The industry poured forth with loving tributes this week to the Chinese medicinal herb pioneer Bill Brevoort, who passed away on July 28 at his home in Kona, HI. He was 75 and had recently been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.

“Bill was a truly amazing, brilliant, spiritual, one-of-a-kind man,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, who knew Brevoort for 43 years.

Brevoort and his wife, Peggy, founded East Earth Herb in 1971. It was the first company to educate and market to the natural food community about the healing and vitality-empowering aspects of traditional Chinese herbs. He was most recently involved in the development and commercialization of Chinese cordyceps.

“Bill Breevort was unlike anyone I have known,” said Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, who knew him for more than 30 years. “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. 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 … I am sure he is filled with wonder and gratitude to be reunited with his masters and teachers.”

The East Earth Herb booth was a popular location at trade shows in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Blumenthal recalled. Brevoort would often listen to a person’s pulse, look at their tongue, and perk them up with one of his blends of Chinese herbal tonic elixirs, teas and other creatively blended formulations.

Lynda LeMole, an herb industry activist previously with Traditional Medicinals tea company, wrote to Blumenthal of Bill’s varied interests: “Buddha Brother, Tonic Master, 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.’ “

Blumenthal said Peggy and Bill Brevoort were “true pioneers of the American herb movement. They were one of his first suppliers when he owned Sweethardt Herbs (1974-1986), his former herb wholesaling company in Austin, TX.

“When I first started ordering from them,” Blumenthal recalled in a tribute he sent to ABC members, “they were living 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; FDA was not letting such products into the US in those days, except for sale in ethnic Chinese stores in San Francisco and a few other cities.)”

“I was very fortunate to walk, for a time, with this truly remarkable man,” said Josef Brinckmann, a medicinal plant sustainability authority and one-time employee of East Earth who is now at Traditional Medicinals.

“Life Josef, I too, was fortunate to walk with Wild Bill,” wrote Traditional Medicinals co-founder Drake Sadler. “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 our lovely (and much more diplomatic) wives were better suited to the task and 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.”

Frank Lampe, UNPA vp, communications and industry relations, recalled “the man with the constantly active, piercing blue eyes and flowing, graying beard” as one who “could easily have played a starring role in theLord of the Rings or Harry Potter adventures."

Meeting Brevoort at Natural Products Expo West in 1989 “started a new chapter in my own life: the beginning of a long, intellectually and engaging relationship with an herbal and TCM legend, and yet another irrefutable case for the healing power of plants … Always inquisitive, always questioning, always seeking, always engaged. R.I.P., Bill.”

(Published on Whole Foods Magazine Online, 8/4/17)