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October 12, 2009

Ethnobiology at FSU grows with federal grant

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.

“It’s great news,” said Sunshine Brosi, an assistant professor of biology at FSU and coordinator of ACES. “It will help an already growing program become better. We are up to 12 majors now with the first two graduations to take place this spring.”

ACES facilitates the study of native plants with medicinal or other useful properties and promotes the conservation of the Appalachian ecosystems where they grow.

Although West Virginia University and University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute are also ACES members for research purposes, 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.

Brosi said students enjoy the numerous field trips and projects that put them into the natural environment they already cherish.

“One such project is when we planted red spruce trees for the Savage River Watershed Association,” she said.

Brosi said graduates will be ready for employment as interpretative naturalists for agencies like the National Park Service.

“Some of our students have goals to work in the pharmacy industry with medicinal herbs. Some want to be organic farmers. Others are looking at a profession in natural holistic healing,” she said.

Recently, graduate student Natalie Walsh presented an ethnobotany paper at the Ecological Society of America and won the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Award.

A long-range goal of ACES is to establish a manufacturing plant for herbal medicines in Western Maryland.

ACES Web site is www.frostburg.edu/ACES.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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