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© Kat Morgenstern,
September 2005
Vol.IV Issue:3

This Issue:

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ivy (117K)Autumn Equinox has come and gone and we are well and truly on the way into the dark half of the year. A last few extravagantly sunny days highlight the brilliant display of colours in the trees before their inevitable demise. I love this time of the year! It somehow more than any other season, to me signifies the preciousness of life, the cycle of becoming, and decay as an everchanging life-force. It switches my mind into reflective mode, with a tinge of melancholy and a deep appreciation of life.

The last quarter has been a trial for our friends in Louisiana and my heart goes out to the thousands who have lost not just their homes, but also their loved ones. It seems like a cruel twist of fate that it is always the poorest that are hit hardest. But it is not just their immediate personal losses that aches my heart, but the fact that they are denied the opportunity to rebuild their lives in their former homes, because of the incredible toxic pollution that has been unleashed onto the whole region. How long will it take to be cleaned up so that the children can again play safely in the yards, once the houses are rebuilt? What do we do with all that toxic sludge? Its a wake-up call I hope that industry at large will take to heart. Once released into the environment, toxins are here to stay, affecting everybody, rich and poor, and it can take years or decades to clean up the mess. It seems to me that the greatest and most important challenge of our time is to develop toxin-free technologies for all aspects of life and to figure out how to get rid of all the countless pollutants we already have in as safe a way as possible. For if we don't, the poisons we create will periodically come back to haunt us - whether as a result of natural or unnatural disasters.

To draw attention to the fact that innovative ideas are indeed afoot and alternatives are becoming available, I have changed the focus of the newsletter a little bit and instead of an Ethnomedicine feature I have included an article on natural fibre plants and their potential to free us from our addiction to poisonous petrochemical based industries. In the resource section you will be surprised to see what innovations are already becoming a reality. I hope you will enjoy this issue. As always I invite your comments, just drop me a line at

foraging (1K)


treehazel (70K)This year I did not have to go ‘nutting’ - the nuts came after me. When I went out the door the other day I was pelted by clusters of hazelnuts - talk about truth hitting home! The summer had passed me by and I had forgotten that September is upon us and it was time to go nuts - collecting hazel, walnuts and other goodies. The hazelnut that had knocked me out turned out to be a most interesting creature - a large, tightly packed fuzzy ball with several nuts hiding in frizzy sheaths. At a distance it looks more like sweet chestnuts than hazel. I don't recall ever having seen hazelnuts like that before. The only hazel I had ever come across previously is the common bushy hedge plant and undergrowth tree, whose nuts were forever evading me - either the squirrels got them before I did or they are were rotten. But this year, having moved to the city, I made my first acquaintance with a hazel-tree (Corylus colurna). And quite a stately tree it is! The ones guarding my street (occasionally bombarding hapless passers-by) are 20 to 30 meters high, I can almost pick the nuts from my second floor window. They are still a little green and probably worth waiting for a couple of weeks longer - when I see the squirrels making a run for them I know it must be time.

More commonly hazel bushes occur in deciduous woodlands and on the edge of forests or fields. Just after the last ice-age hazel was one of the dominant trees of northern and central Europe. It was probably one of the most important sources of sustenance for our Neolithic ancestors, who no doubt helped to spread them by carrying supplies from one camp to the next.

Throughout Britain and Europe hazel has long been revered, not just as a source of food, but also for its magical properties. According to ancient plant lore, hazel was one of the preferred woods used to craft magical staffs or wands as it is said to be an excellent energy conductor. To this day it is used to fashion dowsing rods, which are employed to trace hidden sources of water, earth energies and even hidden objects. But that is another subject entirely...

hazel (44K)In Britain, hazel is often planted as a hedge plant and makes a welcome habitat for numerous small creatures that make themselves at home among its roots and branches - right by a handy food supply. But not only mice, squirrels and birds appreciate the nuts. Lucky is the forager who catches them at just the right moment. Hazelnuts are a rich source of vitamins and amino acids. They are also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, which may explain their reputation as an aphrodisiac food. Another explanation may be their highly suggestive shape, especially while they are still tucked in their protective sheathing. Or, perhaps that reputation arose at a time when 'nutting' used to be a community event that provided some welcome opportunities for disappearing behind the bushes with a sweetheart. Whatever the explanation may be, some people still swear by hazelnut's seductive powers.

Hazelnuts are very versatile. Of course, they can be munched right off the bush, but cracking is a little tedious. It is best to collect a bunch and let them dry for a few days until they can easily be freed from their sheathing. They still have to be cracked - an activity best done in company. The nuts can be eaten raw or they may be lightly toasted to remove the inner skin, which is a little bitter and astringent. Once they are completely dry they can be ground and used almost like flour, adding a beautiful nutty taste and texture to breads and cookies. Commercially, hazelnuts are available in many different forms: whole, shelled, ground, sliced, crumbled and even as a very tasty and healthy oil with a lovely nutty flavour that makes it a delicious choice for salad dressings. It is also very useful for home-made cosmetic preparations, as it is the only base oil with astringent properties.

Beware though - some unfortunate people are allergic to nuts. Obviously they should avoid both internal and external exposure to hazelnuts as well as their oil.

recipes (1K)

Hazelnuts are very versatile. They are equally suitable for both sweet and savoury dishes and can be incorporated into all kinds of imaginative recipes. Here are some suggestions:

When deep frying, try replacing half of the bread crumbs with ground hazelnuts for a nutty crispy coating.

Cream cheese balls coated in hazelnut crumbs makes a great party snack. Make a flavoured cream cheese, e.g. blend it with garlic and herbs, form little balls and roll them around in hazelnut crumbs.

Hazelnuts can be used in stuffing blends for vegetables or pastry pockets or blended with other nuts to make a delicious nut roast. The possibilities are endless. Below are just a few suggestions borrowed with kind permission from the Oregon Hazelnut Growers website. Of course they'd like you to use their nuts, but if you have the time to forage and crack them yourself so much the better:

Hazelnut Parmesan Crisps

  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup finely chopped, toasted Oregon hazelnuts
  • 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl. Scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and pack it firmly into the spoon. Turn the spoon upside down and tap to release mixture on to an ungreased baking sheet. With the palm of your hand press into a thin 2 inch round. Leave at least 1 inch between each wafer.

Bake in a 375 degree oven until golden, about 12 to 14 minutes. Let stand for about 2 to 3 minutes and remove with spatula to cooling racks. Makes 12.

These crispy wafers are delicious as an appetizer, alone, or with a topping like smoked salmon. They may also be crumbled and added to tossed salads. Be sure to remove from oven when they just start to turn golden.

Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Cake

Yield: 1 8-inch layer cake

  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup roasted & chopped Oregon hazelnuts

Cream shortening; gradually add sugars. Beat in eggs and pumpkin. Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Fold in hazelnuts. Batter will be heavy. Pour into 3 greased and floured 8-inch layer cake pans. Bake in 350 oven for 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in pans, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely. Add roasted, chopped hazelnuts to butter icing for frosting and garnish with sliced hazelnuts.

