KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 18, 2001 -- Michael Ford had been operating Apollo Herbs for a few years when he decided that if he wanted to grow in the herbal medicine business, he needed some formal education.
So he enrolled in the University of Rhode Island, seeking degrees in botany and the classics. In 1998, he earned both undergraduate degrees, but he realized even more study would help him, so he enrolled in URIs College of Pharmacy. This summer he will earn his master of science in pharmacogosny, the study of drugs of natural origin.
All that remains is the completion and defense of his thesis, which chronicles his research into the isolation of chemicals from plants that are known laxatives and proving how they act as laxatives.
Through all of his intensive undergraduate and graduate studies, he kept Apollo Herbs running and flourishing since the day he opened it in November 1991.
"One of the reasons I pursued my education was to have integrity," Ford said. "I dont want to sell you anything that is not going to work or that is going to hurt you."
Ford, who is originally from Smithfield, started his college education at the Rhode Island School of Design, and while there met a master herbalist. Things didnt work out for him at RISD, but the apprenticeship with the herbalist did.
"I started to sell products to natural food stores," Ford said. "These were all established herbal remedies."
He also began running small workshops and apprenticeships, which continue today. The apprenticeships are demanding. Participants must study one weekend a month from April through December for a total of 126 hours. Ford runs the programs at 50 Acre Farm in Smithfield.
Ford said when he began his quest in 1994 for his dual bachelors degrees at URI, he focused on botany because that would give him the scientific foundation for his work and on the classics, "because I have always been fascinated by where words come from. I also found that herbalism is practiced in mythology, and that many scientific and botanical terms are based on Latin and Greek. Its also true of many pharmaceutical terms. I can look at a lot of medical terms without having to look them up."
During his four years of undergraduate study, Fords herb business supported him. "Ive been on my own for years, and I was able to build my business schedule around school," Ford said.
He said when he first came to URI, he wanted to study pharmacognosy right away, but it was only offered at the graduate level.
During his masters work, he was a teaching assistant in the Department of Biomedical Sciences for a year.
Ford, who has been researching herbal medicine since before it became a hot topic, said the field is interesting because it combines biology, chemistry, pharmacology and pharmacognosy.
He has kept his business small while completing his degrees, but plans to expand once he is done.
"The business has been very worthwhile," Ford said. "With just a little effort, it has paid my expenses."
Ford said he is also interested in the study of ethno-botany, which he described as the study of remedies, foods and perfumes used by various cultures.
He credits Yuzuru Shimizu, URI professor of biomedical sciences, with instilling in him a probing approach to the field. "Dr. Shimizu was trained in traditional pharmacognosy in Japan. I have tremendous respect for him."
Ford said he looks at the entire health spectrum, including diet, exercise, nutrition and medications. "I dont promote herbs as miracle cures or sex drive enhancers. If I am going to make money selling herbs, I want to help people doing it."
The Smithfield High School grad said his mother Virginia, a former nurse at Roger Williams Medical Center, was skeptical about her sons work early on. "Now, she has come around as herbal medicine has become more popular" Ford said. "She is proud of what I have done."
And his dad, Raymond, has always been interested in healthy living, so he sees his sons work as a natural.
Finally, Ford wants to resume his artwork, which was interrupted when he left RISD and began studies at URI.
"I am interested in writing and illustrating a book on herbal medicine."
For Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116