HerbalGram is the quarterly journal of ABC, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education using science-based and traditional information to promote responsible use of herbal medicine. ABC achieved another landmark accomplishment in 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 non-profit 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Blumenthal produced the very first HerbalGram — then titled “Herb News” and subtitled “Herbalgram” — which eventually matured into the magazine currently read around the world. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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.
“I came late to the HerbalGram party with the summer 1987 issue No. 13, the first in my archived collection,” said Francis Brinker, ND, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and author of several renowned books on herbs. “It has been a joy to be in on the birth of ABC and to be celebrating it through 25 years. It has served as a bedrock of reliable information, entertained with the obscure, and dazzled with the colorful world of global herbs and herbalists. From herbal society news to the context of science to commercial and political concerns to enrichment from cultural traditions, I have grown in my knowledge and appreciation of all things herbal through the help of HerbalGram and the other channels that ABC has made available.”
It may be impossible to quantify the impact that 100 issues of HerbalGram have had on the herbal community and the world at large, but noted photographer, author, and ABC Board of Trustees President Steven Foster attempted to do just that in his retrospective, “Reflections on 100 Issues of HerbalGram.” In his thorough examination of all 100 issues of the magazine, Foster highlighted many of the seminal articles published in HerbalGram’s annals. Among them are herbalist Chris Hobbs’ 1989 review of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), published nearly a decade before the herb came to prominence in the United States; breaking news coverage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994; the FDA’s ban of ephedra (Ephedra sinica) in 2004; the effects of climate change on medicinal plants; and many more.
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.
“HerbalGram and ABC have been vital links between the scientific world, herbalists, and consumers thanks to Mark's persistent networking with everyone involved,” said John Beutler, PhD, associate scientist for the National Cancer Institute. “In an arena with plenty of nonsense, HerbalGram has brought good information to people in an appealing format.”
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.