Tuesday, 26 September 2017

William ‘Bill’ Brevoort - 1942 - 2017

HerbalGram The Journal of the American Botanical Council Issue: 115 Page: 1 by Mark Blumenthal HerbalGram. 2017; American Botanical Council Iconic and widely respected Chinese medicinal herb pioneer Bill Brevoort died at his home in Kona, Hawaii, on July 28, 2017, at the age of 75. He had been recently diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Bill was a truly remarkable man — intelligent, intrepid, focused, and highly spiritual. An inveterate concocter of Chinese tonic formulations, he was still making customized botanical extracts until a month before his death. William Harry Brevoort was born in Van Nuys, California, on March 24, 1942. He attended the University of Connecticut and then Columbia University, where he earned a master’s of fine arts degree in painting and sculpture in 1967. He and his wife, Peggy, then moved to Oregon, where he was a lecturer in the fine arts department at the University of Oregon from 1967 to 1969. During this time, Brevoort became intensely interested in Chinese culture, and studied Chinese Buddhism and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). He was a long-time disciple of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California. In 1971, Bill and Peggy founded East Earth Herb, which is considered to be the first company in the United States to educate the natural food community about the healing and vitality-empowering properties of traditional Chinese herbs. The East Earth Herb booth was a popular location at many natural food trade shows and alternative medicine conferences in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, where Brevoort would often listen to a person’s pulse, look at their tongue, and perk them up with one of his special blends of Chinese herbal tonic elixirs, teas, and other creatively blended formulations. East Earth Herb’s “Dragon Eggs” line of Chinese herbs was most likely the first American-made line of Chinese herbal formulas. The Brevoorts are also largely credited with creating the initial interest in the Pacific herb kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae) with their popular after-conference kava parties in the 1990s. A practicing Buddhist most of his adult life, Brevoort was an intensely spiritual person, with a wide range of interests to try to satisfy his strong intellect. Among his many hobbies, he was a dedicated organic gardener and an avid amateur astronomer. He took over the small observatory on the Kona coast that had belonged to the late author Terence McKenna, and spent countless hours peering into the magnified depths of space. He was equally comfortable in frequent deep meditation as he was contemplating the exploration of outer space. I knew Bill for 43 years. He was a truly amazing, brilliant, spiritual, one-of-a kind person. He and Peggy are pioneers of the US herb movement, particularly with respect to Chinese herbs. They imported and distributed Chinese herbal patent medicines in the early 1970s and later distributed their own Chinese herbal dietary supplements. They were one of my first suppliers when I owned Sweethardt Herbs (1974-1986), my former herb wholesaling company in Austin, Texas. When I first started ordering from them, they lived in Reedsport, Oregon, and I had to call them on a ship-to-shore radiophone line to order Chinese Ginseng Bee Secretion (which Bill probably received by “submarine” from Vancouver; the US Food and Drug Administration was not letting such products into the United States in those days, except for sale in ethnic Chinese stores in San Francisco and a few other cities.) In addition to introducing me to many Chinese herbs and kava, Bill was also the first to introduce me to the fabled Chinese pu-erh tea (Camellia sinensis, Theaceae). Numerous long-time friends and colleagues provided the following thoughts and reminiscences about Bill: Lynda LeMole, an herb industry activist previously with Traditional Medicinals tea company (email, July 31, 2017): BuddhaBrother, TonicMaster, StarGazer, VeggieGardener, WisdomGiver. How many of us sought his healing help at trade shows: “I’m taking your pulse. Stick out your tongue. Drink this tonic.” Josef Brinckmann, noted medicinal plant sustainability authority, who was, at one time, an employee of East Earth Herb and now, for many years, at Traditional Medicinals (email, July 29, 2017): One of my teachers, I learned so much from Bill in the three years that I worked and traveled with him (1995-1997) — not only about the traditional uses of almost everything in nature codified in the Chinese systems of medicine (of animal, botanical, fungal, metal, and mineral origin), but also about the past, present, and future of Buddhist practice. I was very fortunate to walk, for a time, with this truly remarkable man. Drake Sadler, co-founder of Traditional Medicinals (email, July 29, 2017): Like Josef, I, too, was fortunate to walk for a time with Wild Bill. On an AHPA [American Herbal Products Association] visit to the capitol many years ago, midway through a boring meeting with the usual government reps, Bill and I concluded [that] our lovely (and much more diplomatic) wives were better suited to the task, and [that] our time could be better spent exploring the US National Arboretum. The gardens were impressive, and Bill was most interested in the collection of Asian shrubs and trees. His breadth