HerbalGram Celebrates 35 Years of Publication

The American Botanical Council’s flagship magazine noted internationally for quality, reliability, and beauty in reporting on medicinal plants

AUSTIN, Texas (August 8, 2018) — August 2018 marks the 35th anniversary of HerbalGram, the quarterly journal of the American Botanical Council (ABC). Since its first issue in 1983, HerbalGram has transformed from a black-and-white newsletter to a full-color, 82-page journal with the visual appeal of beautiful botanical photography and intellectual draw of peer-reviewed articles. Though HerbalGram has evolved significantly, its editorial mission to serve as a reliable herbal education resource has remained the same.

P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345 
Phone: 512-926-4900 x129; Fax: 512-926-2345
Contact: Public Relations
Website: www.herbalgram.org

In the summer of 1983, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal produced the first issue of HerbalGram, which was then titled “Herb News” with the subtitle “Herbalgram.” Blumenthal, who also was running his former herb distribution business, Sweethardt Herbs, spent many of his nights and weekends collecting, writing, and editing articles for the newsletter. It was this focus on disseminating trustworthy and timely herbal information that would eventually lead Blumenthal to found ABC in 1988.

Originally published with financial support from the newly formed American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), of which Blumenthal was a founding board member, the first HerbalGram was an eight-page, black-and-white newsletter stapled at the spine. It consisted of “herb blurbs” on herbal miscellanea, a “media watch” section with herb-related news articles, a handful of paragraph-long “Rob’s Research Reviews” authored by then-Associate Editor Robert McCaleb (who, at the time, was also head of research at Celestial Seasonings), listings of herbal information resources and schools, and more. The editorial staff included just Blumenthal and McCaleb, who also co-founded the Herb Research Foundation (HRF) together.

For the second issue, Blumenthal enlisted two additional part-time assistant editors. The publication now featured the title “Herbalgram” in larger font. This issue took on a more defined format, with organized sections on industry news, conferences/meetings, HRF news, and “potpourri” — a catch-all section featuring various news items of possible interest to the growing herbal industry and community.

In the following years, HerbalGram transformed into a modern force in the botanical medicine community. In 1988, HerbalGram issue 18/19 was the first color edition with a cover illustration of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae). This 48-page double issue also was the first published under the auspices of both HRF and ABC, which Blumenthal founded with the late ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD, and the late Professor Norman Farnsworth, PhD, in order to help transition the publication from newsletter to journal. In 1992, issue 28 was the first full-glossy, four-color issue, and featured an image of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants from the Harvard Museum of Natural History on the cover. The journal increased to its current length of 82 pages in 1999, and, in 2000, issue 50 was the first to be published by ABC alone.

Eighteen years and almost 70 issues later, the editorial staff of HerbalGram has grown to include an art director and three full-time editors, in addition to Blumenthal, who serves as editor-in-chief, along with many other employees at ABC who serve in a variety of other important roles. The journal features articles both from in-house writers and botanical experts from around the world, and all are peer-reviewed by members of ABC’s distinguished advisory board or other professionals with relevant expertise. HerbalGramreaches thousands of readers in more than 81 countries who represent a range of diverse professions, from research scientists (e.g., pharmacognosists, ethnobotanists, etc.) and health practitioners (e.g., herbalists, naturopathic physicians, pharmacists, conventional physicians, etc.) to industry members, government regulators, and many others.

HerbalGram has been a leader in presenting extensive literature reviews on specific herbs in an effort to help establish a scientific basis for their potential health benefits. In some cases, these reviews can also help clarify erroneous or inappropriate claims about the uses of the herbs.

HerbalGram has served as the go-to source for detailed perspectives on developing herb-related topics for 35 years,” said Steven Foster, an herbalist, photographer, author, and ABC Board of Trustees member. “The publication is at the forefront of covering topics such as herb conservation and the effect of climate change on herb crops, clear assessments of regulatory and market developments, as well as emerging science.”

Foster added: “The depth of coverage, detailed quality of presentation, rigorous peer-review process, meticulous editorial attention, aesthetic beauty, and broad appeal [of HerbalGram] combine to reach a standard of lasting excellence that few science-based periodicals achieve.”

Recent HerbalGram issues have featured significant articles such as issue 118’s pictorial on Joseph Banks’ historic Florilegium of botanical life that was encountered on Captain Cook’s first South Pacific voyage; issue 116’s beautiful and informative deep-dive into medicinal trees of North America; and issue 103’s feature about the effects of climate change on the quality of tea.

