Bill Brevoort, Chinese Herb Pioneer, Dies at 75
AUSTIN, Texas (August 1, 2017.) — Iconic Chinese medicinal herb pioneer Bill Brevoort, 75, passed away at his home in Kona, Hawaii, on July 28. He had been recently diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.
Bill was a truly remarkable man — intelligent, intrepid, focused, and highly spiritual.
He and his wife Peggy founded East Earth Herb in 1971, the first company to educate and market to the natural food community about the healing and vitality-empowering aspects of traditional Chinese herbs.
The East Earth Herb booth was a popular location at many natural food trade shows and alternative medicine conferences in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, where Bill would often listen to a person’s pulse, look at their tongue, and frequently perk them up with one of his special blends of Chinese herbal tonic elixirs, teas, and other creatively blended formulations. East Earth’s “Dragon Eggs” line of Chinese herbs was most likely the first American-made line of Chinese herbal formulas.
Bill and Peggy are also largely credited with creating the initial interest in the Pacific herb kava with their popular after-conference kava parties in the 1990s.
A practicing Buddhist most of his adult life, Bill was an intensely spiritual person, with a wide range of interests to try to satisfy his strong intellect. Among his many interests, he was an avid amateur astronomer and dedicated vegetable gardener.
Numerous old friends and colleagues of Bill’s have written ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal with some thoughts and reminiscences about Bill.
Mark expressed his fond 43-year relationship with Bill: “Bill was a truly amazing, brilliant, spiritual, one-of-a kind man. He and Peggy are true pioneers of the American herb movement, particularly with respect to Chinese herbs, having imported and distributed Chinese herbal patent medicines in the early 1970s and later their own Chinese herbal dietary supplements. They were one of my first suppliers when I owned Sweethardt Herbs (1974-1986), my former herb wholesaling company in Austin. When I first started ordering from them, 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.) In addition to introducing me to many Chinese herbs and kava, Bill is also my first introduction to the fabled Chinese Pu-erh tea.”
Lynda LeMole, an herb industry activist previously with Traditional Medicinals tea company, wrote about Bill’s varied interests: “BuddhaBrother, TonicMaster, 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.’”
Noted medicinal plant sustainability authority Josef Brinckmann, at one time an employee of East Earth and now for many years at Traditional Medicinals, wrote: “One of my teachers, I learned so much from Bill in the three years that I worked and traveled with him (1995-1997) — not only about the traditional uses of almost everything in nature codified in the Chinese systems of medicine (of animal, botanical, fungal, metal, and mineral origin), but also about the past, present, and future of Buddhist practice. I was very fortunate to walk, for a time, with this truly remarkable man.
Traditional Medicinals co-founder Drake Sadler wrote, “Like Josef, I too was fortunate to walk for a time with Wild Bill. 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.”
Natural products industry pioneer marketing consultant Morris Shriftman was one of the many who met Bill at natural product industry trade shows. “I worked my way to his booth several times at each show. His knowledge of Chinese herbs and oriental tonics was a revelation to me. And I remember my delight in using his products. There was one in particular — I think it was called Dragon’s Brew; it was deep and dark and mysterious. It tasted of ginseng and ginger, and who knows what else. And I had a ride.”
Syndicated astrologer and poet Rick Levine shared about Bill: “Bill Brevoort was a rare human being: pioneering in his work, conscious in his behavior, honest in his interactions, dedicated in his spiritual practice, unyielding in his search for truth, and loyal to his family and friends.”
Herb book author and herbalist Kathi Keville wrote for her forthcoming issue of the American Herb Association Newsletter: “Bill was an expert connoisseur and collector of fine Chinese tea. A visit always meant having afternoon tea—an experience in itself. He also loved good music, photography, astronomy, and spent much of his time at his own small telescope observatory in Hawaii that offered an amazing view of the sky.”
Avid bicyclist and former Whole Foods Market veteran Terry Wittenberg wrote: “My favorite memory of Bill and Black Belt [a type of Chinese tonic herbal ‘fruit leather’] — In the summer of 1989 we took a 3-week vacation for some bike racing. From home (Texas) we first drove to upstate New York for a 24-hour race and afterwards stayed in the area for almost a week. Next race was in St. Louis for the 540-mile Race Across Missouri. On our way to St. Louis we stopped overnight in Indianapolis. When we were unpacking at the motel, I left our small trailer open and our box of supplements and herbs (including my supply of Black Belt) was stolen. I called Bill and he mailed more Black Belt to the hotel in St. Louis in time for the race. Bill saved the day.”
And, finally, natural products industry leader Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, wrote that he, like many others, he accepted the sad news of Bill’s passing with “a deep sense of loss but knowing Bill had prepared for the day of passing like few can.”
ABC will provide a more biographical follow-up tribute to Bill Brevoort in ABC’s monthly e-newsletter HerbalEGram and inHerbalGram.