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From the Townsend Letter
July 2008

Lost Knowledge
Ethnobotanical Explorations into Tropical Rainforests (The Student Rainforest Fund)
by Dr. Steve Morris, ND, AHG, and Dan Wagner Al Czap

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It all started with a novel idea. In 1993, we were some of the initial members of an international team of health professionals who set off on an unprecedented expedition to the Amazon Rainforest of Peru and the savannahs and forests of Kenya. The groups were organized by the American Botanical Council (ABC), an herbal research and interest organization from Austin, Texas. The trips were called "Pharmacy from the Rainforest," and afforded American pharmacists, naturopaths, physicians, botanists, and/or educators a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study natural products and medicinal plants in the world's greatest pharmacy – the rainforest.

The initial rainforest trips sponsored by ABC had a faculty world-renowned in their knowledge of ethnobotany and herbal medicine. The late Dr. Varro Tyler was one of the lecturers for the group. Joining him were Dr. James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy, noted ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin, famed natural-medicine healer Dr. Rosita Arvigo, and Mark Blumenthal, president and founder of the American Botanical Council.

We – pharmacist Dan Wagner and naturopath Steve Morris – first met on a sprawling trip through the Mausi Maura in Kenya in 1994. We have retained a close friendship ever since, bound by our mutual respect of indigenous peoples and the plants that we use for medicines; our love for the natural world, especially the rainforest; and our own concept of in some small way constructing a healthier ethos for our planet.

Upon our return, we found ourselves looking at our perspective medical practices (pharmacy and naturopathy) in a new light. Although Dan Wagner had owned and operated a successful, independent, community pharmacy located north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he had always yearned for ways to look at the practice of pharmacy in a more holistic and natural way. Steve Morris, who already owned a naturopathic physician's practice in Mukilteo, Washington, had decided to expand his horizons in naturopathy beyond what he learned in the classroom.

Within two years, we decided to make this unique rainforest experience a bigger part of our practices and our lives. Late in 1996, after 17 years of ownership, Dan decided to sell his independent pharmacy to a chain drugstore. He opened an all-natural pharmacy that would be more dedicated to consulting patients who choose to integrate the use of allopathic medicines with dietary supplements and natural products. He named the new concept pharmacy "Nutri-farmacy," coined from a lecture he attended in the Amazon by Dr. Jim Duke entitled, "Food Farmacy."

Steve, acknowledges his teachers and mentors before him: Dr. John Bastyr, who taught healing with kindness and compassion as well as science, which he termed "The Truth of Medicine," helped patients "hear" how to become well; Dr. Robert Anderson, friend and co-worker for over 20 years, who selflessly shared his knowledge of diagnosis; and Dr. James Duke who inspired a deeper love and respect for ethnobotany, plant biology, and taxonomy. The longer Steve practices Holistic Naturopathic Medicine, the more Dr. Bill Mitchell's statement rings true:

The Vis is always there, internal, may need building blocks to heal itself...naturopathy uses logic as a tool to look at the vital force...we also use intuitive tools...a revelation between you and the patient that occurs merely by the relationship alone...Recognize the answer to what the patient needs is always there, and this recognition will provide access to the revelation.

We soon collaborated on an idea to do similar rainforest pharmacy excursions, but we desired to take college-level students. We wanted young men and women who were studying the health professions and who had a keen sense of enthusiasm for natural medicine to have a grand opportunity to experience first-hand the wonder and awe of the rainforest. We knew that these plant medicines would be the source of many of the drugs and supplements they would one day dispense or recommend.

We needed a name, a plan, and a teacher. The Student Rainforest Fund (SRF) was the chosen name because we didn't want to set up an "organization," rather we wanted to have a fund that would help defray the costs for the students to make the trip. Three years into the program, the SRF earned a 501©3 status as a tax-deductible, educational organization, which proved critical in our ongoing efforts to allocate donations to keep the program going.We initially approached Dr. Rosita Arvigo, whom we had met in the Amazon, as she was an internationally known natural doctor who lived in Belize, Central America. She was very amiable to the venture.

So, in 1996, the precedent-setting first expedition of the SRF spent 11 fulfilling days in Belize. The first team of 17 student participants, mostly pharmacy majors, spent three days of intensive fieldwork with Dr. Rosita Arvigo. In the early years, the students participated in important plant collections for the benefit of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Rosita was assigned to oversee an eight-year collection of Belizian plants that would be scrutinized in the laboratory for possible anti-cancer activity. It was a most rewarding project for the students. Working alongside many wonderful traditional healers over the years has been one of the hallmarks of the trips.

Dr. Rosita proved to be the consummate educator. She was closely involved with many elders, midwives, shamans, and bushmasters who were a part of the "traditional healers association," helping to save vast tracks of virgin rainforest and preserving the ancient traditions of natural therapies and healing plants. Our students got to be part of this wondrous work.

There was always time for fun and exploration and a new awareness of a different culture. Subsequently, the next eight trips were planned for Belize. The students visited the mysterious Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, Caracol, and Cahal Pech. Some of the groups have had the chance to visit the Jaguar National Forest located in the central part of the country or the Pine Ridge Forest along the Guatemalan border. Others have traveled far south to the city of Punta Gorda and have swum in the pristine ocean and snorkeled in the barrier reefs.

