As if that wasn't enough, further evidence of its devilish nature is revealed by the places where it chooses to grow: the rubbish heaps of civilization, ditches and dumpsters, waste-grounds, among the ruins of old castles and monasteries, and most especially, it loves to grow in graveyards.

    Henbane2 (12K)There are about a dozen distinct species of Hyoscyamos, though it appears that historically only four of them played an important role: H. niger, H. alba, H. aurea and H. muticus. Although it is impossible to determine exactly where Henbane first originated, it is generally thought that it came from the Mediterranean regions of Asia Minor and northern Africa, from where it spread east to Pakistan, India and China. Its migration to the northern latitudes of Europe seems to have occurred at a slightly later date. Some sources claim that the Gypsies were largely responsible for bringing it to Scandinavia and the British Isles. As for its arrival on the American shores, it is generally believed that it came with the Spaniards. Native healers and shamans soon adopted the plant and began to use it much like their European counterparts.

    Powerful plants are always treated with suspicion for it is entirely in the hands of the practitioner, whether they will heal or harm. The voices of prudence, campaigning for the eradication of toxic plants, often argue that innocent people and children, who know nothing of their poisonous properties, may inadvertently fall victim to such plants. However, such an attitude is borne out of ignorance. Education, not prohibition or elimination is the best safeguard against accidental poisoning. As Paracelsus rightly said - all things are poison, the dosage alone determines whether a substance kills or cures. Henbane is no exception to this rule.

    From time immemorial to the present day, Henbane has played a significant role as an important medicinal and magical plant. Like its cousins, the Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and the Thornapple (Datura stramonium), it contains a potent mixture of tropane alkaloids (Atropine, Scopolamine and Hyoscyamine,) which block the normal neurotransmission of the parasympathetic (involuntary) nervous system and thus, even small quantities can produce rather drastic effects.

    When ingested in toxic quantities, the symptoms are: increased rate of heartbeat, dry mouth, dilated pupils, impaired vision, general sense of weakness and debility, headache, dizziness, difficulties in swallowing, stomach cramps, body aches and pains, increased temperature with hot flashes and reddened skin, agitated excitement, sometimes aggressive rage, convulsions, confusion, hallucinations, followed by deep sleep, delirium, or in severe cases, death. The most significant psychotropic effects of Henbane are: A sense of body dissolution or distortion, the sensation of flying and erotic hallucinations. Also remarkable is the total oblivion that follows the period of intoxication. Frequently, the next day the person remembers nothing of what happened.

    It is obvious how these properties could easily be abused and why this plant acquired such a sinister reputation. Nevertheless, compared to Deadly Nightshade and Datura, Henbane is perhaps the least toxic, thanks to the fact that it contains relatively little Atropine, the most dangerous of these alkaloids. Indeed, few cases of either accidental or intentional poisoning with Henbane have ever been fatal. The synergy of alkaloids in Henbane is fortunate in that they work quite complementary. Scopolamine acts as a narcotic, somniferant, and anodyne, while Hyoscyamine has a relaxant effect on involuntary muscles and checks mucous secretion. The roots are considered the most potent part of the plant. Egyptian Henbane (H. muticus) is stronger than common Black Henbane (H. niger) and it is from this species that most commercial Scopolamine is derived.

    The colorful, though often tragic history of the medicinal and magical uses of Henbane can be traced a long way back. The oldest surviving record, dating to 4000 BC, stems from an inscription on a Sumerian clay tablet. It is also mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus (Egypt, 1500 BC), along with other important medicinal herbs. The Egyptians knew it as 'Sakran' - 'The Drunken', no doubt referring to the plant's intoxicating properties, but perhaps also as an allusion to the ancient practice of fortifying alcoholic beverages with its seeds. This practice was very common. Dioscorides mentions a similar potion, a honey-mead prepared with Opium and Henbane seeds. Henbane-spiked mead was particularly popular among the Celts and Germans - accounts of their notorious drinking orgies bear witness to this fact. Henbane seed has also long been used as an additive for brewing beer. In fact, the name of the Czechoslovakian town of Pizen (German: 'Pilsen') is said to be derived from the word 'Bilsen' the German name for Henbane. Apparently the beer brewed there, known as 'Pilsener', was famous for its 'Bilsen'-induced effects. Eventually however, the authorities put an end to this practice by implementing the first 'anti-drug law' in 1516, known as the 'Deutsches Reinheitsgesetz' ('beer purity law). Modern day Pilsener beer no longer contains any trace of Henbane.