Frontier Hazelnut Vegetable Pie

Yield: 8 servings

  • 1 cup fresh broccoli, chopped*
  • 1 cup fresh cauliflower, sliced*
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped*
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (4 oz.)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped Oregon hazelnuts
  • 1-½ cups milk
  • 1 cup Bisquick
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Pre-cook broccoli and cauliflower until almost tender (about 5 minutes.) Drain well. Combine broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, onion, green pepper and cheese. Divide into two well-greased 8-inch pie pans. Top with Oregon hazelnuts. Beat together milk, Bisquick, eggs, garlic salt and pepper; pour over vegetable mixture. Bake at 400 for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting. * 10-ounce packages of frozen chopped broccoli, cauliflower and spinach may be substituted for fresh. Thaw and drain well. Do not pre-cook. NOTE: This dish may be prepared ahead and frozen, unbaked. Cover tightly with aluminum foil before freezing. Do not defrost, but bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Northwest Salmon Hazelnut & Juniper Berry Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 salmon steaks
  • ¼ cup Oregon hazelnuts, broken
  • 3 Juniper berries, crushed
  • ½ cup brandy
  • ½ cup cream

Sauté salmon steaks and remove from pan. Add hazelnuts and Juniper berries. Deglaze with brandy. When mixture is reduced and alcohol is gone, add cream and cook until thickened. Salt to taste. Pour over warm salmon steaks. NOTE: You can add broken Oregon hazelnuts to any quick sauce to achieve a nutty flavor. (It must be a quick sauce to maintain the crunch.)

This dish seems particularly appropriate in light of the close mythological association between Hazelnuts and Salmon, both of which were sacred to the ancient Celts. In Celtic mythology, nine hazel bushes guard over a sacred pool, which was thought to be the source of the river salmon. As the hazel nuts would drop into the water they were eaten by the fish. For each nut they ate they developed a light spot on their skin and the more nuts they had consumed the wiser they were thought to be. And thus, those who ate the salmon gained their wisdom and poetic inspiration.

For more great recipes check out the Oregon Hazelnut Growers Website:

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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 deceiving 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 subject 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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riverjungleweb04 (27K)Beach and Rainforest, natural treasures and ancient Maya mysteries
Check out some of our great NEW Belize adventures:

Sea-kayaking and snorkelling in the Cayes, canoeing and rafting on overgrown jungle rivers, exploring caves and Maya ruins, birding and wild-life watching - Belize has it all

Belize is a green jewel of a country. Wedged between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south, it is largely covered with rainforest - a naturalist's paradise. Unlike many other Central American countries Belize has recognized early on that its natural diversity is its greatest treasure. Although a small country, much of it has not been developed, but is protected as reserves and national parks. The topography ranges from low mountainous rainforests to lowland rainforests savannah and swampy grassland near the coast, with mangrove forests lining parts of the coast and much of the Cayes, the little islands that are strung along the coast like a necklace in the turquoise sea.

Belize is also blessed with the second largest barrier reef of the world. The small offshore islands known as Cayes, with their laid back Caribbean ambiance are one of its most unique features and offer a paradise for divers, snorkelers, marine biologists and beach bums alike. The interior, with its rainforest covered mountains, rivers, caves and waterfalls, present adventures of a different kind. Hiking, riding, nocturnal guided nature walks, spelunking and canoeing are just some of the possibilities. For botanist, biologists and birdwatchers the immense natural diversity of this tiny country is a feast for the senses. Archaeologists and history buffs can also enjoy many a field day exploring ancient Maya ruins and temples. For adventurers the Maya ruins of Belize hold a special attraction - their remoteness and inaccessibility has kept development at bay. The journey to get to them is often an adventure in itself.

bird5 (11K)Birdwatching in Belize Birdwatching in Belize

Birding in Belize is for all levels. With its extensive tropical forests, high mountain habitat, lowlands, savannas, pine forest, river and streams, species rich lagoons and countless cays along the barrier reef, this small tropical country has an avifauna approaching 600 species of both temperate and topical birds in natural habitats that remain largely unspoiled. Birding can be combined with other activities, such as canoeing, hiking through the jungle, or simply sitting on your deck at the lodge. A 10 day expedition, guided by an expert ornithologist, explores the birdlife of many different habitats of Belize.

Upcoming departures:

maya1 (16K) Maya past and present in Belize Maya Past and Present

Belize reverberates with the presence of the past. A large number of Mayan ruins scattered throughout the country bear witness to this great civilization that at one time ruled a large section of Central America from Honduras to Mexico. In Belize these ancient temples are not as touristically developed as in Mexico or Guatemala, and thus are far more able to convey that sense of wonder and discovery upon the visitor, whether he be a lay person or trained archeologist, or tourist with a passing interest. But the Mayan civilization is not completely dead in Belize, it lives on in their descendents who inhabit remote parts of the jungle, where they carry on many of the ancient traditions and beliefs. This 9 day expedition traces the Mayan civilization from the remnants of the ancient past to the present day.

Indian Creek Lodge, Toledo District, BelizeIndian Creek Lodge and Jungle Camp, Belize Visit remote Jungle Lodges - Indian Creek Lodge and Jungle Camp

A luxurious wilderness experience deep, deep in the lush rainforest of southern Belize.

JungleCamp (31K)Indian Creek Lodge is nestled at the foot of the Maya Mountains, situated on and around a central hill surrounded by freshwater lagoons that are teeming with birdlife. The architecture and resort grounds reflect that of the ancient Maya, with thatch-covered buildings, stone walkways, walls and terraces lined with tangled vines and tropical flowers.

Jungle Camp is located even deeper in with a 13000 acre private rainforest reserve. The only way to get there is by canoe or kayak down the pristine and unspoilt golden stream. A tropical Paradise hideaway situated high above the river bank, blending with the tree canopy the jungle camp cabins are suspended 16feet above the forest floor, giving the impression of tree-houses. They are connected to the main restaurant and bar by a canopy walkway. Discover Belize' best kept luxury eco-hideaway secret...(more...)

Diving, snorkeling, seakayaking in Belizebutton1 (1K) Or embark on the ultimate adventure:

An extraordinary journey through Belize packed with adventure and excitement. You'll sea kayak, snorkel, dive, windsurf, explore Mayan ruins and ceremonial caves, and descend an incomparable tropical river through canyons and lush rainforest.

On each stage of the trip you're teamed with the best guides in Belize -- individuals whose knowledge and experience enable you to see and do what you never thought possible. We begin with sea kayaking in a remote island group along the southern Barrier Reef; then on to our luxury field camp at Glover's Atoll for two more fantastic days of snorkeling, kayaking, diving and boardsailing. (More...)

chilling out in Belizebutton1 (1K) Glover's Reef and Mayan Caves

On arrival in Belize, before heading out to Glovers, we have an opportunity to experience the diversity of the rainforest and the rich Mayan culture of the interior. Working with guides from the Belize Tropical Education Center, our itinerary includes a rare chance to view the nocturnal wildlife of Belize, and then, in the jungle, we explore a fantastic limestone cave that was used by the Maya as a ceremonial center thousands of years ago.

