Project Unites Three Universities in Ethnobotany Research Efforts
A unique collaboration between three institutions of higher education is advancing studies of plants in Central Appalachia that will contribute new knowledge to the field of medicine and expand opportunities to cultivate, harvest and market herbal remedies available in the area.
The Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies (ACES), a collaboration between Frostburg State University, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and West Virginia University, is developing a number of projects that support the related ACES missions of studying and preserving Appalachian plants and their related culture and fostering regional economic growth through the sustainable development of the area's natural resources.
“Since our conception four years ago, ACES activities have grown. Our vision is becoming a reality,” said Dr. Jennie Hunter-Cevera, UMBI’s president. “The positive partnership between FSU, WVU and UMBI enables the leveraging of our resources to obtain financial support and create more visibility and appreciation for ethnobotanical studies.”
Following are some of the ACES initiatives:
• ACES has sponsored a number of community outreach programs related to plant harvesting and herbal medicine, including workshops on ginseng, black cohosh and cultural documentation. These programs primarily serve those in the region who grow, harvest and use herbal plants. The next symposium will discuss the potential regulation of herbal medicines, which have a global market of more than $22 billion per year, from a number of different perspectives. It is scheduled for May 21 at the UMBI Shady Grove campus.
• ACES has been working to establish relationships with regional growers and harvesters of medicinal plants and provide resources to support their economic and environmental goals. FSU’s resident folklorist, Dr. Kara Rogers Thomas, is continuing the process of collecting information and evaluating needs among this population.
• FSU launched its new undergraduate program in ethnobotany last August, and six students have already declared in the major. FSU is the first university in the continental U.S. to offer a bachelor’s degree in the discipline.
There are a number of specific research projects under way:
• ACES has secured funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the use of black cohosh in alleviating menopausal symptoms and to examine the application of ironweed in the treatment of breast cancer.
• Jim McGraw, an ACES researcher at WVU, was awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation to fund his work on wild ginseng.
• FSU faculty are collaborating with faculty from the Tai Sophia Institute in Columbia, Md., in the analysis of Glechoma hederacea (a type of ground ivy).
• Sunshine Brosi, program coordinator of FSU’s ethnobotany program, is teaching an ethnographic field techniques course in spring 2008 that will allow students to research maple syrup production in Western Maryland and the potential impact of acid deposition on sap production.
“I am hopeful that one day we will have a facility in Western Maryland that will house not only translational research but also a showcase of the history and practice of herbal medicine in Central Appalachia,” Hunter-Cevera said. ACES is currently a “virtual center” and is in the process of securing funding to begin development of that physical home to accommodate conference, museum/education and research needs, with the ultimate goal of working with existing businesses and developing new local enterprises for the application of regional plants in health-related purposes.
To learn more about ACES, visit its Web site at: www.frostburg.edu/aces.