It is impossible to adequately describe Mark Blumenthal, founder of the Texas-based American Botanical Council (ABC), in one word, one sentence or even one magazine page. But attempting to do so is a delightful study of a man who has a distinctive gift for getting to the heart of what is truly important — the human condition. Fi editor Kimberly Lord Stewart caught up with Blumenthal as he was anticipating the birth of his granddaughter the first week of January '09.
Q. If I can draw from my Greek heritage, Hippocrates said: "It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has." His philosophy led to the systematic study of clinical medicine. As head of the ABC, you have systematically studied herbal medicine in a similar manner, but never forgetting the humanity of healing. For the many years I have known you, my best analogy for you is: "Hippocrates… in a cowboy hat." Where do you derive your connection to the human soul?
MB. Ever since my ancestors immigrated to El Paso, Texas, we have been in the service of others. They taught me a sense of social ethics, social responsibility and to give back to the community. Whether it was my maternal great-grandfather, Albert Mathias, selling dry goods in El Paso; my paternal grandfather, Maurice Schwartz, also a successful department-store owner who co-founded what would become the University of Texas, El Paso, or my mother who played a key role in desegregating El Paso two years before the Civil Rights Act passed, and starting the local Meals on Wheels programme — they taught me how important it is to make people feel valued.
Q. The herbal marketplace is maturing from hippie fad to a respected position in medicine, which is a bit like your own history. Where do you see the industry heading?
MB. There are more randomized, controlled trials being published, so that's more inventory for us. And the implementation of stricter good manufacturing practices, plus monographs and databases, are indications of the sophistication and maturation of the herbal marketplace. Companies are looking at patents and new products to protect their investments, so we're finding new uses for old herbs.
I also see more and more doctors, med students and pharmacists genuinely interested in this field, and more and more people in general who think herbs have value. I believe people will recognize herbs' role not just in treating or preventing disease or symptoms, but as adaptogens to enhance general well-being, promote immunity and increase our levels of sustainable energy — to live in a higher state of wellness overall.