We are so excited about our upcoming travels to Belize with Steven & Rebecca. Such a unique way to experience this beautiful country – photography; plants, herbs & rituals of the ancient & present day Maya.. it all sounds incredibly intriguing to me.
Thank you for taking the time to share a bit about yourselves with us!
Steven Foster, has authored and co-authored a host of noted titles including National Geographic’sComplete Guide to Medicinal Herbs, A Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine co-authored with Rebecca Johnson, Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Eastern North America with James A. Duke. As an acclaimed botanical photographer, Steven has over 900 illustrated articles published in a wide range of media from Arab Banker to Martha Stewart Living.
Rebecca Wood is a Certified Natural Health Professional (CNHP), AromaTouch Therapist, E-RYT 500 Yoga Instructor, Advanced Myofascial Release (MFR) practitioner, Herbalist and Reiki Master. Coupled with her work in yoga and education, Rebecca has spent the last 22 years teaching Natural Resources and Sustainable Design at the college level and 10 years coordinating international study-abroad and eco-wellness journeys to Central America.
Steven: Which came first your passion for photography or the world of medicinal plants and herbs?
They came at the same time. In 1974 in my senior year of high school, I went to work at the museum of the Sabbathday Lake, Maine Shaker Community on a work-study program. On my first day on the job, one of the sisters sent me out to dig burdock root. That was the beginning of my herbal career, and for the next four years I worked in the Herb Department there which dates to 1799. I was also serving as as a photo assistant on various shoots at the Shaker Community and acting as liaison to visiting photographers. My photographic work and herbal career have always gone hand-in-hand.
Rebecca: Which came first your passion for yoga or your venture into the world of medicinal plants & herbs?
I have practiced yoga since my early college days and that is also when my love for nature and plants (edible and medicinal) came to the forefront. Wow, that was the mid seventies….Many of the courses I took and taught where Plant ID, Field botany and Ecology, and that spurred my interest into Ethnobotany and eventually lead to my creation of the Herbal Studies program. Since that time i have taken and taught many courses and workshops in herbs and aromatherapy. I particularly love to see the light shine when folks realize they can nibble, sniff and prepare their own effective tinctures, salves, hydrosols, teas and augment meals with wild and wonderful plants as they take control of their health and wellness.
Rebecca: How long have you been practicing yoga?
My serious practice in Yoga and Reiki began in the early 90s. I became 200 hour certified and trained with many different teachers and styles over a 12-year period. That is when I became a Reiki Master and offered classes in herbs, aromatherapy, reiki and a yoga via Hopewood Farm (now Hopewood Holistic Health). I have been an E-RYT 500 Yoga instructor for over 8 years completing my studies with Nosara Yoga in Costa Rica and at Kripalu. Don and Amba Stapleton, Rodney Yee, Angela and Victor, Doug Keller and many others have inspired and influenced my technique and teaching style. Nature has always been my go too place for meditation and recently I have taken up Paddle Boarding and Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga, I just love it and so do many of my students and friends.
You are both such world travelers, what keeps bringing you back to Belize?
Steven: For a tropical experience, Belize offers diversity of habitat, ease of travel, both to the country and within the country. Deep historical underpinnings tied the present day culture is also an attraction. Since English is the first language it makes travel easy for those who are not multilingual. It love the mountain, botanical diversity, Mayan architectural wonders, and proximity of the tropical coast. The ecotourism businesses in Belize provide beautiful, comfortable accommodations with great fresh food, and an immersion in tropical culture and surroundings in which one feels pampered and safe.
Rebecca: My travels have mostly taken me throughout Central America, and Belize, well, it’s truly UnBelizable! I love the diversity of cultures, the ease in getting around, the villages and small towns, the rivers and reefs and the magic of the archeological sites, they really are magical. I first experienced Belize and Guatemala via a Tropical Ecology course in 2000, though I had been a supporting member of BARC, Belize Agroforestry Research Center and Inter Action Inter America since the 90’s supporting experimental sustainable agriculture and social development projects in the village of San Pedro Columbia. I just fell in love with it. I was also inspired by the Central American and Caribbean students I worked with via our Inter-Cultural Program at the college. These students inspired me to create a trip to bring U.S. students to Central America to experience first hand, social, environmental justice and political issues, that began with an intern projects in 2002 and our first intersession program in 2003 and for the next 10 years we traveled for seven weeks throughout the different countries.. It was amazing. Issues really transcend borders; people have common ground and common needs. Food, water, shelter, education, safety, opportunity…While we know it, it’s a different thing to experience it. What a lesson.
Do you have a favorite plant or herb that’s indigenous to Central America? And why?