Each year, HerbalGram also publishes its annual Herb Market Report, which describes the trends of the botanical dietary supplement market in the United States and frequently is cited in other publications. Additional in-depth key articles published in recent issues have included a look into the history and pharmacology of the emerging Southeast Asian tree kratom (Mitragyna speciosa, Rubiaceae); a pet supplement herb market report; notes from a 17th-century ethnobotanical expedition to South Africa; and many more.

Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, praised HerbalGram’s diverse content. “When my HerbalGram arrives in the mail, I know I will begin another journey into the wonders of the herbal kingdom,” he said. “While I no longer save other magazines, I treasure and hold tight to my copies of HerbalGram. I, along with many others, salute ABC and HerbalGram for its 35 years of service to the advancement of consumer, industry, and professional education, high level of professionalism, and documenting the rich history of our remarkable community.”


In November 2011, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) published its first feature-length article — “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs” — in HerbalGram issue 92. The article, written by Foster, reviewed numerous cases of adulterated, fraudulent foods, spices, and drugs during the past two millennia. HerbalGram also has published extensively peer-reviewed BAPP feature articles on the adulteration of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae) extract, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae) herb, so-called “grapefruit seed extract,” and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) in addition to Foster’s epic 22-page article, titled “Toward an Understanding of Ginseng Adulteration: The Tangled Web of Names, History, Trade, and Perception.”

In 2012, ABC introduced an online “page-flip” version of HerbalGram that is optimized for viewing on smartphones, tablets, and computers. In 2016, all issues of HerbalGram became available in PDF format, from 1983’s issue 1 through the current issue, thanks to a digitizing project overseen by Art Director Matt Magruder in 2016. Before that, only issues 85 and above were available as PDF files.

HerbalGram is available as a benefit of ABC membership at the Individual level and up. It also is sold in some bookstores and natural food stores.

About the American Botanical Council 

Cold-Blooded Investigator Targets Herbal DNA

| By Steven Foster

Ginkgo leaf; Ginkgo biloba; Ginkgo leaf close-ups horizontal (landscape) aspectTuesday February 3, 2015, the New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, issued a press release on an action taken the previous day in which his office delivered “cease and desist” letters to four major retails including GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart alleging that they were selling herbal dietary supplements that did not contain the plant materials listed on the product labels. The herbs included Echinacea, Garlic, Ginseng, St. John’s Wort, and Saw Palmetto. According to the Attorney General’s press release 79% of the products tested, either did not contain the plant material claimed on the label or contained other plant materials not listed on the label. All of the products were “store brands,” made by contract manufacturers.

“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The DNA test results seem to confirm long-standing questions about the herbal supplement industry. Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal.” “Seem” is the operative word here.

Schneiderman has apparently been watching too many episodes of CSI “city du jour” in which the DNA always solves the crime. DNA analysis for plants is great for botanicals or plant specimens in which intact DNA still exist, but if you are testing an extracted plant ingredient—PRESTO—the DNA except in rare cases no  longer exists!

Every qualified, experienced plant analytical laboratory that authenticates botanicals day-in-and-day-out, knows that DNA alone is unreliable for testing plant extracts. Instead validated chemical analytical methods along with other validated lab methods are used. See link at the end of this article to see the American Herbal Pharmacopeia’s 54-page response to Attorney General Schneiderman which includes the appropriate lab methods to i.d. of the plant extracts in question.

A retired plant scientist friend mused, “if DNA testing is required for validating plant ingredients claimed to be in any product, the supermarket shelves would be empty.” If Schneiderman had applied the same DNA method to the brown liquid in the cup of coffee he might have drunk before his news conference, the test would have likely shown that his cup of coffee contained no detectable DNA of the coffee plant!

This is a case in which a public official, under the guise of science, has made allegations without confirming the validity of the science. Curiously, no plant genomic scientists I know had heard of the lab or researcher who did the testing! Turns out they hired a DNA lab specializing in reptile and dinosaur identification! I suppose that New York Attorney General Eric T.  Schneiderman decided to hire this lab after he had heard that the lab was run by “cold-blooded scientific investigators.”

A version of this story was published in the Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper in the Nature of Eureka column on 11 February 2015.

See response to the New York AG from Roy Upton, Founder and Executive Director of The American Herbal Pharmacopeia, which supplies a rational response to an irrational action.

This is a continuing story.

Ginseng’s Cross-Cultural Virility

By Steven Foster |

When the first published Western description of ginseng appeared in a French journal in 1713, there was no mention of ginseng’s reputation as an aphrodisiac or to enhance virility, likely because the earliest European writers on ginseng were Jesuit priests. In 1725 Pope Benóit XIII received a gift of ginseng from the Chinese Emperor. No comment from the Vatican.