Thirty six miles offshore of the Belize mainland lie a group of tropical islands cradled within a turquoise lagoon and surrounded by a living coral reef. Glover's Reef Atoll is considered to be one of the richest tropical marine environments in the entire Caribbean. Our private island base of over 13 acres is perched on the southern edge of the atoll with a dramatic view facing east over the main reef crest and the open Caribbean. (More...).

and several others...visit the Belize trip page for more trips and further information

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Deep within the earth womb, below the roots of the cosmic world tree Yggdrasil, the three norns, Urd, Verthandi and Skuld have their dwelling. Also known as 'the fates', they govern the thread of life: Urd (Earth) spins it, Verthandi (Becoming) measures it and Skuld (Fate) cuts it - and no God or power can overrule them. Every soul is handed their thread and is thus equipped to weave a little patch in the tapestry of life.

Spinning and weaving are sacred activities in many traditions. The Kogi Indians of the Sierra Nevada in Colombia have the most intricate philosophy and express this entire cosmology in terms of the symbolic significance of weaving.

Spinning is a contemplative act. To sit down and twist and roll the fibres into a smooth and even thread involves many thoughts and prayers that become entwined with the resulting thread. When a Kogi sits down to spin a thread he symbolically puts his life in order. In Kogi symbolism the spindle represents a 'lingam-yoni' symbol, the male and female aspects of the universe joined in an act of creation. The wooden shaft is the axis mundi, the world-tree, the symbolic center of the world, while the disk at the top, the whorl, is the world itself. In Kogi mythology the Sun is the cosmic weaver, who weaves the tapestry of life on his cosmic loom, which is defined by the four corner points of the year, the equinoxes and solstices. The sun weaves two pieces of material a year, one for himself and one for his wife, the moon.

In traditional cultures all over the world we find patterns and symbols woven into fabrics and clothes that convey very specific coded messages with regards to the social role of an individual, their tribal relations and perhaps their marital status. In other words the clothes they wear are symbolic representations of their position in their universe.

From these ancient myths and symbols we begin to gain a tiny insight into the significance of fibres, not just as a material resource, but as the stuff that literally weaves the web of life. In sacred cosmology we humans become symbolic co-creators of the universe as we spin the thread with which we weave the fabric of our own and our planet's future.

It is not known when mankind first discovered fibres and developed methods to extract and utilize them, but archaeological evidence suggests that weaving and spinning can be traced back at least 5000 years. The Egyptian mummies were already wrapped in linen sheets and the Neolithic lake dwellers of Switzerland are known to have cultivated flax. In China, records dating back just as long, bear witness to the use of hemp, another important fibre plant.

From a plant's perspective, fibre is a vital part of its anatomy. It is analogous to our connective tissue, the stuff that gives them strength, support and resilience against wind, wear and tear.

Every plant contains fibre, but many do not have the right properties to make them suitable to be spun into thread. They may be too short or too inflexible, which lets them break easily. Some are just right, but may be difficult to extract. Most plant fibres used for cordage, thread and ropes must be extracted by a process known as 'retting', - which is basically a method of 'rotting' away the non-fibrous parts of the plants until only the fibres remain. The details of the retting process varies depending on each specific fibre plant. It often involves submerging the stalks in water until the softer tissues have rotted away. Once the fibres have been separated out they must be 'combed' and thoroughly dried before they can be further processed and spun into yarn.

Over the last century, since the discovery of oil, artificial fibres have progressively replaced natural fibres. We hardly spare a thought to all these ingenious processes that once upon a time not only kept us warm, but also affirmed our relationship with the Gods and creation. Yet, in recent times the voices of dissent demand a return to natural fibres, since these are biodegradable and thus less harmful to the environment. They also make for healthier clothing, giving the skin a chance to breathe. Fibres are also important as insulation materials for building and construction, helping to create healthier indoor climates (because they can breathe) and to reduce our energy consumption. As oil is beginning to become scarce and people are becoming more aware of the harmful ecological effects of the petrochemical industries, natural fibres are regaining ground and importance, albeit commercially rather than spiritually:

flax (53K)Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax, or linseed is the source plant of linen, and is one of the earliest known fibre plants. It grows best in a mild, somewhat humid climate. In the days of antiquity it was grown as far north as Scotland and as far south as Egypt, where mummies have been found that were been wrapped in linen shrouds thousands of years ago. The fibres are extracted by retting, which is a lengthy process. Then they must be cleaned and brushed before they can be spun. Flax fibres are very long and do not break easily, their resilience in fact increases when they are wet. The quality of flax yarn varies widely. It can be spun so fine as to create an almost silken texture or, left rough it can be used for canvass and carpet backing. Natural linen is buff-coloured to grey and can be bleached in the sun. It does not take easily to dyes as the fibre is hard and naturally resistant. Bleaching deteriorates its quality, reducing its strength and weight. Linen appears stiffer and harder than cotton and wrinkles more easily, which may be why it has fallen out of fashion. However, linen conducts heat better than cotton, making garments feel 'cooler'. Its smooth texture resists dirt.

Flax also provides us with a wonderful, fine quality oil though the variety grown for the highest yield of oil varies from that grown for fibres. Our ancestors used flax oil to fuel their lamps and of course, for cooking. Today it is mostly used to treat wood or may be added to paints to give them a smooth texture and a lustrous finish. Food grade Flax oil is currently being rediscovered for its nutritional benefits. It is the richest vegetable source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Hemp (Cannabis sativa)

hemp (49K)A book could be written about the virtues of this invaluable plant that has served humanity for at least 7000 years. Actually, several excellent books have been written about it, but I will limit myself here to its value as a fibre plant. Hemp has the longest, toughest and most resilient fibres of all fibre plants, making it particularly useful for tough ropes and sails that must withstand great pressures, wear and tear. Like Jute or Flax, Hemp is an annual plant. It is not demanding in terms of growing conditions and actually benefits the soil. In a previous era, not too long ago, it was widely cultivated throughout Europe, the United States, China and India. However, in recent years it has come under fire because of the psychoactive properties of THC, a plant resin produced by Cannabis sativa var. indica,, a subspecies of hemp, which, however, is never used as a source of fibre, since its fibres are too short. Fibre hemp (Cannabis sativa) on the other hand does not produce any noteworthy amounts of THC. Yet, this confusion is used to rationalize the prohibition of hemp and suppress commercial scale hemp production.

The fibres are derived from the stem, which can reach heights of up to 4m if planted with plenty of space around each plant. When planted close together the individual plants don't grow as high, but the fibre produced is of a finer quality, making it suitable for fine yarns that can be woven into textiles for use as garments. Hemp would make an ideal fibre plant, not just for hard wearing rope or clothes, (the first jeans were made from hemp), but also as a source of fibre pulp for paper (the first dollar notes were printed on hemp paper). It is criminal that forests, including old growth forests, continue to be cut down to produce a 'throw-away' commodity such as paper when there are very viable renewable alternative fibre sources available. The only thing that hinders development on a large scale is legislation, which continues to rule in favour of exploitation instead of sustainable growth.

