James Duke, 88, Globe-Trotting Authority on Healing Plants, Is Dead


Dr. Duke had his own remedies. “To cure a cold, he mashes up the stems and leaves of forsythia,” Ms. Raver wrote. “To help strengthen weak capillaries, he makes ‘rutinade’ from violet and buckwheat flowers, lemongrass and rhubarb stalks, and herbs high in rutin (anise, chamomile, mint, rose hips).”

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Dr. Duke’s authoritative reference book from 1997 has sold more than 1.5 million copies, according to its publisher, Rodale Press.

He also made lemonade from the wild plant Mayapple and wrote a ditty about it:

Penobscot Indians up in Maine

Had a very pithy sayin’:

Rub the root on every day

And it will take your warts away!

. . . I’ll venture to prognosticate

Before my song is sung:

This herb will help eradicate

Cancer of the lung.

James Alan Duke was born on April 4, 1929, in Eastlake, a suburb of Birmingham, Ala., to Robert Edwin and Martha (Truss) Duke. His love of plants, he wrote, came from his mother, an avid gardener, and from spending time in the woods of rural Alabama with “country cousins” and an elderly neighbor, who introduced him to edible wild plants, like chestnuts and watercress.

His parallel love of music began when he was 5 years old: He was selling magazines to help earn money for his family when he encountered bluegrass musicians in a local college dormitory.

After the family moved to North Carolina, he learned to play the bass fiddle in high school and began performing with Homer Briarhopper and His Dixie Dudes, a country band he had heard on the radio. At 16, he played on a 78-r.p.m. record that the band cut in Nashville.

Dr. Duke attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where his bass playing caught the ear of Johnny Satterfield, a big-band leader who taught there. He recruited Jim Duke as a jazz bassist, on the condition that he enroll in the music program.

His native love of botany kicked in, though, and from 1952 to 1960 he earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in botany at Chapel Hill. He did postdoctoral work as a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and curatorial work at the Missouri Botanical Gardens there.

Botany and music continued to be entwined in his life, however. While working, he would pick up gigs at clubs and perform with jazz, blues and country singers.



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