    henbane1 (130K)The ancient Greeks knew Henbane as 'Apollinaris' and considered it sacred to Apollo. Many scholars now believe that Henbane played an instrumental part at Apollo's oracle in Delphi. The descriptions of the ecstatic state in which the oracle-priestess Pythia proclaimed her prophecies and reports of 'heavy fumes' during the ritual, leads them to suspect that Henbane seeds were used as incense. Henbane is well known for inducing states of ecstasy, a condition that used to be regarded not so much as a temporary state of derangement, but rather as a state of mind that touched upon the divine. Some writers muse that the scientific name 'Hyoscyamos', which translates as 'Hogbean' might perhaps be a corruption of 'Dioscyamos' which would translate as 'Divine Bean', a reasoning that, considering its status as a sacred plant, makes somewhat more sense. Furthermore, the rationalizations given for 'Hogbean' are rather contradictory. Some writers claiming that refers to the fact that pigs are supposedly immune to the plant, while others directly dispute this claim, stating that it causes them cramps. Still others believe that it refers to the story of Circe, who might have used Henbane to turn Odysseus men into pigs. However, Ovid does not mention Henbane directly, but only refers to 'a brew made from magical herbs'. It is interesting to note that the Celts, too considered the plant sacred to their God of prophecy. According to Dioscorides they called it 'Belenuntia', herb of Bel, which still echoes in 'Beleño', the Spanish name for Henbane.

    For medicinal purposes Dioscorides recommends Henbane 'to allay pain and procure sleep'. Other common applications included an oil made from the leaves for treating obstinate rheumatic pains, gout, neuralgia and sciatica. Ulcerous wounds and swelling were dressed with a poultice made from its leaves. It was rarely taken internally, though, except for cases of severe stomach or urinary cramps, when a very dilute extract could be administered. Smoking the leaves mixed with Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was a popular remedy for asthma and nervous or spasmodic cough. Taken in small quantities this would not produce a significant psychotropic effect, but relax the respiratory muscles while simultaneously reducing the secretion of the mucus membranes.

    It seems that one of Henbane's most common uses was as a treatment for toothache. It was once commonly believed that toothaches and other maladies were caused by worms. It was thought that the tiny eggs of such worms were inhaled and subsequently lodged themselves in the mouth, where they later hatched and caused toothache. * While some sources simply recommend an extract of Henbane to be applied to a painful tooth (a rather risky treatment), others recite a more fanciful procedure. Gerard describes it in contemptuous terms:

    'Drawers of teeth, who run about the country and pretend they cause worms to come forth from the teeth by burning the seed (of henbane) in a chafing dish of coals, the party holding his mouth over the fume thereof, do have some crafty companions who convey small lute strings into the water, persuading the patient that these little creepers came out of his mouth, or other parts which it was intended to ease.'

    Given the powerful psychotropic effects this kind of treatment would doubtlessly induce, it is easy to imagine that the patient would readily believe such a hoax. Henbane root was also given to children as an amulet for easy teething and to prevent fits.

    During the Middle Ages, Henbane became best known as a 'Witches Herb'. It is said to have been one of the ingredients of the infamous flying ointment. Reports of their alleged activities were generally obtained by torture at the hands of the inquisition and should thus be treated with a measure of suspicion. However, the descriptions of this potion's powerful effects are indeed very characteristic of Henbane's psychotropic action. A reoccurring theme describes how the Witches used this ointment to transform into various animals and fly away on their broomsticks to attend orgiastic rites. Apparently the broomstick served as the means by which the ointment was applied to the sensitive mucous membranes and thus became the vehicle for an erotic flight of the imagination. Henbane also induces a sense of body dissolution, 'as if the soul separates from the body and flies through the skies' which would account for the witches' subjective shape shifting experience and flight to their fabled Sabbath.

