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2022 NBJ Award: Education

The late botanical photographer and herbal master Steven Foster shared the beauty and the power of plants and helped educate people about them.

Todd Runestad, Content Director,, Sr. Supplements Editor

July 11, 2022

4 Min Read
The late botanical photographer and herbal master Steven Foster shared the beauty and the power of plants and helped educate

Herbalism has been described as both art and science, but it is rare that one person can bring both together as masterfully as Steven Foster, a legend in the world of herbalism and the man behind a half-century legacy of bringing out the beauty in botanicals. It is that legacy, that careful blending of the artistic and the medicinal that earns Foster the 2021 NBJ Award for Education.

A prolific and self-taught photographer and plant medicine master, Foster died suddenly on Jn. 17 at his home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He was 64.

For nearly half a century, Foster’s photographs have graced the covers of many books and magazine covers on herbalism and plants. “Steven Foster didn’t just take pictures of plants. He made portraits of them,” said Erik Goldman, editor-in-chief, Holistic Primary Care. “His photographs captured not only their morphology but also their essence and mystery.”

NBJ herb and botanical sales growth 2016-2024e

A passion for plants

Foster’s contributions to modern herbal culture are many. He was among the first people to help popularize the herb echinacea in the modern market. His “Echinacea: Nature’s Immune Enhancer” (Healing Arts Press, 1991) was the first book to tell the story of the plant since pharmacist and author John Uri Lloyd’s treatise on echinacea in 1917. At one time in his career, some colleagues referred to Foster as “Mr. Echinacea.”

“Steven was one of the most brilliant people in the entire American and international herb community,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC), where Foster was a longtime contributor to its publications and sat on its board of trustees. “The author or co-author of 19 books and hundreds of articles, and a true master of the herbal literature, especially the Eclectic medical literature of the late 19th and early 20th century, Steven was also a renowned photographer of herbs and medicinal plants with an eye for beauty in every leaf and flower. He was unparalleled in the global botanical community,” Blumenthal says.

With such a deep relationship to ABC, the organization set up a tribute page on its website that includes photographs, book selections, remembrances and more. His close-up photography gave his work unmistakable authorship and was widely disseminated throughout the industry for years.

“Steven was an incredible photographer. He was the first person you would think of if you wanted the best images of botanicals,” said Karen E. Todd, vice president of global brand marketing for Kyowa Hakko USA. “The beauty he captured from behind his lens will live on through his mastery.”

When Nancy Volk McLaughlin worked as an art director at the New Hope Network, she never doubted where to turn when she needed herbal images. “Steven Foster was my go-to guy because of his beautiful collection of medicinal photography in a world of generic microstock photos.”

Blumenthal noted how vital Foster’s work was to the stories ABC tells through its HerbalGram publication, as well as books and other magazine articles. ABC published literally thousands of Foster’s photos. “Steven was an integral part of ABC even before ABC was founded in 1988,” says Blumenthal. “If you have enjoyed the beautifully compelling four-color photography in each issue of HerbalGram, you can usually thank Steven for the photos.”

Following the herb

Foster started his career in 1974 at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker’s Herb Department—America’s oldest herb business, dating to 1799. The Shakers have an extraordinary history as skilled herbalists from the very beginnings of American history. A self-taught botanist, and without any higher education in either botany or, for that matter, photography, Foster set himself apart in both pursuits as an instant master.

“His knowledge and memory of the botanical literature was almost photographic, and he had a beautifully eloquent way to explain and communicate his herbal wisdom,” says Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance. “Many of you never had the chance to meet him, but whenever you see his photographs or read one of his books or articles, you are in the presence of Steven Foster.”

About the Author(s)

Todd Runestad

Content Director,, Sr. Supplements Editor, Natural Products Insider

I've been writing on nutrition science news since 1997. I'm The content director for NaturalProductsInsidercom and digital magazines. Other incarnations: supplements editor for, Delicious Living and Natural Foods Merchandiser. Former editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine and still cover raw material innovations and ingredient science.

Connect with me here

My daily vitamin regime includes a morning smoothie with a range of powders including protein, collagen and spirulina; a quality multi, B complex, C with bioflavonoids, >2,000IU vitamin D, E, magnesium, high-selenium yeast, PQQ, choline, alpha-lipoic acid with carnitine, coQ10, fish oil concentrate, probiotics and some adaptogenic herbs. 

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