In 1974, I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing. My goal was to be a mythobotanist, someone who investigates the role of plants in ancient myth and religion. In truth, there are many mysteries, both sacred and profane, that can only be understood when the pharmacological effects of a particular herbal drug are considered.
My interest first began as a senior at Syracuse University, when I came up with the idea that sweet flag or calamus root, catalyzed the mystical vision evident in the poetry of Walt Whitman. Calamus was not only the name of a series of poems in the "Leaves of Grass," but also an herbal drug used by Native Americans as a stimulant and psychedelic. Ad I delved into the history and pharmacology of this herb, I discovered that it may have also played a crucial role in the formulation of a spiritual medicine used by the Ancient Egyptians, Jews and Christians.
I left the hallowed halls of higher education determined to set the mythobotany world on edge. Alas, no one was hiring. I tried my hand as a barn painter, stock boy, ditch digger, car hop, gardener, autopsy technician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and finally a research technician at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
Through it all, I continued my studies whenever and wherever I could, and in 1978 published my first communication to the scientific world in Harvard University's Economic Botany: "Mythobotany, pharmacology, and chemistry of thujone-containing plants and derivatives." This was followed by a 1979 work detailing the estrogenic effects of fennel and anise, common herbs that not only play an important part in ancient tales, but were also the standard hormonal agents used in medical practice well into the 1940s.
Despite there, shall we say successes, my prospects appeared bleak. I looked to another line of work. I became a doctor.
MICHAEL ALBERT PULEO, M.D.