The 100th issue of the acclaimed magazine HerbalGram hits mailboxes and select retailers around the world this month, and debuts online. Thirty years in the making, the magazine has grown in tandem with the herbal community and the American Botanical Council (ABC), which was created to support the publication and thereby further herbal education.
HerbalGram is the quarterly journal of ABC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education using science-based and traditional information to promote responsible use of herbal medicine. ABC achieves another landmark accomplishment this November—its 25th anniversary. While HerbalGram’s first issue was printed in 1983, ABC was founded in 1988 to help the publication make the transition from newsletter to magazine. Since then, ABC has become an award-winning nonprofit with members in more than 80 countries around the world, and HerbalGram—once a black-and-white newsletter—is now a full-color magazine filled with peer-reviewed articles on herbal medicine and colorful botanical photography, available both in print and online, in high-definition color and detail.
“When Rob McCaleb and I first started writing HerbalGram as a quarterly newsletter back in 1983, it never occurred to me how it would look and what impact it would have 30 years later,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal.
“After working on it as a volunteer labor of love on nights and weekends, I eventually wanted to see it evolve as sort of a Scientific American of herbs, replete with color photography, authoritative articles, and other aspects of the publication that could provide credibility to the proposition that the emerging scientific research was frequently able to document and support the general safety and many health benefits of numerous popular and yet-to-become popular herbs,” continued Blumenthal. “HerbalGram was the kernel of the founding and development of the American Botanical Council, and its many unique educational publications and programs. I truly love producing HerbalGram and, with ABC's great staff, I hope to live long enough and be active enough to help produce another 100 issues!”
More than 30 years ago, Blumenthal produced the very first HerbalGram—then titled “Herb News” and subtitled “Herbalgram”—which eventually matured into the magazine currently read around the world. Blumenthal wrote and edited articles for the HerbalGram newsletter in what spare time was available while running his former herb distribution business, Sweethardt Herbs. Originally published with the financial support of the newly formed American Herbal Products Association, of which Blumenthal was a founding board member, the first HerbalGram was an eight-page, black-and-white, stapled-at-the-spine newsletter. The contents included “herb blurbs” on herbal scientific happenings, herbal-related news articles, a handful of paragraph-long “Rob’s Research Reviews”—authored by then-Associate Editor McCaleb (who was head of research at Celestial Seasonings at the time)—along with listings of herbal information resources and schools, and more.
In the years that followed, ABC was founded, HerbalGram introduced color illustrations to its pages, and staff grew beyond the duo of Blumenthal and McCaleb. In 1992, HerbalGram #28 became the first full-glossy, four-color issue, and showcased the first botanical photograph to grace the magazine’s cover: Harvard’s glass flowers. By 1999, HerbalGram had expanded to 82 pages with an additional 32-page book catalog, closely resembling the magazine as it is produced today.
HerbalGram is now a leading publication in the botanical community. Its staff includes an art director and three full-time editors, plus Blumenthal as editor-in-chief. In addition to its in-house writers, botanical experts from around the world write and peer review articles for the magazine. HerbalGram is read by thousands of individuals in more than 80 countries, representing a range of diverse professions from research scientists (e.g., pharmacognosists, ethnobotanists, etc.) and health practitioners (e.g., herbalists, naturopathic physicians, pharmacists, conventionally trained physicians, et al.), to industry members and government regulators, as well as health-conscious consumers. Digitally archived issues of HerbalGram dating back to the spring 1990 issue #22 are available through the ABC website.
Thanks to the timing of both the 100th HerbalGram and ABC’s 25th anniversary, this issue includes 24 bonus pages highlighting ABC and its history as well as the journal’s signature peer-reviewed herb profiles, features, news, research reviews, and more. A timeline of the organization’s growth is interspersed with landmark events in the herbal community; the story of ABC’s headquarters—which dates back to the mid-19th century—is paired with a series of wet plate collodion photographs of ABC’s grounds, buildings, and medicinal plant gardens, captured by HerbalGram art director Matthew Magruder.
Over the course of HerbalGram and ABC’s shared existence, each has influenced the shape and scope of the other. ABC has grown from producing one publication to four—including HerbClip™, HerbalEGram, and Herbal News & Events—and now offers eight databases of research on herbal medicine and beneficial botanicals through the ABC website. Reaching far beyond its original network of friends and compatriots in the herbal community, the organization now has thousands of members and an additional 28,000 supporters who receive some of ABC’s electronic publications and have free access to a portion of ABC’s online resources.
The potential impact and importance of HerbalGram’s content has increased over the years as well. The magazine presents groundbreaking research on botanicals from the far corners of the world, timely updates and perspectives on legislation that affects the herbal industry, Foster’s distinctive plant photography, and more. In November 2011, HerbalGram became the primary outlet for the publications of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulteration Program, one of ABC’s most significant projects to date. Issue 92 introduced the first in a series of adulteration pieces, titled “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs,” written by Foster. Thus far, HerbalGram published four extensively peer-reviewed feature articles on the adulteration of specific botanicals: skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), so-called “grapefruit seed extract,” bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) extract, and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa syn. Cimicifuga racemosa). All are available for free on ABC’s website.
If the initial mission of HerbalGram was to become a reliable, trusted source of information on herbal medicine, then at 100 issues, the magazine appears to have not only met, but exceeded that goal.