    But witches were not the only ones to take pleasure in the aphrodisiac properties of this plant. Apparently, incense prepared from the seeds was commonly burned in mediaeval bath-houses. The ambience there could not have fallen far short of what one might expect from the imaginary orgiastic rites of the witches. Needless to say, the aphrodisiac properties of Henbane were also extensively used in numerous charms and love-potions.

    Ironically, records found in Lucerne, Switzerland, dating to the 16th century indicate that witches condemned to death were given a 'draught of compassion' - a witches brew consisting mainly of Henbane that was supposed to induce a state of oblivion and insensitivity to pain.

    Perhaps some of our modern uses are not so wildly different to those of the past. Although admittedly, its aphrodisiac and visionary aspects don't figure very prominently anymore, the psychoactive properties are still employed in the treatment of some cases of mental disturbance, especially those characterized by agitation and nervousness. Interestingly, during the 60's it seems to have been 'fashionable' to drug women in labor with Scopolamine, presumably 'soothe' their agitation ' and render them 'oblivious and insensitive to pain'.

    Other modern uses include liniments for rheumatic aches and pains and as spasmolytic medicines for gastro-intestinal cramps, griping, and paralysis of the bladder. Asthma cigarettes containing Henbane leaves have, until recently, also remained quite popular. A homeopathic remedy based on Henbane is still available at health food stores and herb shops.

    Henbane has many beneficial uses, but its power must not be underestimated. This plant demands respect. In the hands of a knowledgeable and cautious healer it can be a blessing, but in the hands of irresponsible fools it can wreak havoc and even cause death.

    The information given here is purely intended as an account of the ethnobotanical history of this interesting plant. It should not serve as medical advice and self-experimentation is not recommended.

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    Profile: World Landtrust

    WLTdrk (1K)The World Landtrust, based in the UK, has a simple mission. To save the environment, one acre at a time. And everybody can be a part of this scheme. It sounds simple and it is - yet it is also extremely effective. A donation of £25 will buy an acre of rainforest and protect it forever. But who will guard it, I can hear you ask? Good question. The way this brilliant scheme operates is that it works in co-operation with local conservation groups. You buy an acre of rainforest and the money is redistributed to local groups that ensure the it goes into protecting the local habitat. Think globally - act locally.

    Protecting rainforest also helps to protect the climate, by helping to preserve the best carbon storage place we have. According to Conservation International, the 34 million acres of tropical forests destroyed each year-a combined area the size of Ohio-release 20 to 25 percent of total global CO2 emissions. Every acre counts.

    In this way a wide range of projects around the world can benefit. The World Landtrust strongly opposed 'environmental colonialism' - foreigners telling local people what to do and how to run their opertaions to support the environment. Instead, local initiatives benefit from a base of worldwide supporters and their donations. Here are some projects the World Landtrust helps to fund:


    This NEW project named 'Wild Lands Elephant Corridor' aims to protect an important population of Indian elephants by addressing the problem of forest fragmentation which is a serious threat to their survival. The project will assist not only the survival of wildlife but also the villagers with the financial capability and expertise to create an alternative livelihood to the 'slash-and burn' agriculture which has led to the rapid depletion of the natural forests of the area. Read more...


    Ecuador's bird life, which comprises some 1,600 species represents 17% of the world total. Ecuador is also home to Spectacled Bears, Howler Monkeys, Jaguars and a wide variety of bats. More than 400 species of amphibians and some 3000 species of orchids can also be found here. However, increasing human population pressure has resulted in over 80% of the Ecuadorian tropical Andes being destroyed, and the problem continues. Read more...

    Danjugan, the Philippines

    The islands that make up the Philippines are being cleared of their tropical forests at an alarming rate and very few still have their forests intact. Danjugan Island is important as it still has its original tropical forests, and these are literally teeming with wildlife. It is also a critical 'stopping off' place for migratory birds. Additionally, the island is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef that is in urgent need of protection. Read more...

    Patagonia, Argentina

    The Patagonian Steppe is an important habitat for many threatened and endemic species. Most of it is at risk of desertification through overgrazing, and many areas show signs of serious erosion. Currently none of the coastal Steppe is protected in national parks or nature reserves. Read more...


