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Edward K. Alstat: 1946-2018

ISSUE:
Page:
77-78

Edward K. Alstat, RPh, ND, died on January 26, 2018, near his home in Sandy, Oregon. He was the co-founder and owner of Eclectic Institute, a producer of innovative botanical products, and Eclectic Medical Publications (EMP), a publisher of many classic texts of the Eclectic medical movement from the mid-1850s to the 1930s.

Alstat was born in southern Illinois and treasured the time he spent as a child on his grandparents’ farm. After attaining his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1969, he moved to Lafayette, California, where he worked in all phases of pharmacy dispensing and management for multiple companies over the next eight years, while also opening a florist shop and antique store. He began his naturopathic education in Wichita, Kansas, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Kansas Newman College (now Newman University). He then moved to Portland, Oregon, and completed his doctorate at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (now the National University of Natural Medicine; NUNM) in 1981.

Alstat loved to play basketball with classmates and dance, and he especially enjoyed herb walks and hot springs soaks. He often expressed his hope to one day develop better-quality botanical preparations than those available during his student years. Alstat became licensed as a naturopathic doctor (ND) and registered pharmacist in Oregon and opened a private practice in Cannon Beach before becoming pharmacy director at the Portland Naturopathic Clinic (PNC), the teaching clinic of NUNM.

In 1982, PNC clinic director and naturopathic obstetrician Michael Ancharski, ND, asked Alstat to help develop a prenatal vitamin supplement. From this project, they founded Eclectic Institute and introduced their prenatal formulation as their first product, followed by a state-of-the-art multivitamin-mineral supplement. Alstat took his cue from the famous Lloyd brothers pharmacists, who were in business for 60 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his company name from the Lloyd brothers’ close association with the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati.

Through the Eclectic Institute, Alstat manufactured liquid botanical extracts from fresh herbs to capture the phytochemical complexity found in the living plant. The company remained on the NUNM campus and expanded from the clinic to the space surrounding the campus gymnasium. While there, he even started an evening aerobics class in the gym. In addition to Alstat’s resolving $200,000 of NUNM’s unsecured debt, the Eclectic Institute provided NUNM with 10% of its gross sales while NUNM endorsed the company’s products. This arrangement provided support for the company and income for the school, helping the school survive a financial crisis and the company to flourish while it supplied naturopathic physicians with quality, in-house products.

Alstat began his publishing venture in 1983 by reprinting classic Eclectic texts. He obtained the plates for reprinting the monumental King’s American Dispensatory (1898) by H.W. Felter and John Uri Lloyd, the first and foremost of the reprints from his new EMP. This was followed in 1983 by J.M. Scudder’s Specific Diagnosis: A Study of Disease (1874), F. Ellingwood’s American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy (1919), and H.W. Felter’s Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics (1922). In the same year, he also obtained rights from NUNM to publish this author’s postgraduate research project, the Toxicology of Botanical Medicines, to make the information available to the naturopathic and herbal professions. During this time, Alstat organized the first Eclectic Institute weekend educational seminar at NUNM, featuring local herbal experts including the late Cascade Anderson Geller and renowned herbalist Ed Smith.

In addition to fresh herbal extracts, Alstat formulated a new type of naturopathic product line of tablets that combined dried powdered herbs with vitamins and minerals to address specific health concerns. The prototype, Opti-Biotic, was based on a conversation with the venerable naturopathic mentor William Turska, ND. When Eclectic Institute products appeared in health food stores, more combination products followed, including several formulas of the renowned John Bastyr, ND. Bringing traditions into a modern context to renew them, Alstat realized in 1988 his vision of providing fresh herbs in a form that could be easily dispensed. He became the first to use freeze-drying technology to preserve the herbs as an encapsulated powder on a commercial scale. These products became popular with physicians and the public alike, especially following publication of research at NUNM/PNC on freeze-dried nettles (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) for hay fever.1

Along with wildcrafting, Alstat’s farm was his primary source for locally grown herbs for freeze-drying and extraction. Always an advocate of organic gardening and farming, and cognizant of widespread grain sensitivities, Alstat became among the first to use organic alcohol (i.e., alcohol produced from certified organic plant sources) as a solvent for his liquid extracts, and organic grapes (Vitis vinifera, Vitaceae) as a source of the ethanol distillate. In 1992, the Eclectic Institute left the NUNM campus and relocated to a 90-acre farm, certified organic by Oregon Tilth, near Sandy, where a variety of commercial herbs were cultivated, including some threatened in their natural ranges, such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae) and Echinacea tennesseensis (Asteraceae), a federally listed endangered plant. In 1994, Alstat used a modern reconstruction of J.U. Lloyd’s cold still to manufacture concentrated botanical liquid extracts, which reduced exposure of the extracts to heat. Lloyd’s still allowed Alstat to replicate several favorite remedies of the old Eclectic physicians like Specific Echinacea, as well as introduce a line of ethanol-free glycerite extracts including Lloyd’s official Liquid Hydrastis.