In recent years some few licenses to produce hemp for fibre and oil have been granted in the US and hemp rope, clothes, paper and food products that utilize the oil pressed from the seeds (no THC, but exceptionally well balanced essential fatty acids and amino acids) have again become available on the market. However, its current impact, compared to its potential, is negligible and most hemp is imported.

nettle (56K)Nettles (Urtica dioica)

The common stinging nettle is another ancient fibre plant, though most people only know it as a weed. Our ancestors not only extracted their long resilient fibres to make cloth and garments, but also used nettles for food and medicine. Nettles as a source of fibre have gone through several cycles of popularity. The last time they were extensively used as a fibre plant was during the WWII in Germany, when cotton grew scarce. Since then interest has dwindled in favour of cheap artificial fibres. However, in recent years they have started to make a come back yet again (weeds don't die) as people are becoming more discerning about chemical treatments of their textiles and are looking for natural fibre alternatives. While the old favourites, hemp and flax produce a tougher, more hardwearing fibre, nettles produce the finest quality yarn of all natural plant fibres. At present Nettles are again being cultivated in Germany, without the use of fertilizers and chemicals to produce a 'natural fibre alternative'. The plants are resistant enough not to need any chemical treatment. In fact, no chemicals at all are used in the processing and the end product is a very soft, silky textile that is immensely resistant to tearing. Nettles thrive on nitrates and can be used to 'clean' over-fertilized land. However, most people, not least of all farmers, consider nettles a bothersome weed and thus far few are few willing to grow it. Yet, that might change as farmers may 'cotton on' to the fact that under EU regulations it is the only crop permitted on subsidized 'fallow land'. In an effort to increase yields, a team of Italian, Austrian and German researchers have joined forces to breed new, high yield nettle varieties and to find a solution that would make the process of retting less time consuming and more efficient. Famous Italian fashion houses are ready to launch new lines of fine quality designer nettle knickers and other fashionable clothes - all they are waiting for are sufficient supplies of the raw material.

ramie (55K)Ramie (Boehmeria nivea)

Another member of the nettle family, Ramie has been termed 'the flax of the east' as it is most common in parts of Russia and East Asia. When woven into fabric its qualities are much like flax in terms of lustre and strength. It also creases easily and has a similarly smooth texture take keeps dirt off. Ramie textiles are particularly renowned for keeping their shape well, but it is not a very flexible fibre, which makes it prone to breaking in highly stressed places, such as crease folds. Unlike flax it takes well to dyes. Fine quality Ramie fabric has a silken appearance. It is usually blended with cotton to create mixed material garments. Ramie has a disadvantage compared to other fibre plants - it needs to undergo a chemical process in order remove a gum substance from the fibres. On the other hand, it can sustain between three and six harvests a year, depending on weather and growing conditions.

coconut (46K)Coconut (Cocos nucifera)

It is impossible to say where exactly Coconuts originated, but it is thought that their home can be found somewhere in the West Pacific. Today it is a common species in all hot, tropical regions of the world. Coconuts can travel long distances since they are resistant to saltwater and can float across the sea to far off shores.

Since time immemorial Coconut trees have been revered as a source of food, oil, medicine and fibre. Coconut fibre is derived from the husks of the nuts, which are harvested both green (unripe) and brown (mature). Both types are available throughout the year, since each nut take 12 months to mature and the tree flowers and fruits continuously up to 13 times per year. In Thailand and Malaysia harvesters have trained small monkeys to help them with the task of getting the nuts. The green nuts provide a softer more pliable type of fibre than the brown, fully mature nuts. Brown Coconut fibre is quite coarse and bristly, making it useful as a hard-wearing flooring material, as well as for upholstery, mattresses, brushes, and sacking. White coconut fibre is used for rope and cordage. Coconut fibre is the only natural fibre resistant to sea water.

sisal (43K)Sisal (Agave sisalana)

Sisal is a hard wearing fibre derived from a species of Agave native to Central America and Mexico. Agave sisalana is a sterile hybrid, which points to its long established use as a fibre plant in Central America. The exact origin is not clear, though it derived its name from the port town of Sisal in the Yucatan, from which it was first exported. Today it is grown not only in Mexico, but also in China, Brazil and Africa, with Tanzania being the world's largest producer. Agaves are succulent desert plants with long, fleshy, blue green, sword-like leaves which grow in a rosette formation on a short stumpy stem. The fibres are derived from the fibrous sheath surrounding the inner xylem of the leaves. Sisal is not as resilient as other fibres and can deteriorate quickly during processing. The leaves are harvested by hand and are quickly decorticated, while the leaf pulp is washed away. Sisal is ideally adapted to arid growing condition. Its fibre is used for matting, rope, netting, or in mixtures with wool for carpets etc..

kenaf (55K)Jute (Corchorus capsularis and C. olitorius) and Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus)

These two members of the Hibiscus family produce a strong, but coarse fibre. Jute is mostly used for sacking and carpet backing. The fibre is not as strong as hemp or flax and is susceptible to rot. It can not be spun into a fine grade yarn and thus does not find use in the textile industry.

Kenaf, a close relative of Jute is mostly used in the manufacture of paper, though in its native Africa it also supplies fibres for rope and rugs. It is native to hot and humid climates, but is adaptable and will grow as far north as southern Illinois. However, in cooler climates its seeds do not mature. Kenaf is a very viable alternative to Pine for paper production. Considering that each and every American consumes about six 30-year old pines in paper per year and the per-acre yield of Kenaf is 3-5 times higher than that of Pine, Kenaf is the obvious environmentally friendly choice. Kenaf is resistant to most bugs and may be grown organically. It also takes less energy to pulp and does not require chlorine for bleaching. The quality of paper produced from it is very high.

Cotton (Gossipium hirsutum)

cotton (61K)What about cotton, I can hear you asking, and rightly so. At this point in time, cotton is the most important fibre plant of all. I mention it separately because it is a story of its own. Cotton derives from various species of Gossipium, and belongs to the Malva family. Unlike the other fibre plants discussed above, its fibre does not derive from the stem of the plant, but from the seeds, which grow inside a capsule known as a 'boll'. The seed is surrounded by a soft, fluffy material called 'lint', which consists of fibres that can easily be spun into threads. Cotton is a tropical crop of enormous commercial importance and was of course instrumental in the ugly business of the slave trade and all the pain and misery that it entailed. Cotton used to be a very labour intensive crop - until the invention of the cotton gin made the separation of the fibre from the seed much easer, which in turn has made the whole process far more efficient. Today much of cotton processing is done by machines, including the picking. Cotton has become problematic in other ways though. It is highly susceptible to a great variety of bugs, which has made it subject to intense agrochemical treatment. Today it is one of the most heavily sprayed of all crops (8-10 times per season). In fact, 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides and defoliants.) is sprayed on cotton. At the same time the soil is depleted, calling for vast amounts of fertilizers to compensate.