Asian ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Chinese Ginseng, Panax ginseng; 人参; Ren Shen; ren-shenVirginian, Colonel William Byrd II (1674-1744), pictured in a 1725 portrait, with confident swagger was an obvious ginseng nibbler. Writing on 31 May 1737 to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753, British Museum founder ) he muses, “Insomuch that were I to judge the veracity of the Jesuits by this Instance, I shou’d pronounce them very honest Fellows. As for the merry Effects ascribd to it towards obliging the Bashfull Sex, the good [Jesuit] Father[s] say nothing of it, nor dos my Experience reach so far.” In a letter of 20 August 1737 to Sloane, Byrd continues, “I believe ever since the Tree of Life has been so strongly guarded the Earth has never produced any vegetable so friendly to man as Ginseng. Nor do I say this at Random, or by the Strength of my Faith, but by my own Experience. I have found it very cordial and reviving after great Fatigue, it warms the Blood frisks the Spirits strengthens the Stomach and comforts the Bowels exceedingly. All this it performs without any of those naughty Effects that might make men too troublesome and impertinent to their poor Wives.”  Oh, but the mistresses. . .

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng roots,  西洋参, xi yang shen Some 18th century Dr. Oz probably hawked ginseng root on a London street corner with a wink and a smile to the passerby. But where there’s health claims for herbs, there’s always an all-knowing expert to debunk it, like Scottish physician, William Cullen (1710-1790), in his 1789 Materia Medica (vol 2, p.161)—“I have known a gentleman a little advanced in life, who chewed a quantity of this root every day for several years, but who acknowledged that he never found his venereal faculties in the least improved by it.”

Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng; 西洋参; xi yang shenThe protocol of the famed Dr. Cullen was followed for treatment of George Washington’s sore throat on what became his last day in December 1799: blood letting (124 ounces removed), blistering his throat with an irritating beetle, copious evacuation of the bowels—and when all else—fails, a dose of mercury. Two of the three attending physicians achieved their medical degrees under the instruction of Dr. Cullen at the University of Edinburgh.

Cause of death? “Learned quackery,” to quote sectarian rival contemporaries.

References [to follow]

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius

Guide to Prime Time Ginseng Poaching

By Steven Foster |

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng roots, 西洋参, xi yang shenHey Y’all! You don’t have to be a bearded blowhard bigot chokin’ on duck call drool to make piles of money on a cable network. Nope, no need for swamp water squishin’ between ‘yur  toes! There’s a new opportunity in them ‘thar hills to show the world just how much of a thrill-seekin’, not-too-bright, thief you can be in your quest to show how every conceivable aspect of greed can drive a conservationist to drink. Join the fun! Just plop yourself in front of the boob tube with a can of your favorite brand of American-made world’s-worst-beers and point the satellite dish to the History Channel on Thursday nights, 10 p.m. eastern, 9 central, to see a new episode of Appalachian Outlaws. The show premiered on January  9, 2014. Seems like them big city producers don’t get out of their offices much. Youins would think they never heard the word “stereotype.”

The first episode, “Dirty Money” follows the exploits of ‘sengers in the field trying to steal Actaea pachypoda, doll's eyes, white baneberry, baneberryroots from Federal lands or posted private lands better suited to pot farming. In the first six minutes of the show, a generic ‘seng hunter, shows the viewer just how adulteration of herbs occurs in the real world through plant misidentification in the field. He misrepresents a doll’s eye plant in fruit (Actaea pachypoda) as black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). A landowner  shows how to make mini-landmines from a shotgun shell to catch ‘seng poachers tiptoeing down his path to steal his patch of wild ginseng. Tune in next week to see if they can blow a big toe off a poacher’s foot !  The next episode, “Ginseng Fever,” due to air January 16, 2014, will show how ruthless ‘seng hunters and dealers will go to great lengths to protect their interests. Praise the lord and pass the roll of cash!

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng in fruit, American ginseng plant, 西洋参, xi yang shenThis is great reality TV for helping viewers understand what really goes on in the field when harvesting high-value wild herbs.  In a 45 minute episode, the History Channel provides convincing evidence of why the US Fish and Wildlife Service—the Federal Agency charged with assuring sustainability of ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)—should be forced to ban wild ginseng harvest altogether! Current USFWS ginseng resource information plus laws & regulations are found here. This show will be a boon for plant conservationists and an unfortunate boondoggle for the wild ginseng industry. 

If you miss an episode,  just search on-line for the History Channel’s Appalachian Outlaws. Full episodes are available on-demand. Thank you History Channel!