    Halting the destruction of the tropical rainforests is urgent, but to countries struggling to improve their standard of living, the forest represents a major exploitable resource. The challenge is to link development and conservation in ways that advance the objectives of both while building the economy and helping Belizeans achieve a better standard of living. Read more...

    Save trees for peanuts

    With the season of giving just up ahead of us - why not consider making a present that will last and that instead of adding to the environmental burden, will help to reduce it? Why not give your friends and family an acre of rainforest?

    or save trees for peanuts...

    Please visit The World Landtrust

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    Ever wondered how the Bush administration has scored on environmental issues over the past 4 years? Here is an impressive record every environmentally concerned voter should be aware of:

    Taking Care of Business
    The CGIAR and GM Contamination

    In a remarkable departure from its role as a public science network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is huddling with the biotech industry (including Monsanto and DuPont) to craft a policy response to the unwelcome and ongoing spread of DNA from genetically modified plants to farmers' varieties. The meeting begins in Rome on Monday and comes three years after scientists first confirmed GM contamination in Mexico's maize crop - and two and a half years after farmers' organizations and their civil society allies called upon CGIAR and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to take action. Farmers' organizations are not invited to the meeting.

    Read the whole story

    Medicinal plants: Amazonia loses medicinal plants and knowledge

    Source: O Estado de S.Paulo, 9 August 2004 (in Amazon News, 12.8.04)

    Chainsaws that advance into the Amazonia forest not only knock down trees. With the loss of plants, knowledge about them, principally their medicinal characteristics, is also being lost. This has been confirmed by researchers from the Federal University at Minas Gerais, who are comparing two studies, one conducted in 1984 and the other in 2001, on the use of medicinal plants, specifically those used against malaria, for the population in the south of Para State.

    According to Maria das Graĉas Lins Brandão, one of the study's authors, through deforestation Brazil is losing a wealth in which no one is aware of the dimensions. "We are not only talking about material wealth, our work has shown that we are also actually losing the culture/knowledge related to these medicinal plants," she stated. "For us it was horrendous to confirm that in such a short period of time, especially in São Feliz do Xingu, they no longer know the medicinal plants of the region." Their intention was to collect more data and samples of plants that were used versus malaria. "But there was nothing left. When the plants disappear, traditional knowledge becomes forgotten. Future generations do not learn about their properties", she concluded.

    Medicinal Plants: Traditional medicines 'must be registered and studied'

    Source: GhanaWeb.Com (in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 16 - 22 August 2004.)

    A World Health Organization official has urged traditional medicine practitioners in Africa to register their products to gain more benefits - including international trade - from their use. Speaking on 16 August at the first scientific meeting of the Western Africa Network of Natural Products Research Scientists, which focused on malaria and HIV/AIDS, Charles Wambebe said that only 22 of 46 African countries have policies or laws covering traditional medicine.

    Wambebe said traditional medicine was the most accessible form of treatment for most Africans, and underlined the need for more complementary use of traditional and modern medicine practices to meet the health needs of the majority. He also stressed the importance of research and conservation of medicinal plants to ensure their sustainable use.

    Speaking at the same meeting, Marian Ewurama Addy, the network's executive secretary, said she was concerned that local pharmacists prefer to import foreign drugs rather than prepare traditional treatments. She said medicinal plants would be used more effectively and rationally and would have greater value if more were known about their scientific basis.

    Link to full GhanaWeb.Com news story Read the whole story

    African states confirm support for traditional medicine

    A number of African leaders last week used the second African Traditional Medicine Day (31 August) to confirm their commitment to national efforts aimed at ensuring the safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicines. In a statement, for example, the African Union (AU) Commission called on its member states to ensure that research on traditional medicine is integrated with HIV/AIDS control programmes, as well as with all aspects of development policy.

    Read the whole story

    Conservation International starts scientific expeditions in Amapa

    Source: Conservation International Brasil, 1 August 2004 (in Amazon News, 5.8.04)

    Today a series of 15 scientific expeditions will start in Amapa's conservation units. The initiative's objective is to map the local biodiversity in the Amapa's conservation units and to help with the elaboration of efficient public policies for the conservation of natural riches. The mega-operation is lead by the NGO Conservational International (CI-Brazil), in partnership with the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of Amapa State (IEPA), the State Secretary of the Environment (SEMA) and IBAMA-Amapa. It will also receive support from the Brazilian Army. The expeditions will be conducted during the next two years at an estimated cost of R$700 000. Among the conservation units is the National Park of the Tumucumaque Mountains, the world's largest tropical forest with more than 3.8 million hectares.