In the last 5 years disease and bug resistant Gene-manipulated varieties have been created, which are now taking over traditional chemically dependent varieties. In the US, a huge proportion of cotton now derives from GM varieties, which are hailed as environmentally friendly, because they supposedly do not need as much chemical treatment. However, trial plantings of GM cotton in India and Indonesia have failed to prove resistant to insects. Meanwhile consumers are beginning to become aware of these issues and are looking for ecofriendlier alternatives. Organic cotton and fair trade cotton is available, but with the market trend for cheaply produced goods, no matter what the human health or environmental costs may be, they struggle to establish themselves as viable alternatives. Who knows, perhaps nettle will be the eco-fibre of choice for the future.

While this article discusses fibres mostly in terms of textiles, a new and exciting use of natural fibres is emerging, in the automobile industry, of all places. Some of the leading manufacturers of cars are beginning to heed what Ford discovered years ago - natural fibres can make a damn good car. They are not only used for the obvious - upholstery of seats and covers, but also as filling materials and to replace other parts currently made from plastic or glass. A 'bio' plastic is already being produced from Kenaf and Hemp. Natural fibres in such applications have obvious advantages, not just in terms of lower costs, but also in terms of lower environmental impact, since they are generally cheaper to produce and more easily biodegraded once their task has been fulfilled. There are as yet unimagined and exciting possibilities in the world of natural fibres and I for one am certain that they will play a crucial part in readjusting the natural balance for a sustainable future.


For more on the Kogi Indians read Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff: Land of the Elder Brothers: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Colombia,(unfortunately currently unavailable at Amazon) The Sacred Mountain of Colombia's Kogi Indians (Iconography of Religions, Section IX, Vol 2) or see Alan Ereira's documentary, 'From the Heart of the World - The Elder Brothers Warning'

Web page of the Tairona heritage trust has much useful information:

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Herb Profile

Achillea millefolium

yarroflower (101K)



Early in the year the tender feathery leaves of Yarrow appear low on the ground, by the wayside, in meadows, pastures and waste grounds- just about anywhere, in fact. As the year progresses the shoot appear and the soft leaves become tougher, almost prickly. In June the first flower heads develop; greyish white to pink umbels that seem to indicate a relationship to the carrot family. On close examination of their individual little flowers however, one realizes that one has been conned and that yarrow is in fact a member of the daisy family.

History and Mythology

achilles (28K)Yarrow derived its Latin name from the Greek hero Achilles, the son the Sea-Goddess Thetis and the mortal king Peleus. Thetis, attempting to make her son invulnerable, dipped him into the river Styx. But afraid to let the infant go completely, his ankles remained vulnerable where his mother had held him, the part that has become known as the 'Achilles heel'. She also wanted to make him immortal by the power of fire, but Peleus disturbed her in her ritual and so she fled back to her father, leaving the infant in Peleus' hands. Peleus gave him to Chiron, the centaur, who had a great reputation for educating young boys in the art of archery and healing. And so, Achilles went on to become one of the greatest, and *almost* invincible warriors, but in the end he died of a mortal wound to his Achilles heel. He was a great student of the healing arts though and Yarrow was his special ally. He used it to staunch the wounds of his fellow soldiers, which is how yarrow became known as 'Militaris'.

Yarrow has been revered as a powerful healing herb and magical plant for centuries. It was used in counter-magical practices to 'drive out the devil' of those who had become possessed. However, to be effective, the holy mass had to be recited over the herb 7 times and it also had to be drunk from an upside down church bell (!). The French name for this herb 'herbe de St. Joseph' is derived from a legend according to which Joseph one day hurt himself while working on his carpentry. The infant Jesus brought him some Yarrow, which instantly staunched the bleeding and healed his wounds. Yarrow is indeed excellent for this purpose.

However, conversely it is also said to cause a nosebleed and a bizarre form of love divination is associated with this property in eastern parts of Britain. According to Mrs Grieves, girls determine whether their loves be true by sticking a yarrow leaf up into their nostrils while reciting the following rhyme:

Yarroway, Yarroway bear a white blow
If my love, love me my nose will bleed now...

Yarrow sown up in a little pouch and placed beneath the pillow was hoped to bring dreams of one's future husband if one recited the following charm before dozing off to sleep:

Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.

In China, Yarrow is also used for divination however, the practice is of quite a different order. The ancient oracle of the I Ching is traditionally cast with Yarrow stalks which are thought to represent the Yin and Yang forces of the Universe in perfect balance.

Yarrow was always part of the sacred 9 herb bundle. Originally a pre-Christian tradition, the church at first attempted to ban the gathering of herbs. But when it became apparent that this would be impossible to enforce, they sanctified the practice and even blessed the women's herb bundles in the church on Maria Ascension day, the 15th of August.

yarrowleaves (81K)A special soup of herbs is the traditional dish for Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. This soup contained 9 holy healing herbs, one of which is Yarrow. This soup was believed to ward off all sickness and disease and dispel all evil influences for the whole of the coming year.

The fresh young leaves of yarrow collected in spring add a lovely, aromatic flavour to salads and soups, or one might add it as flavouring to homemade beer. Before brewing was subject to regulations that mandated hops as the only herb legally allowed to be brewed into beer, the brew was a lot less homogenous than it is today and many different herbs were used for their flavour and added effect. Yarrow for example, with its bitter, aromatic flavour was a favourite herb to add to Gruit beer, which is reputed to be more intoxicating than regular ale. However, its potency is more likely due to Ledum palustre, Marsh Rosemary, another herb that went into that particular brew. Modern versions of the recipe often replace this hard to find herb with regular rosemary, which however results in quite a different (and less potent) brew.

Yarrow has been distilled to produce an essential oil. During the process of distillation a compound known as azulene develops, which is not present in this form in the actual herb. Azulene gives the blueish colour to both, Yarrow and German Chamomile, but of the two, Yarrow essential oil contains more of this powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Yarrow essential oil is used for women's problems such as irregular and painful periods and to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding.

Yarrow is considered a harmonizing and balancing plant and can be used for emotional disturbances related to PMT or menopause. It is said to harmonize conflicting emotions and may be used for chakra balancing.

Medicinal Uses:

Parts used:

aerial parts, young leaves, flowers


the young leaves can be harvested in the early days of spring when they are still soft, for use in soups and salads. Later they get too tough to be used fresh and should be dried. Leaves and flowers can be harvested until July/August when the plant is in full flower.


flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins, a bitter glycoalkaloid,


yarrow (116K)Yarrow is a very useful medicinal herb. As already mentioned, it is a premiere vulnerary that staunches bleeding. The juice or dried powder can be applied to bleeding wounds. A strong tea may be taken for internal bleeding. Its anti-inflammatory action will reduce swelling and heal inflamed cuts or wounds. Internally, Yarrow acts as a soothing relaxant on the voluntary nervous system. It counteracts cramps and spasm of the stomach, abdomen and uterine system. At the same time, its bitter principles support the digestive system by acting on the gallbladder and liver. Yarrow also supports the urinary system and is an effective anti-inflammatory and diuretic in cases of urinary infections, such as cystitis. It is an excellent women's herb that can bring on delayed menstruation, soothe painful periods and menstrual cramps and reduce excessive bleeding. The fresh juice is recommended as a tonic. Yarrow improves peripheral circulation by dilating the blood vessels. It is indicated for high blood pressure and angina pectoris. It is also one of the best herbs to induce a cooling sweat to reduce fevers. It can also be used for inner cleansing, e.g. prior to a sauna or sweatlodge. Yarrow's overall cleansing and toning properties, combined with its anti-inflammatory action may explain its use in the treatment of rheumatism. Yarrow can be described as a tonic and alterative that over time will improve the overall function of all the main bodily systems, as well as being of excellent service in the treatment of acute problems.


