Herbal Medicine in Tuscany Course:Naturopathic med students learn more about the quality of the herbs they prescribe patients

Sansepolcro, Italy – located between Rome and Florence – home to the beautiful Tuscan valley of Valtiberina. Also home to Aboca, the well-known Italian herbal manufacturer.

A group of Bastyr University students traveled to the Aboca headquarters in Italy for an Herbal Medicine in Tuscany course. Dr. Robin Dipasquale, ND, chair of Bastyr’s own botanical medicine department, led the group of herbal sciences (HS) and doctor of naturopathic medicine (ND) students. There the students observed the herbal medicine industry in action – from field to laboratory to shelf.

Dipasquale initially charted the Aboca study tour with the intention of exposing her HS students, in particular, to the agriculture and production of herbal products. But she ended up educating other students as well; many ND students also joined the trip. These students walked away with far more exposure to medicinal herbs than the typical ND ever sees. They found themselves in the rare and enviable position of observing first-hand the quality control issues of the herbal products they prescribe their patients. The entire group of 12 students found themselves totally immersed in the world of herbs through in-depth study, hands-on learning and the wisdom of professional agronomists.

The tour group knew beforehand that Aboca farms grew and cultivated 70 percent of its own product on 1,700 acres of organic herb farms. Yet to actually see the vast expanse covered by Aboca fields astonished them. “Their land is spread out all over,” Dipasquale explains. “Valleys, hills, slopes, even the Tiber River.” The student group chartered a bus to travel between the various herb fields.

The students’ two-week summer visit exposed them to a balance of classroom learning, rigorous field studies and a variety of cultural events, including the enthusiastic exploration of local Italian cuisine and wines.

Classroom study included:

  • Farm management at Aboca
  • Contaminants and quality control technology
  • Process of conducting field experiments
  • Herbal medicine in Europe
  • New product research process
  • Philosophy behind herbal health and beauty products
  • Aboca’s plans to serve natural health practitioners
  • Dr. Dipasquale’s Bastyr University class material, including use of herbs in essential oils

When they weren’t in the classroom, the students actively participated in field studies and local tours.

Field studies and local tours included:

  • Complete tour of Aboca’s organic farms, processing plant and ancient museum
  • Laboratory visit to measure the active principle in harvested herbs
  • University of Perugia tour, including medieval herb gardens and meeting with botanical sciences program director Professor Menghini
  • Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis
  • Echinacea harvest
  • Open market at Sansepolcro

Hiking in the Appenines with a local naturalist guide also provided an ideal experiential education. “Students compared spontaneous plants on location in Italy to those in the U.S., and learned that both countries use the same universal naming structure,” Dipasquale says. “This really enhanced their appreciation for learning the Latin, binomial nomenclature.”

Students also had the opportunity to observe Aboca Museum’s ancient herbal book collection, Bibliotheca Antiqua. This extensive and eclectic display of antique herbal literature dating from the 16th century features original hand lithographs and watercolors, and includes works written in Latin, English, German, Dutch, French and Italian.

Student experience
This student-funded, Aboca study tour earned Bastyr students the equivalent of a three-credit course. The first international study experience for many of them, it opened their eyes to the concept that all herbal companies are not equal in quality. The students gained first-hand experience with Italian herb companies for U.S. comparison. The naturopathic students especially benefited from the opportunity to observe quality control issues of the herbal products they prescribe in their clinical training.

Says Dipasquale, “This greatly increased their understanding of product quality, which they typically have limited exposure to in the U.S. Our exposure truly went beyond typical ND interest.”

Mutual benefit
Both Aboca and Bastyr University will benefit from the relationship and from the fruitful exchange of knowledge. To further encourage the study of herbs as medicine, Aboca awards an annual educational scholarship to a Bastyr University herbal sciences student. Aboca has also donated to Bastyr’s research department. “Our donation is one way for us to support their research programs in the use of herbal medicine,” says Anna Tucci, executive vice president and general manager of Aboca USA.

According to Bastyr University president, Thomas C. Shepherd, DHA, “Not only does this enable a significant advance in our science-based research, but it provides us with the means to award a scholarship to a deserving student in herbal sciences.”

Aboca came to Bastyr almost two years ago expressing an interest in collaboration with the naturopathic community. They have introduced their products to the U.S. market and have an Aboca USA headquarters in the Seattle, Wash. area. In Italy, Aboca typically distributes its products through herbal pharmacies only. However in the U.S., it distributes directly through NDs as well as through herbal pharmacies.

About Dr. Robin Dipasquale
As chair of Bastyr’s botanical medicine department, Dr. Robin Dipasquale initiated the establishment of Bastyr’s new herbal sciences bachelor of science degree program. Founded in fall 2001, this is the first degree program offered in herbal studies at an accredited university in the U.S. In her position, Dipasquale teaches numerous classes and oversees Bastyr’s herb lab. She has also led the recent development of Bastyr’s herbarium, and has implemented guided herb walks through the university’s herb garden.

Learn more about Dr. Robin Dipasquale, and what she’s charted for Herbal Medicine in Tuscany 2003.

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Written by Bastyr University

Explore Wellness in 2021