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News: GCA Scholars… In The News


November 26, 2019

Bringing Biodiversity to Cocktail Hour

Three GCA scholars transformed their studies of botanical science into a successful company that produces unique and flavorful craft bitters. They have published a DIY cocktail book, Botany at the Bar: The Art & Science of Making Bitters, which highlights the multicultural history of these aromatic, often medicinal, plant tonics and raise awareness of the importance of plant diversity. The authors were recently interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday.

Botanists Selena Ahmed, Ashley DuVal, and Rachel Meyer, received GCA scholarships in 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively. They met as graduate students spending time at the New York Botanical Garden. All were working on different culinary plants (tea, eggplant, and acai) and began pairing science and taste explorations. The three noticed, in the course of fieldwork in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, bottles of roots and herbs infusing on people’s countertops. They used their observations to communicate their research and eventually found their company, Roots & Shoots Bitters. 

Bitters are blended plant extracts that can be added to drinks for medicinal effects or for intense flavor. Today they are used in cocktails but in ancient times, Egyptians and other communities more attuned to the natural world, used plant remedies to cure ailments and strengthen the body. Modern life has significantly reduced our understanding and use of many plants. There are more than 350,000 distinct, known, plant species and nearly 30,000 have been used at some point as food or medicine. We now depend on a mere 30 for our caloric needs, missing out on the riches of the planet.  

In their new book, the three mix science and lore as well as recipes for bitters, cocktails, and syrups. They use hundreds of plants, from around the globe and local sources too, to produce a flavor palate that goes far beyond what’s available from familiar bitters like Angostura. Highlighting the value of underused plants underscores the losses caused by destroying wild habitats for development or monocultural farming techniques, including a wide range of flavors for cooks and mixologists to explore. By expanding popular usage of lesser-known field plants, the authors hope to connect people to nature and encourage conservation.  

Rachel Meyer and Selena Ahmed received The Anne S. Chatham Fellowship in Medicinal Botany. Ashley DuVal was recipient of The Garden Club of America Summer Scholarship in Field Botany.

The GCA offers 28 merit-based scholarships in thirteen areas of study. Not all scholars’ efforts end up enhancing the cocktail hour, but all are critical to the future of Earth’s biodiversity. For more information on the GCA scholarship program, CLICK HERE.

Photos Credit - From Botany at the Bar by Selena Ahmed, Rachel Meyer, and Ashley DuVal © 2019 Selena Ahmed, Rachel Meyer, and Ashley DuVal. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. 


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