Alstat continued to expand EMP and compiled research, articles, and monographs from contemporary herbalists and NDs, including Christopher Hobbs, PhD, the late Wade Boyle, ND, and this author in the first volume of Eclectic Dispensatory of Botanical Therapeutics in 1989, which was followed by volume two in 1995. He had acquired an almost-complete set of the original Eclectic Medical Journal from the Lloyd era. In 1995 and 1996, he published EMJ Reprints with selected articles from annual volumes representing eight separate decades. He also included special subject issues (e.g., the first compilation of J.M. Scudder’s articles on organ remedies).

Over the next decade, EMP’s publications of this author’s books (and their revisions) — Formulas for Healthful Living, Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, and Complex Herbs – Complete Medicines — were all based on concepts that Alstat wholeheartedly supported and on formulas that he helped devise. Importantly, each text discussed issues that previous books had not addressed.

Alstat expanded his manufacturing operations to a large facility in Sandy and added another Lloyd’s still and a custom laboratory. Though a strong advocate of whole herbs and unrefined complex extracts, he also developed specialty products such as liquid Lomatium Isolate (from Lomatium dissectum, Apiaceae) and powdered Larix arabinogalactans (from larch, Larix spp., Pinaceae). In 2000, he emulated another Lloyd brother, the mycologist Curtis Gates Lloyd, by teaming with renowned mycologist Paul Stamets to promote and produce freeze-dried mycelium and mushroom preparations. In addition to growing the Eclectic Institute, Alstat traveled nationally and internationally to learn from and speak to like-minded professionals.

Alstat’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He was awarded the Presidential Citation from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) in 1996 “for outstanding leadership in providing substantial and ongoing contributions to the naturopathic medical profession, the AANP, and the naturopathic medical colleges.” In 2001, he became the fifth recipient of NUNM’s President’s Medallion for significant contributions to the success of NUNM, the naturopathic profession, and quality health care in the United States. Alstat was inducted into the NUNM Hall of Fame in 2011 for advancing the reputation of natural medicine, but this milestone did not signify a last hurrah.

Alstat enjoyed spending as much time in his garden as possible. As a naturopathic doctor, he knew good health demanded fresh, organic food and quality water. His innovation of new products continued in 2007 when he introduced Plant Originated Wellness (POWder) products consisting of brown-glass-bottled freeze-dried powders of single plants or combinations of fruits, berries, vegetables, herbs, and spices as a convenient way to supply valuable nutrients and polyphenols to help reduce the risk of chronic degenerative diseases. In 2015, he published this author’s All American Berries, which provided scientific evidence of the importance of these foods to good health. He also captured the water removed from freeze-dried plants as a unique source of new water manufactured in the plant through the photosynthetic process, and he never tired of proclaiming its value.

Beginning in 2012, Alstat opened the Eclectic farm to NUNM students for annual naturopathic ReVitalization Retreats. He provided several large hot tubs and teepees for their use, along with access to the meadow and cultivated fields for herb walks, hay bales for seating, and resources for mud baths, hydrotherapy, outdoor dining, camping, and more. Each year, scores of students gathered with about a dozen regional, national, and international ND elders for a weekend in September to share naturopathic philosophy, knowledge, experience, and hands-on application of nature-cure techniques. Alstat’s generosity and participation helped create an atmosphere of a family reunion that celebrated the love of Mother Nature.

In a final major move in 2013, Alstat realized his dream of relocating Eclectic Institute to a private airpark in a beautiful location surrounded by the Bull Run Wildlife Preserve, about a mile from his beloved farm rimmed by the Sandy River. A revamped aircraft hangar is now the site for production and manufacturing. That same year, EMP published Laura Clavio’s book The Eclectic, a historical account of an eccentric Midwestern doctor in the first half of the 20th century, which is representative of many alternative physicians in family practices in those days. Alstat organized a final symposium in 2016 in a large converted barn on this new property. He gathered a half-dozen authors and naturopathic doctors from across the country to discuss the Eclectic heritage, which featured the eminent Eclectic historian John Haller. To the end, Alstat did his utmost to provide opportunities to learn and experience the value and advantages of natural healing.

As Alstat’s classmate, collaborator, and friend for the past 40 years, it has been my privilege to witness the transformation of health care to which Alstat made many significant contributions. He was an eclectic trailblazer, who cast light on natural means to optimize health, from the traditional to the ground-breaking. He also supported groups in the larger alterative solutions community, such as Bioneers, which advances practical changes to promote environmental health. Alstat enriched the lives of many friends, acquaintances, and co-workers through personal, professional, and business opportunities, leading them to expand the work he engendered, whether with Eclectic Institute or elsewhere. While Alstat’s accomplishments were many, the love he shared with his friends and family (his wife Christine, his children Nick, Katy, Bobby, and Edwin, and his sister Karen) was more important. May he revel in that love forever.

—Francis Brinker, ND
Clinical Assistant Professor,
Dept. of Medicine
Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona

Reference

  1. Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med. 1990;56:44-47.