    None of these areas possess management plans and are lacking basic infrastructure from administrative offices to equipment and information about the diversity existing in the region. "This lack of information directly affects the elaboration of the management plans for the protection of these areas", explained Enrico Bernar, the projects co-ordinator of CI-Brazil in Amazonia.

    "We need to break with the idea that a protected area is an impediment to economic development", affirmed Jose Maria Cardoso, CI-Brazil's scientific vice-president. He explained that the recent study on the economic impact of the ten conservations units around Manaus demonstrated that the annual financial movement from these areas passes US$1.7 million, generating 210 jobs, with an average income of US$4 330 per employee.

    The expeditions' work will form a nucleus around the Amapa's Corridor of Biodiversity, and has as an objective to contribute to the effective protection of areas of great importance for biodiversity and for the socio-economic development of the State.

    The expeditions will also explore the opportunities to create new conservation units that connect those already existing, in the hope of concluding the design of Amapa's Corridors of Biodiversity, promoting a real green ring around the areas of major development in the State.

    Five new Natural World Heritage sites designed

    Source: IUCN, July 1, 2004 (in 70 Issue of the CENN Electronic Bulletin)

    The World Heritage Committee inscribed five new natural World Heritage sites during its 28th session in Suzhou, China in June 2004. These include, Ilulissat Icefjord (Denmark), the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia), the Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve (Russian Federation), the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas of South Africa, and the Pitons Management Area (Saint Lucia).

    For the first time ever, two natural sites in the Arctic have been inscribed on the prestigious World Heritage List. Following the positive recommendations of IUCN v The World Conservation Union, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee of 21 countries unanimously approved the listing of Ilulissat Icefjord of Denmark and Wrangel Island in the Russian Federation.

    Describe species before they disappear

    Source: Nature (in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 19 - 25 July 2004)

    Only 1.8 million of an estimated ten million species on Earth have been described. Up to 20 per cent face extinction, and countless more are disappearing unnoticed, potentially leading to less productive and stable ecosystems. There is therefore an urgent need to reinvigorate taxonomy, so that ecologists can make specific predictions that could help inform decisions about development and conservation.

    This Nature editorial calls for more projects like the Sabah Biodiversity Project, set up partly by Charles Godfray, director of the UK Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Population Biology, who has argued that taxonomy must become a web-based information science so knowledge is not lost.

    Ecologists also need to look to the examples of high-profile climate change and genetics research, and to lobby governments for much greater backing. It may be hard to quantify the results of ecosystem research but sustainable forestry, agriculture and tourism will strengthen the economies of developing countries, and bring wider benefits to the rest of the world.

    Full story in Nature Reference: Nature 430, 385 (2004)

    World Bank Subsidies Threaten World's Second Largest Rainforest

    August 25, 2004

    In March, 2004 the Rainforest Foundation revealed that the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) seek to increase logging by sixty times in the world's second largest intact rainforest found mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to World Bank documents, they intend to "create a favorable climate for industrial logging" by subsidizing the development of comprehensive new forestry laws in the Congo, as well as the 'zoning' of the country's entire forest area. At $0.06 per hectare per year, the Bank-approved leasing of DRC's rainforests to loggers surely warrants scrutiny to determine whether this represents the true global value of those forests. Joseph Bobia, spokesperson for the Congolese development organization CENADEP, fears that as a result of industrial logging "much of the country [will be] turned into a vast logging concession."