Some individuals are sensitive to Yarrow and may develop allergic reactions on exposure.

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Climate Conundrum as Biofuel Threatens Rainforests:
Europe's rush to oil palm and soya biomass as source of renewable energy unsustainable

By and ClimateArk, projects of Ecological Internet, Inc.
September 29, 2005

To meet Kyoto protocol commitments, various European and other governments are encouraging the use of biomass as fuel (biofuel) in transport and electricity. Biofuels are mostly carbon neutral, and switching from fossil fuels to biodiesel is promoted as a solution to climate change. Rainforests will be threatened by increased demand for agricultural products to be raised on once forested lands, and by use of forest biomass as a fuel. An unregulated rush to biofuels will lead to more natural rainforest loss and fragmentation, increased pressures upon endangered primary forests, and more monoculture, herbicide laden and genetically modified tree plantations. Two important tropical crops suitable as biofuels include palm oil, grown mostly in Southeast Asia, and soya oil largely from South America. Both are already amongst the world's major causes of tropical forest destruction and further stimulation of their markets will surely result in massive and irreversible new losses of tropical rainforests and savannas. Largely to meet demand for biofuel, the Indonesian government announced in July 2005 the development of the largest palm oil plantation in the world which will clear the "Heart of Borneo". This will further deteriorate ecosystems that provide habitats for the already endangered Orang Utan and many other species. There exists an opportunity to influence European imports of oil palm in particular, as the European Commission is currently studying the matter.

Clearly Europe and world should invest more strongly in energy from wind and sun, not in carelessly creating, stimulating and subsidizing new international palm oil and soya export markets. Western countries must do better than destroying tropical rainforests to meet their Kyoto goals.
Take action now at:

More on cotton:


LONDON, UK, September 30.2005 (ENS) - With the annual cotton harvest underway in Turkmenistan, an army of laborers is once again forced to risk health and well being in an environment fouled by toxic agricultural chemicals. Grown on around half of all irrigated land in Turkmenistan, cotton is one of the country's most important exports.

Benin: The limits of cotton

Source: Leif Brottem, - Liège, France, 18 July 2005

Cotton farming is an industry on which over 15 million Africans depend on for their livelihoods. Oxfam, a UK-based charity and development organization, has led an effective campaign to bring cotton subsidies in rich countries to the forefront of the debate on extreme poverty in Africa. Eliminating the billions of dollars in handouts to some 25,000 American cotton growers would benefit countries in West and Central Africa that depend heavily on exporting the crop. However, the belief that cotton is a panacea for rural Africans ignores a huge problem: in the regions where the crop is grown, the land is being destroyed.
For full story, please see:

Conference Announcements

October 13-14:

Ethnobotany Symposium.

Cumberland, Maryland. Organized & Presented by: Frostburg State University, West Virginia University and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. A symposium discussing the collaborative efforts on ethnobotanical studies that integrate bioscience with indigenous herbal medicine practices, wildlife habitats, conservation efforts, cottage industries, and economic development for Central Appalachia. A diverse audience is anticipated for this symposium: Panel sessions will address medicinal plants from the perspectives of producers, conservationists, herbal medicine practitioners, medical researchers, and folklorists.
Web site:

October 14-16:

The 16th Annual Bioneers Conference.

San Rafael, California. The Bioneers Conference is a hub of practical solutions for restoring the Earth - and people. It's a thriving network of visionary innovators working with nature to heal nature. The Bioneers draw from four billion years of evolutionary intelligence and apply the knowledge in practical ways to serve human ends harmlessly. There will be pre & post conference intensives at Embassy Suites.
Web site:

October 20-23:

The 13th International Congress of Oriental Medicine.

Daegu, Korea. The ICOM presents and discusses research findings on oriental medicine. The congress will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the International Society of Oriental Medicine.
Web-site: E-mail:

November 4-6, 2005

American Herbalists Guild's 16th Annual Symposium

Treating Chronic Illness With Herbal Medicine

American Herbalist Guild

Our Annual Symposium is widely regarded as one of the preeminent conferences on botanical medicine, offering over 40 workshops by leading practitioners and researchers. At the Benson Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

For the full program: This year's teachers include:

We expect to offer continuing education credits for nurses, pharmacists, acupuncturists, and naturopathic physicians. In addition, this conference offers a special certificate track on Women's Herbal Medicine, for those wanting to focus on the acute and chronic conditions that women face throughout their life cycles. This track may be taken in part, or as a whole, at no additional charge. A certificate of completion will be given to those who attend the whole women's health track.

November 5-6:

The Fourth Annual Green Festival

San Francisco, California. The Green Festival unites green businesses, social and environmental groups, visionary thinkers and thousands of community members in an exchange of ideas, commerce and movement building. Web site:

November 18-20:

Tenth New Zealand Herb Federation Conference

Auckland, New Zealand. Hosted by the Auckland Herb Society. The conference theme is Working with Herbs in a Multi-Cultural Society. For more information and registration forms please contact the conference organizer: Barbara Cox at phone/fax 09-6301-407. E-mail:

6-7 December 2005

Cameroon Ethnobotany Network (CEN), Second International symposium:
Plants to cure humans and the environment

Yaounde, Cameroon CEN is happy to announce that online registration for the Second International Symposium. The objective of the symposium is to contribute towards the valorisation of plant diversity and, more specifically, to: *promote sustainable management of natural resources derived from plants. * find out concrete strategies to ensure effective application of research result

Register early to secure your place and to benefit from the early registration rate. For foreign participants, you can register now and pay all fees on your arrival to Cameroon.
For more information contact the CEN secretariat or or:

Pr. Bernard-Aloys Nkongmeneck
BP: 812 Yaoundé
Tel :(237) 223 02 02 (H)
(237) 999 54 08
E-mail :

13 to 15 January 2006

International Symposium on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann

Convention Center Basel, Switzerland
For detailed information on this conference go to:

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Dr. Albert Hofmann on 11 January 2006, the Gaia Media Foundation stages an International Symposium on the most widely known and most controversial discovery of this outstanding scientist.

LSD - three letters that changed the world. Since 19 April 1943, the day Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann discovered this psychoactive substance, millions of people all over the world have experienced a higher reality with profound and psychological insights and spiritual renewal; created innovative social transformation, music, art, and fashion; were healed from addiction and depression; experienced enlightened insights into the human consciousness.

