On Nov. 1, the American Botanical Council (ABC) celebrates a quarter century of promoting the responsible, science-based use of herbal medicine. The independent nonprofit’s 25th anniversary is a major milestone for the Austin, Texas-based organization and speaks to its enduring message of informed, research-supported healing through nature—one that has resonated with thousands of members and supporters both locally and in many countries around the world.
“I've been affiliated with and have supported ABC since its inception, because I believe in its mission,” said internationally renowned author and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, MD, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Dr. Weil, whose image has twice graced the cover of TIME Magazine, said, “As more health professionals are trained to use medicinal plants and other natural therapies, healthcare costs will decrease and health outcomes will improve. Education is required for this to happen, education of the sort that ABC has provided over the past 25 years and I'm sure will continue to provide.”
In the 1980s, when the modern herbal medicine movement was experiencing a revival and consumer awareness and exposure to natural medicine was slowly increasing, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal saw the need for an authoritative, science-based source of information on botanical medicine to act as a touchstone for herbal education and quality for all aspects of the herbal industry including consumers. The Texan visionary, whose passion for herbal medicine earned him the nickname “Herbal Cowboy,” together with two internationally respected medicinal plant experts—the eminent ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD, and the late distinguished pharmacognosist Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD—established the educational nonprofit American Botanical Council in 1988.
“I think of Mark as the great herbal diplomat,” said Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist, prolific author, educator, and founder of the nonprofit conservation organization United Plant Savers. Gladstar, whom Blumenthal nicknamed the “Godmother of American Herbalism,” praised his efforts over the past 25 years as being “beautifully, seriously, and joyfully effective.”
As ABC celebrates its 25th anniversary in November 2013, the organization’s flagship publication—the quarterly, peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram—commemorates 30 years of herbal education with its 100th issue. Part scientific journal, part consumer magazine, HerbalGram has furthered ABC’s unique nonprofit educational mission by disseminating extensively researched, literature-supported, and expertly peer-reviewed information on botanical medicine.
“Under Mark Blumenthal’s steady editorial guidance, the information [in HerbalGram] has always been cutting-edge and in a word—reliable,” said author and medicinal plant expert Steven Foster, whose stunning botanical photography has adorned the magazine’s pages since its early years. “From history to new clinical studies, reporting on new regulatory and market developments to comprehensive reviews and covering the world’s herbs and the world of herbs, no publication has provided more to all interested stakeholders in every aspect of herbal medicine.”
In addition to HerbalGram, ABC boasts numerous other publications that provide dependable herbal medicine information for consumers, healthcare practitioners, researchers, educators, industry, the media, and more. The nonprofit’s most recent publication, the weekly online newsletter, “Herbal News & Events,” keeps ABC members and supporters abreast of events, conferences, and news items relevant to the herbal community. HerbalEGram, ABC’s monthly online periodical for members, also reaches a milestone this month, celebrating 10 years of publishing timely, original, in-house features and news articles.
Members of ABC can also access HerbMedPro™, a professional, continuously updated database of medicinal plant research articles searchable by herb name, condition, indication, and more. ABC provides free online access to HerbMed®, a “sister” database featuring 20 to 30 herbs from HerbMedPro that are rotated on a regular basis. Making this unique resource free to the public increases the number of people who benefit from updated information on herbs, in accordance with ABC’s nonprofit educational mission.
Another notable resource is the organization’s HerbClip™ service, which for two decades has provided summaries and critical reviews of seminal articles on medicinal plant research and clinical trials, as well as information on regulation, marketing, conservation, and sustainability.
These services and many others—including a digitized version of The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs; ABC’s Healthy Ingredients, a plant-based dietary supplements and cosmetics reference page; and the lauded, historical compilation of The Complete German Commission E Monographs—are all available online through ABC’s information-rich website, herbalgram.org.
ABC’s headquarters at the 160-year-old Case Mill Homestead in the heart of East Austin serves as an extension of the organization’s commitment to herbal education. Purchased in 1997, the property was renovated with the help of the nonprofit’s first capital campaign and updated with expansive medicinal plant gardens, a greenhouse, and annex that functions as home for ABC’s library and a community meeting space sometimes used by other Austin nonprofits. With guidance from ABC’s dedicated education department, the gardens are used as a tool for dietetic and pharmacy interns from local universities, who apply their research in hands-on medicine-making labs and presentations using herbs from the grounds. The Case Mill Homestead also functions as the idyllic setting of ABC’s annual HerbDay event, where community members gather to celebrate the healing properties of plants.
For the past three years, ABC also has been actively involved in establishing and directing a major international collaborative research project addressing the quality of herbal ingredients used in consumer products. In 2011, ABC joined forces with the nonprofit American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) to bring to light the accidental and intentional adulteration of botanical materials. To date, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is underwritten and/or endorsed by more than 100 natural product industry companies, independent analytical laboratories, nonprofit and professional organizations, trade associations, accredited natural medicine institutions, and more.
The American Botanical Council’s dedication and passion for providing reliable information on herbal medicine for the past 25 years has impacted thousands of individuals around the world, from eager-to-be-educated consumers to distinguished medicinal plant experts.
“Mark Blumenthal and the American Botanical Council have played a tremendous and important role in opening the eyes and minds of countless healthcare professionals to the importance of herbal medicines in healing, eco-conservation, traditional use, and even economics,” said Aviva Romm, MD, Yale-trained physician, herbalist, and award-winning author.
As an example of ABC’s global impact, Kerry Bone, one of the leading medicinal plant experts in Australia, wrote, “Congratulations to Mark and [the ABC] team for their tireless work over 25 years in representing and promoting botanical therapy as a rational and credible healthcare alternative.”
“We are deeply grateful to all of our members, donors, and other supporters who have made this milestone possible,” said Blumenthal. “From medicinal plant researchers, healthcare professionals, consumers, industry members, and many others, in the United States and 80 countries around the world, ABC’s success is a result of the strong ongoing support of people who value reliable, science-based information on the many positive health effects of herbs, spices, teas, phytomedicines, and other beneficial plants and fungi.”