Steven: One of my favorite experiences throughout my career on six continents has been seeing a plant with which I am familiar for the first time. When I first went to the Amazon with America’s herbal guru Jim Duke in 1993, he leaned over to me on the flight to Iquitos, Peru, and whispered, “You’re going to get the tropical bug.” What he meant, of course, was a metaphor—that once a person with food, botanical or photographic interests goes to the tropics for the first time, they will want to return again, and again. Based on that experience, I have made a personal commitment to return to the tropics every year. This trip to Belize is my tropical trip for 2017. There is no single plant that is my favorite plant, except for what’s before me at any given time. I love viewing and photographing tropical plants, but if I were to pick a favorite, it would be the food of the gods —Theobroma cacao–source of chocolate.
Rebecca: Funny you should say indigenous… because I am drawn to the plants that are Pan American or Global, occurring in our backyard and throughout much of CA and the world. How great to know, elder, yarrow, dandelion, poke grow where we need them. It’s so amazing, every day in the tropics is a potpourri of sound, color, smell, texture, with common and exotic plants of the background, but I will answer the question…as a fan of cooked greens, I love steamed or boiled Calaloo, sometimes called Pigweed, yep, Pigweed. This lowly Amaranth is packed with minerals, Iron and phytonutrients. Rosita, author of Food of the Gods, Vegetarian Cooking in Belize has a great recipe. Pretty darn good and nutritious. I am also a tea fan and you just can’t beat hot or cold allspice tea. Good ole Pimenta dioica. It a beautiful tree. You can use the seeds or the leaves. Crush the seeds or take a handful of leaves pour hot water over them, steep for 10 minutes or so. It is great with bark of cinnamon found locally and not just good tasting, is good for stomach issues, colds flu and can moderate blood pressure. Now for the more evening or celebratory pleasures try homemade Hibiscus wine or Mexican Pineapple Beer. Please do them in moderation or I’ll have to share the morning after recipe with you too. Don’t worry, all recipes will be included in trip handouts, better yet, you can purchase Rosita’s book and have her sign it. I would be remiss however if I didn’t speak to Theobroma cacao, the origin of chocolate. The history, the modern impact on the local and global economy, the medicinal qualities and of course, the taste! Truly a Food of the Gods.
Steven, I love that you are so open to sharing the world of photography with beginning enthusiasts too. Do you really think people can take good photos with just about any kind of camera?
Absolutely. It’s not about the camera, it’s about knowing how to use the camera. It’s also about understanding a few simple techniques, and concepts, most importantly how to work with ambient light. I’m a heartbeat (and a really good close-up lens attachment) away from leaving my 25 lbs of camera equipment behind and just relying on my iPhone for most pictures. I shot a wedding (and I’m not a wedding photographer) recently and ended up relying more on my iPhone than my professional equipment, as I was getting better results. The creative options are endless.
Rebecca, your yoga mantra… we love it “Yoga for Ever Body” – I was fortunate to actually meet Rebecca while traveling through Belize with a group from one of our art workshops. It’s so true you have such a gentle way of encouraging. What do you feel that a daily practice can offer “every body” ?
The new science of yoga is proof of the health benefits; lowers blood pressure, betters cholesterol readings, less stress, less lower back issues, greater balance, strength, flexibility and body awareness. Hmmmm did we really need peer reviewed double blind studies for that? Ah well. It’s good. We do know that to create new habits we need to do something regular, over and over, so it is better to do even 10-15 minutes of something twice a day every day than for an hour here and an hour there. So breathe, stretch, bend and relax your way to health, everyday.
So… we are on a journey through Belize with a photographer/author, yoga instructor/holistic healthcare practitioner both with extensive backgrounds in the world of medicinal herbs.. Wow! What can people expect take away from this journey with us?
Steven: To paraphrase several famous photographers, photography helps you to see the world without a camera, or to quote Henry David Thoreau, “The question is not what you look at but what you see.” To take that one step further with a camera, you don’t photograph what you look at, you photograph what you feel. What better place to surround oneself with beauty than in the American tropics during the winter months?
Awareness would be the first thing I think of and even better having the ability to better capture it through the lens.. thanks to Steven… By finding ourselves through the world our world opens up, becomes richer, broader, deeper, more inclusive. I also love the mystery and feeling I get when I walk among the ruins, it’s like walking through time, you can just feel it. It brings me into myself, into the present but makes me very, very aware that this is all temporary, thus I believe in taking time for adventure, for those ‘bucket list’ activities and time for finding ourselves, particularly, through the world.
Travel Dates: February 12 -19, 2017
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