As the years have gone by, more universities and colleges of pharmacy have become involved in the program. To date, students studying pharmacy, medicine, botany, and naturopathy have been represented from over 30 colleges and universities. A few schools of pharmacy and naturopathy have approved the SRF program for accreditation to fulfill their doctorate-level degrees.

In 2004, after eight consecutive years visiting Belize, the SRF team traveled to Costa Rica. The largest group to date (32) spent three days at the famous Wilson Botanical Gardens near Costa Rica's east coast with Dr. Jorge Garcia, an incredible educator and a wealth of knowledge. This garden is the largest in all of Meso-America. For the first time we worked closely with the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS), an international environmental organization committed to student education and the preservation of medicinal plants.

In June 2005, SRF embarked on its most ambitious expedition to date – a journey to the vast Amazon rainforest. A team of 20 set out for southern Peru on a ten-day expedition. This trip had many memorable moments, and the response from the students was hugely favorable. Most often cited was the quality time we spent with the famed Amazonian shaman, Don Antonio Montero. Don Antonio was our guide as we walked through the rainforest trails along the Madre de Dios River. He took us to his ethnobotanical garden located near the port city of Puerto Maldonado. Our journeys to the 12,500 foot-high city of Cusco and the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu were pure magic.

We returned to the Peruvian Amazon in 2006 with a team of 22 students. Each place we go we make connections with the local people that directly benefit the educational process for the students. Drs. Wagner and Morris have given dozens of lectures and programs related to medicinal plants, ethnobotany, and holistic healing. The students also have been blessed with a myriad of excellent instructors over the first dozen years. A number of university professors from Duquesne University, Shenandoah University, the University of Montana, and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine have attended. More importantly, the many indigenous healers with whom we have connected have been wonderful teachers, guides, and colleagues in this unique educational venture.

The Student Rainforest Fund is committed to providing graduate college students in naturopathy, pharmacy, and medicine with an opportunity to explore the natural history of medicine and evoke the healing knowledge of natural remedies and phytomedicinals in the world's greatest pharmacy, the rainforest. The students benefit from an invaluable perspective to holistic healing by learning from indigenous peoples from different cultures.

The Student Rainforest Fund has assisted over 225 college students to make this annual expedition to the rainforest. In June 2008, SRF will be back in the Peruvian Amazon after trips to Ecuador and Costa Rica in 2007. Plans are in the works to add a second trip each year and travel to new locations such as Cuba, Suriname, or Africa.

There is no other student program in the United States similar to the SRF program. We are independent of any particular university, individual, business, or foundation mandate. The board of advisors of SRF is an impressive group of individuals dedicated to the proliferation of medicinal plants and the preservation of these treasured forests.

We truly appreciate our contributors of the past 12 years, who have donated their time, money, and effort into this unique student program. We are always looking for more sources of revenue and donors who are willing to help with this exceptional experience for medical students and continue the adventure.


Steve Morris, ND
315 Lincoln Ave Ste. D
Mukilteo, WA 98275
Fax: 425-438-1761



Paradise Lost
(a parody on the great John Prine's Paradise)
by Dr. Jim Duke (with permission)

I praise you John Prine, and I hope you don't mind,
If I reword your song to help the forest along.
Even while I am singing, the axeman is swinging,
Choppin' down all that green to plant corn, squash, and bean

Daddy won't you take me to the Primary Forest
By the Amazon River where Paradise lies?
I'm sorry my son, but the forest is gone!
I'll show you some slides, that'll have to suffice!

Axeman unkind, you are blowing my mind!
Camu-camu and brazilnut, they can help fill your gut.
But year after year, once the forest is clear,
You'll have less and less food, and you'll run out of wood.

If you'll not name me, there's something I'll mention,
And so folks won't quote me, I'll quote Peter Jenson.
There may be stronger reasons, but I can't think of any.
We're losing the forest "because we're too many"!

Never thought ecotours could be one of the cures;
Taking "green" bucks from gringos, getting mud on their toes.
If the ecotours thrive, Indian cultures survive,
And the children will strive to keep tradition alive.

The Jason TV caught the shaman and me;
The kids could all see us teach medicinal trees.
Must'a been quite a scare, for the Mahuna there;
For them, the TV's like a spaceship to me.

The great spaceship Jason put down at ACEER,
A whole TV station, with mountains of gear.
And with trepidation, the natives came near.
Photos captured spirits, no wonder their fear.

No place I'd rather go, than to cruise on the Napo;
Hoping some of my pleas, kinda' help save the trees.
I'd rather you'd find me, sunnin' with the tree huggers
Than back in DC, always runnin' from muggers!

Momma won't you take me to the primary forest
On the Amazon River where paradise lies?
I'm sorry my daughter, but I don't think I oughta'.
We've waited too long, now the forest is gone!

'Tis quite element'ry, our praise for Al Gentry,
Whose conserving career really helped at ACEER.
The best botany brain went down with Al's plane,
And although he is gone, we must still carry on.

Sangredrago, muira puama, cacao, jatoba,
The forest's the best for your medicine chest.
Aware of these goods, you still chop down the woods.
You'd best spare that tree cause it might help spare thee


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