    Hundreds of environment, development, and human rights groups in the Congo, and thousands of international supporters including's network, have called on the World Bank to stop these plans. What had been a surreptitious effort to access cheap timber in the absence of governmental authority has become a major international issue. The World Bank's President has gotten involved, and there are indications the project may be cancelled. The World Bank continues to subsidize first time industrial development of old-growth and other endangered forests in the DRC and around the world - seriously damaging the local and global environments. Please demand the World Bank and FAO immediately halt plans for the expansion of industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo and remaining ancient forests around the World. Let them know the World Bank should be working with the Congolese government to help dismantle the country's corrupt and inefficient logging industry, rather than expanding it, and developing alternatives that will bring direct benefits to, and strengthens the rights of, the 35 million people living in and around the forest and depending on it for their survival.


    P.S. The World Bank and WWF work as an alliance promoting "environmentally sensitive" first time logging of ancient old-growth forests worldwide. Please take the time to respond to the second alert (where you will be forwarded after sending the first), confronting WWF's complicity in final loss of the world's ancient forests. Demand to know where is the evidence old-growth forest can be sustainably managed?

    Australia: Fellow activists hit at green forest proposal
    Source: Tasmania Examiner, 2 August 2004 (in Community Forestry E-News 2004.07)

    Thirteen Tasmanian conservation groups yesterday united in rejecting World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s Blueprint for the Forest Industry and Vegetation Management in Tasmania. Speaking in Launceston along with leaders from other conservation groups, Geoff Law, of The Wilderness Society, said that if the blueprint were adopted it would go against 25 years of work to protect Tasmania's old-growth forests and biodiversity. He added that the WWF did not consult with local groups and was "setting the bar too low" when it came to environmental goals.

    While the blueprint would protect some public forest from land clearing, it would still be logged. It does not support community campaigns to stop logging in areas considered locally important, such as the Great Western Tiers and the North-East highlands. Furthermore, it supports the unpopular Southwood proposal and suggests compensating Forestry Tasmania for not clearing State forest. Read the whole story

    WWF Threatens Australian Old-Growth Forests

    by, Inc.
    Monday, August 09, 2004

    WWF Australia has released a policy document advocating the logging of vast areas of old-growth forest in Tasmania, Australia. The document, entitled "A Blueprint for the Forest Industry and Vegetation Management in Tasmania", has rightly outraged local conservation organizations working for the past 25 years to stop logging in Tasmania's old-growth forests.

    A broad global consensus has emerged within the grassroots forest conservation community that industrial logging of old-growth, and other endangered forests, is no longer acceptable.

    As Dr. Glen Barry of explains, "ancient forests are required to maintain local as well as global ecological sustainability. Industrial development of Tasmanian and other endangered forests irrevocably diminishes them, whether management is certified or not. To protect the Earth and all her life, the world's remaining old-growth must be protected from commercial scale development."

    WWF's support for industrial logging against the wishes of heavily invested local conservationists is the most recent instance of large environmental organizations obstructing grassroots efforts to end industrial logging of ancient old-growth and other endangered forests. All too frequently corporate environmental organizations benefit financially from their endorsement of ancient forest logging as being supposedly environmentally friendly.

    The Australia Institute recently reported that WWF Australia has received vast sums of money from the Australian Federal Government ($13.5 million between 1999 and 2003). It has also supported the majority of the Federal Government's environment policies - including commercial logging of Tasmania's ancient forests - while its name and statements have been used by the Government to promote its environmental credentials.

    If adopted by Australia's government, WWF's proposals would undermine the twenty five years' campaign to protect Tasmania's old growth forests and biodiversity; continue undesirable and unpopular practices such as clearfelling of native forests; destroy wilderness areas of World Heritage value in western Tasmania; and exacerbate current divisions in Tasmania regarding the future of forests, the development of forest-consuming industrial complexes, and the proposed expansion of plantations.

    Twenty-five years of grassroots campaigning have won great victories in the campaign to save what remains of Australia's precious old-growth forests. Public opinion is behind the movement and political parties are on the verge of making the leap to true conservation policies - based upon strict protection and an end to old-growth logging - for Tasmania's precious ancient forests.

    WWF's recently published 'blueprint' threatens to stall this progress. supports Tasmanian conservation organizations in their demand that WWF remove the document from circulation and the debate, or else withdraw from the Tasmanian forest campaign altogether.

    As Dr. Barry concludes, "greenwashing of old-growth forest destruction by corporate environmental apologists will not stand. The mega-environmental conglomerates will heed this message or lose their members."