For botanist Laura Shiels, herbs in the garden are not only a source of spice and flavor, but of healing.
Lemongrass adds zest to a soup but also helps relieve insomnia, while ginger is good for nausea. Chili peppers add spice but also stimulate circulation.
Basil can help relieve indigestion or nerves. Rosemary is said to enhance memory.
Shiels, a doctoral student in ethnobotany and former lecturer at the University of Hawaii, has been teaching workshops on how to grow and cultivate herbs for several years, with a focus on healing.
“Let food be your medicine,” says Shiels, who cultivates gardens everywhere she goes.
Many culinary herbs make aromatic compounds to protect themselves from being attacked by viruses and fungi, as well as to attract pollinators, she said. Those same compounds have antioxidant or antimicrobial properties.
So you can add flavor and health at the same time, she said, and address specific ailments with herbs.
Basil, for instance, popular in salads and the main ingredient for pesto, alleviates gas. Its leaves can be used for many dishes, while the flowers can be brewed into a tea, good for treating coughs.
Garlic is good for lowering blood pressure and relieving colds and flu.
Isabella Abbott straddled two worlds and excelled in both, mentoring and inspiring generations of scientists and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners.
The world-renowned algae taxonomist and ethnobotanist “loved her people,” said Hi’ilei Kawelo, director of Paepae O He’eia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for Heeia Fishpond. “She loved her culture, but she also excelled at it through Western science. She’s someone to look up to (who showed us) that we can do both. We can exist and practice our culture, but also develop this love of science.”
The retired University of Hawaii at Manoa ethnobotany professor remained a resource to many in the scientific and native Hawaiian cultural community until her death Thursday, while surrounded by friends and family. She was 91.
A longtime member of the board of directors of the Bishop Museum, Abbott wrote more than 150 research papers and eight books.
“We always saw her as the Energizer Bunny,” said Allen Allison, Bishop Museum vice president. “She just lit up every room that she was in.”
Born in Hana, Maui, and reared in Honolulu, Abbott got her first limu lessons under her Hawaiian mother’s tutelage, and went on to become the foremost expert on Central Pacific algae.
FSU is the only institution offering the undergraduate major and minor in ethnobotany, and is the only university in the contiguous 48 states to do so. A similar program is available at the University of Hawaii.
Ethnobiology at FSU grows with federal grant
Michael A. Sawyers
FROSTBURG — The $550,000 in federal funds will go a long way toward helping Frostburg State University’s ethnobotanists find patches of wild-growing black cohosh, which then could be used for medicinal purposes such as a replacement for hormone therapy.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin announced recently that the money will be coming from the Agricultural Appropriations Committee and is headed for the Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies at FSU.