Some 60 years later experts will present an in-depth review of all aspects of this unique phenomenon, informing and discussing history, experiences, implications, assess the risks and benefits of this most potent of all psychoactive substances. LSD - a challenge in the past, now, and in the future.

Press Releases

CONTACT: Robert S. McCaleb

Herb Research Foundation Gives Herbs Scientific Credibility to Counter Media Distortions

October 11, 2001:
The dietary supplement industry is under siege. A perceived lack of scientific credibility and regulatory opposition feeds negative media coverage, which in turn undermines consumers' confidence in alternative healing therapies.

Recently, some of the negative media coverage has been "the unintentional consequence of well-intended actions," said Rob McCaleb, president of the Herb Research Foundation (HRF) in Boulder, CO. In an apparent effort to resolve industry quality issues, a number of analytical programs were undertaken with industry funding. McCaleb cites poorly designed "test and tell" programs as hurting the industry and badly eroding consumer confidence in supplement quality. These programs have trivialized quality with a simplistic focus on single chemical "markers" and encouraged consumers to buy the cheapest brand that provides enough of certain chemicals.

Scientific credibility is essential to bolster consumer confidence in herbs and for the continued growth of the industry. Since its founding in 1983, HRF has served as the central archive of scientific literature on the health effects and safety of botanicals and has developed the world's most comprehensive collection of clinical trials, pharmacology, toxicology, chemical, historical, and horticultural data on thousands of herbal ingredients. HRF's current collection consists of more than 300,000 articles.

By law, manufacturers must substantiate all structure/function claims made in product labeling and advertising. Now, as the FDA turns its scrutiny to functional foods, these issues have become particularly important for manufacturers incorporating botanical ingredients into food products. HRF provides substantiation files for botanicals based on a vast collection of information resources, and has provided substantiation to support claims made by dozens of companies for hundreds of products. Substantiation files provide companies with a more complete picture of the benefits and safety of herbal ingredients, which allows them to make valid claims and provide a greater depth of information to consumers, media, and regulators.

HRF also has a well-established professional review program for herbs. The HRF Botanical Ingredient Review approach is the most effective and cost-effective way to document the safety and scientific credibility of botanical ingredients. The program allows companies to "self-affirm" the status of herbs as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). To date, HRF has undertaken reviews for more than 30 commonly used botanicals, and its Botanical Ingredient Review program has been recognized by the FDA and the Food and Drug Law Institute.


Ginseng export restrictions toughened in the United States

Source: - Dallas, TX, USA, 12 August 2005

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a notice this month that it is increasing the age limit for ginseng roots eligible for export from five years to 10 years this season. The five-year age restriction, put in place in 1999, was the first ever on ginseng exports.

The change applies to Virginia and 18 other states. It is meant to halt the rapid disappearance -- caused by overharvesting -- of wild ginseng on private land and in national parks and forests. The age restriction also applies to ginseng grown under simulated wild conditions unless the grower obtains an exemption from the agency.

Virginia's ginseng hunting season begins Monday and runs through 31 December. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has asked the federal agency to delay the new rule until hunters and buyers and sellers of ginseng can be notified. It has not received a reply to that request.

Virginia, like the other states affected by the new rule, has state laws governing the harvest. Virginia, however, is one of only three states that do not require hunters to plant ginseng seeds in the spot where they dig a plant.
For full story, please see:

Devil's claw: Moves to protect it from German patents

Source: Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone), 4 August 2005

Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are engaged in talks to protect the Devil's Claw plant (Sengaparile or Harpagophytum procumbens) from a German company, which wants to have patent rights over it. Botswana's Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tutu Tsiang, said yesterday that the talks involve government officials from the three countries. She declined to disclose the name of the German company involved in the matter. She said the plant grows in the three countries therefore it would be unfortunate for the company to claim rights over it. She was not aware if there were plant species exported to other countries to be processed and patented. There was confusion last year when Convention In Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) said it wanted to put Sengaparile under its list of endangered species. The plant grows in sandy areas such as the Kgalagadi Desert, and is known to have medicinal value.
For full story, please see:

Lac: Shellac may combat skin disorders

Source: Japan Corporate News (press release), Tokyo, Japan, 8 August 2005

Ivy Cosmetics (TSE: 4918) announced on August 5 that it has identified a unique property of shellac, a natural resin secreted by insect Laccifera Lacca. In collaboration with Kitasato University, the company has confirmed that the powder or extract of shellac can inhibit the production of interleukin-8, one of the causing factors of skin disorders. The company and the university have concluded that shellac-derived substances can be applicable to an external preparation for skin. Ivy has applied for patents for these findings.
For full story, please see:

Medicinal plants: Mappia foetida in India

Source: Indian Express - New Delhi, India, 3 July 2005

The international trade in a medicinal plant found on the Western Ghats is now the focus of an environmental debate The Western Ghats, designated as one of the 18 bio-diversity hotspots in the world, are home to the medicinal plant Mappia foetida, commonly known as narakya or amruta. The alleged illegal international trade of this plant is now becoming an issue of concern.

Mappia foetida is sought after for what it contains: a high concentration of camptothecin - an agent used in drugs to treat cancer in countries such as Japan, Germany, Spain and China. Besides Karnataka, Mappia foetida is found in Satara, Pune, Kolhapur, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Jalgaon in Maharashtra. Interestingly, most of the land that it grows on belongs to the forest department. Yet, the plant has been plundered unchecked for the last eight to ten years.

Dr P.S.N. Rao, director of the Botanical Survey of India, Pune, who has done a study on this plant says: "Of late, a world wide search for plant and animal based anti-cancerous drugs has gathered momentum and so the plant is being regularly harvested from reserve forest zones of Maharashtra. According to figures from the Forest Research Centre at Wada in Thane districts, about 16 lakh kg of this plant powder has been exported to Japan and Spain from Maharashtra during 2002. While the middlemen sell it for Rs 1,700 per kg, the villagers who supply the dried bark and wood to the dealers receive just Rs 2 to 3 per kg."

However, Rao feels that instead of including the plant in the endangered species list, it should be cultivated on a large scale to procure foreign exchange. The debate now revolves around whether its potential should be exploited in a scientific manner or whether it should be put on the endangered species list.
For full story, please see:

India: Plant extinction threatens traditional medicine systems

Source: Business Standard - India, 30 June 2005

The medicinal plant collection and traditional medicine sector in India is under threat, from illegal collection and depletion of forest resources.

The Rs 4,000 crore market for traditional systems of medicine, dependent largely on medicinal plants, was growing at 20 per cent annually but would be derailed by these threats. The ayurveda market worth around Rs 3,500 crore was also growing at 20 per cent annually but faced a similar disaster, according to a study conducted by a consortium of south Asian NGOs, called South Asian Watch on Trade, Economic and Environment (SAWTEE), the National Medicinal Plant Board under the central ministry of health and family welfare, and Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS).

The special focus of the study were four states of the central and north eastern region of the eastern Himalayas - Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh (with over 500 species of medicinal plants), Himachal Pradesh (with 3000 plant species) and Meghalaya (another storehouse of medicinal plants in the country).