of knowledge was as expansive as the miles of park pathways and hundreds of landscaped acres. Morris Shriftman, natural products industry marketing consultant (email, July 29, 2017): I worked my way to his booth several times at each show. His knowledge of Chinese herbs and oriental tonics was a revelation to me. And I remember my delight in using his products. There was one in particular: I think it was called Dragon’s Brew; it was deep and dark and mysterious. It tasted of ginseng and ginger, and who knows what else? And I had a ride. Rick Levine, syndicated astrologer and poet (email, July 31, 2017): Bill Brevoort was a rare human being: pioneering in his work, conscious in his behavior, honest in his interactions, dedicated in his spiritual practice, unyielding in his search for truth, and loyal to his family and friends. Kathi Keville, author and herbalist (email, July 31, 2017): Bill was an expert connoisseur and collector of fine Chinese tea. A visit always meant having afternoon tea — an experience in itself. He also loved good music, photography, astronomy, and spent much of his time at his own small telescope observatory in Hawaii that offered an amazing view of the sky. Terry Wittenberg, avid bicyclist and former Whole Foods Market veteran (email, July 29, 2017): My favorite memory of Bill and Black Belt [a type of Chinese tonic herbal “fruit leather”]: In the summer of 1989, [some friends and I] took a three-week vacation for some bike racing. From home (Texas), we first drove to upstate New York for a 24-hour race and afterwards stayed in the area for almost a week. Next race was in St. Louis for the 540-mile Race Across Missouri. On our way to St. Louis, we stopped overnight in Indianapolis. When we were unpacking at the motel, I left our small trailer open and our box of supplements and herbs (including my supply of Black Belt) was stolen. I called Bill and he mailed more Black Belt to the hotel in St. Louis in time for the race. Bill saved the day. Frank Lampe, vice president of community & industry relations at the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) (email, August 3, 2017): “Hold out your tongue.” I’ll never forget those words as I was directed by colleagues to visit the East Earth Herb booth at Natural Products Expo West in 1989. The man with the constantly active, piercing blues eyes and flowing, graying beard behind the counter could easily have played a starring role in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter adventures. It was Bill Brevoort, getting ready to dispense a thick herbal concoction from a number of large plastic bottles that he said would balance my energies. That encounter started a new chapter in my own life: the beginning of a long, intellectual and engaging relationship with an herbal and TCM legend, and yet another irrefutable case for the healing power of plants. In addition to being the best formulator I’ve ever met, which resulted in products that got your attention while they worked their magic, Bill’s areas of interest were wide; he could be confrontational as he challenged your thinking on any number of issues, those probing eyes peering out from underneath a deeply furrowed brow, but it was always in the spirit of pursuing intellectual growth, a deeper understanding of the chosen topic and the bigger picture—and usually with an accompanying impish grin and clear merriment in those eyes. Always inquisitive, always questioning, always seeking, always engaged. And, finally, natural products industry leader Loren Israelsen, president of the UNPA, wrote that he, like many others, accepted the sad news of Bill’s passing “with a deep sense of loss but knowing Bill had prepared for the day of passing like few can” (email, July 31, 2017). Israelsen also wrote in an August 3, 2017 communication to UNPA members: Bill Brevoort was unlike anyone I have known. He was a scholar of TCM, a master formulator — a wizard, actually — whose drops and tinctures carry true healing power. He lived as a monk, sitting in meditation for many hours a day, with his mind in states of consciousness that few have experienced. He tended his garden, listened to classical music, talked politics, cooking ideas and recipes and refused to wear shoes — shirt optional. He lived just north of Kona, Hawaii, with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean with whale spouts often in sight. The last time Bill and I were together, he gave me a bottle of his special cordyceps extract — a treasure then and more so now. His death came unexpectedly, and I have still not come to terms with this news. But I am sure he is filled with wonder and gratitude to be reunited with his masters and teachers. The long meditation sessions are, no doubt, already in progress. Peggy, his dear wife and materfamilias to many, will keep his memory alive as will all those who continue to hold the teachings and generosity of Bill as a living record of his remarkable life. Bill Brevoort is survived by his wife Peggy, his daughter Gretchen, son Joshua, and grandson Jacob Dickey. His extensive herbal library of Chinese medicinal classic texts and related literature, along with his unique collection of Chinese teas, herbs, and extracts are being donated to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah. A service for placing his ashes will be held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas later this year. —Mark Blumenthal