National as well as state level research institutes are working for the promotion of medicinal plants in the Himalayan foothill regions. Species being promoted for cultivation include Cinchona ledgeriana or quinine, sarpagandha or Rauvolfia serpentina and Aconitum heterophyllum or atis, Coptis teeta or mamira, Picrorhiza kurrooa or kutki in Arunachal Pradesh.

India's export of medicinal and herbal plants, which stood at Rs 446 crore in 2000, was expected to reach Rs 3,000 crore this fiscal, the National Medicinal Plant Board said in the study.

All this was at risk because of lack of good practices.

Over 1.5 million practitioners of the Indian systems of medicine in the oral and codified streams use medicinal plants for preventive and curative applications, noted Ghayur Alam, director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Mussorie. About 5 crore people rely on non timber forest products (NTFP), the majority of which were medicinal plants. Collection and processing of medicinal plants contributed to at least 35 million work days of employment annually according to the survey.
For full story, please see:

Brazil's Kayapó Tribe protecting biodiversity

Source: Lance Belville, - Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 2005

The nearly 2,000 environmental scientists and their students meeting here in Brasilia this week invited a Kayapó Indian to address them and his 20-minute talk moved this scientific gathering.

Megaron Txucarramae is a smallish man in physical stature but a very large man in the life of his tribe. About 6,000 Kayapó live on their 10 million hectare reserve which stretches from south Para into north Mato Grosso. The Kayapó fought their way--sometimes literally as well a figuratively--to recognition of their tribal lands from a reluctant Brazilian government in a twenty-year struggle which started shortly after an indigenous Brazilian Francisco Meireles first established regular, peaceful contact with them under the aegis of the old Brazilian Indian Protection Service (SPI), the Brazilian service that preceded the present-day National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).

The challenges the Kayapó face in hanging on to their lands and their way of life are shared to greater or lesser extent by the approximately 200,000 indigenous people inhabiting the Amazon today. Conservation scientists believe that the extent that tribes like the Kayapó are able to cling to their lands and their way of life are crucial to hopes for preserving the biodiversity of the Amazon region.

The Kayapó way of life depends on the forest that surrounds them and now the forest depends on them. In his talk Txucarramae related how many have asked why so few Kayapó need so much land to survive. He explained that the Kayapó hunt, fish and gather most of the necessities of their way of life. "We don't raise things. Our food is in the streams and the jungle." He explained that important festivals--critical to their religious and social life"--require weeks of preparation. "We need two months of hunting to get ready for a big festival."

Denied these resources the Kayapó themselves cease to exist. Scientists believe that if the Indians can maintain their traditional way of life, the forests and their priceless biodiversity can survive as well.

They have taken the protection of their lands from outsiders as seriously as personal honour. The willingness of the tribe to attack and repel the errant gold prospector, adventuresome logger or hardy colonist played an important part in the Brazilian government's granting them the legal rights to their land. Now, as then, the protection of their lands falls largely on the tribe itself. The Brazilian government and the FUNAI have scant resources to back up Kayapó land rights with much more than a pile of paper.

In the past the tribe has had more allies. Previously the Body Shop chain of beauty and health products purchased Brazil nut oil from the tribe and provided a plane for surveillance flights around Kayapó borders. But recently the company pulled out of its agreements with the tribe. The search is on to replace this and other sources of support with resources from NGOs, foundations and compatible economic activities to help the tribe resist the blandishments of outsiders angling for the riches of the Kayapó jungle home.

The reservation the tribe must defend is something of a mixed blessing. While it provides the tribe their necessities, it has both gold and stands of mahogany (the most valuable wood in the world), as well as Brazil nuts and a host of other forest products sought after by the outside world. The tribe has selectively permitted some logging and gold mining but pressures are constant on them both from increased illegal cutting and inducements to authorize more logging and mining. And without the help of aircraft as well as boats and engines provided sporadically by FUNAI it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the hundreds of kilometers of Kayapó borders.

And the temptation to trade short-term profit from their gold and tropical woods may prove irresistible to tribal chieftains who increasingly find that prestige and influence may come as much from providing civilized trade goods as returning game-laden from hunting expeditions.

As it now stands, the tribe does not have the resources of surveillance and enforcement to repel a new wave of deforestation and invasion that is spreading like a human tsunami from the nearby highway linking Cuiabá, south of their lands and Santarem near Kayapó northern borders.

The Kayapó, tough and independent as they are, both as individuals and as a tribe, now need their friends, perhaps more than ever. If both Brazilian and international NGOs come to their aid their lands and a sizeable chunk of Amazon forest biodiversity may be secured. If not, the Kayapó's next battle with the incursions of the outside world may be their last.

For more information on the Kayapó and other issues of Amazon biodiversity, see the website or send an email to
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Biopiracy: Women against biopiracy, in Africa

Source: WorldChanging - USA, 25 July 2005

Triggers for Innovation - New Models for Change and Social Entrepreneurship

Despite recent court rulings, "biopiracy" -- non-locals patenting treatments based on plants used by indigenous communities -- continues to be a problem. Construction of databases and knowledge archives about native group uses of local plants is an increasingly popular way of combatting biopiracy (by establishing "prior art," and blocking patents), but such projects are not easily accomplished. Indigenous knowledge is often an oral tradition, and remote communities in the developing world may not be willing to share that knowledge with outsiders.

The Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Project is a South African effort to identify and protect the unique local biosystems used by local communities as medicines, based on the authority -- and knowledge -- of female traditional leaders. The result has been something even greater than a knowledge archive:

The female traditional leaders from the Eastern Cape said that the initiative to manage indigenous knowledge systems was community-driven. Before embarking on the Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Project, female traditional leaders from Rharhabe Kingdom focused on how commercial exploitation of traditional foods could help develop their communities. However, they later realized the need to link the management of indigenous knowledge systems on traditional foods with that of traditional medicines in order to make their promotion of rural livelihoods or development effective. The sources of traditional foods and medicines are largely indigenous plants and grains. Some medicines are also acquired from animals and reptiles.
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Curbing Bio-piracy

Source: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu, 29 July 2005

The most controversial provision in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is the one relating to patenting of life forms. While this provision is a boon for biotech and agro-chemical companies of the North, it has opened the floodgate for the piracy of genetic resources and misappropriation of associated traditional knowledge (TK) from the South. In fact, it has provided a legal cover to the biopirates. The gene-rich developing countries could not even take shelter under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), since it lacks legal measures against non-compliance unlike TRIPS in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) system. This has led to a wide debate over the issue of TRIPS and CBD during WTO negotiations.

The debate took constructive shape when pressures from the gene-rich developing countries culminated in the explicit recognition of the iniquitous nature of TRIPS in the Doha Development Agenda. Ministers instructed the TRIPS Council to examine, inter alia, the relationship between TRIPS and CBD, the protection of TK and folklore, and other developments. However, till date, the council has failed to persuade members, resulting into more heated discussions over the issue of the reconciliation of TRIPS and the CBD.
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