AUSTIN, Texas (March 29, 2022) — The American Botanical Council (ABC) recently presented the 2023 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award to Michael Heinrich, PhD, a professor of ethnopharmacology and pharmacognosy at the University College London (UCL) School of Pharmacy.
ABC presents the annual award, named in honor of the internationally respected professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD (1930–2011), to an individual who has made significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy (the study of drugs of natural origin, usually from plants), ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other scientific disciplines related to medicinal plants. Farnsworth was a widely published and internationally renowned research professor of pharmacognosy, a senior university scholar in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Pharmacy, and one of the founding members of ABC’s Board of Trustees.
“Thank you very much to ABC, to Mark [Blumenthal] and Stefan [Gafner], and everyone involved … for [this amazing] Norman Farnsworth Award,” Heinrich said in his pre-recorded acceptance speech at the ABC Celebration and Awards ceremony in March 2023. “It is a great recognition of … what we have done as a team in the context of ethnopharmacology and specifically focusing on the needs of indigenous populations all over the world.”
Heinrich has a research background in pharmaceutical biology, pharmacognosy, and anthropology. In 1989, he received his Dr. rer nat. degree (Doctor rerum naturalium; equivalent to a PhD) in pharmaceutical biology, and he was awarded his Habilitation (the qualification to do research and teach independently in Germany) in 1997, both from the University of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany. He also has a Dipl. Biol. degree (equivalent to a Master of Science) in biology from the University of Freiburg (1985) and a Master of Arts in anthropology from Wayne State University (1982) in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1999, Heinrich was appointed chair professor at the School of Pharmacy’s Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, which was then part of the University of London. In 2012, the School of Pharmacy merged into UCL. From 2012 to 2018, he was head of the Biodiversity and Medicines research cluster, and, since 2017, he has served as the co-chair of the UCL Research Ethics Committee. At UCL he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate aspects of medicinal plant and natural product research with a focus on practical applications related to community pharmacy practices and patients’ use of herbal medicinal products. In 2022, he was appointed as a Yushan Fellow at China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan, for having made an “outstanding contribution in [his] area of academic expertise.”1
In 2011 and 2012, while on leave from UCL, Heinrich became the first director of the newly founded Southern Cross Plant Science (SCPS) at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The mission of this research program is to carry out “internationally competitive research that adds value to the conservation, cultivation and utilisation of plants and other natural products,” according to its website.2
Earlier in his career, Heinrich worked at the University of Freiburg’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology. He held different positions there from 1993 to 1999, including researcher, lecturer, and associate professor (Privatdozent) and spent six months at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland, working with the late Professor Otto Sticher, PhD (1936–2022, also a recipient of the ABC Farnsworth Award).
“ABC is grateful for the dynamic scholarly contributions that Professor Heinrich has made to the global knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “His scope of vision and activity is quite varied. Among many of his publications, we particularly appreciate his research on authenticity and adulteration of popular botanical food supplements and traditional herbal medicines sold in the EU and beyond.”
Heinrich’s team’s research covers a range of scientific fields, including both biomedical and social sciences (e.g., anthropology, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, pharmacy, and public health). The research group uses this transdisciplinary approach to investigate potential solutions to “fast-changing global health needs, focusing on the use of plant-derived products.”3 The center’s varied research subjects include metabolomic approaches in medicinal plant research, quality and safety of herbal medicinal products, access and benefit sharing, medicinal plant value chains, global biodiversity, the use of traditional medicines for the prevention and early-stage management of diabetes and cancer chemoprevention, and food and medicinal plant use in the Mediterranean, Mexico, Central America, and urban Great Britain, among others topics.
“It is wonderful to see my changing team’s and my contributions acknowledged, and it also is another call to consider where the field of medicinal plant/botanicals research needs to move to in the next years and decades,” Heinrich noted. “Biocultural diversity and sustainable sourcing remain central elements. The new challenge is how can this field of research be developed addressing the impact of climate change. We need to develop new methods using approaches also from other fields to lay the foundations for new collaborative and transdisciplinary answers to these challenges. So, as every award, it is a call for action.”
Over the course of his career, Heinrich has contributed to more than 450 scientific publications, including journal articles, reference texts, reports, and more. In 2022, he co-authored a journal article that reviewed the evidence of herbal medicines as adjuvant symptomatic treatments for COVID-19.4 The article, which was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, has been viewed more than 340,000 times and cited by more than 100 other publications as of mid-March 2023. He also is a co-author of the 2019 journal article titled “St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) products: How variable is the primary material?” which was published in Frontiers in Plant Science in 2019.5 Most recently, in February 2023, he co-authored a mini-review that explores the essential publications for “newcomers to ethnopharmacology.”6
Heinrich is the lead author of the reference books Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products (Wiley Blackwell, 2015) and Ethnopharmazie und Ethnobotanik: Eine Einführung (“Ethnopharmacy and Ethnobotany: An Introduction”; Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2001). He also co-wrote several textbooks, including Ethnopharmacology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), Local Mediterranean Food Plants and Nutraceuticals (Karger, 2006), and Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy (Churchill Livingstone, 2004), which is now in its fourth edition (2023), among others. Additionally, Heinrich wrote the chapter “Ethnopharmacology and Drug Discovery” in Reference Module in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering (Elsevier, 2013) and the forewords of two reference books: Underexplored Medicinal Plants from Sub-Saharan Africa (Academic Press, 2019) and Medicinal Plants: Biodiversity and Drugs (CRC Press, 2012).
“One of the strengths of Professor Heinrich is that he challenges established thinking by asking difficult but important questions,” said ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD. “His interest in the various facets of medicinal plant research has led to the breath of topics covered in his publications, making him one of the most prominent scientists in the field. My heartfelt congratulations for this well-deserved award.”
Among other affiliations and awards, Heinrich is the vice president of the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (GA), a member of the ABC Advisory Board (since 2015), previous president of the International Society for Ethnopharmacology (twice), and the recipient of the Society for Ethnopharmacology-India’s 2014 Outstanding International Ethnopharmacologist Award. He also has contributed to HerbalGram as an author and peer reviewer. In 2016, for example, Heinrich co-authored an extensive feature titled “Value Chains of Botanical and Herbal Medicinal Products: A European Perspective” in issue 112.7 He currently is editor-in-chief of the “Ethnopharmacology” section of Frontiers in Pharmacology, which has become one of the leading journals of pharmacology since it was launched in 2010.
Past recipients of the ABC Farnsworth award include Guido F. Pauli, PhD (2022); Paula N. Brown, PhD (2020); Rachel Mata, PhD (2019); the late Otto Sticher, PhD (2018); the late Raphael Mechoulam, PhD (2017); Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PhD (2016); John T. Arnason, PhD (2015); Harry Fong, PhD (2014); Gordon Cragg, PhD (2013); De-An Guo, PhD (2012); Doel Djaja Soejarto, PhD (2011); A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD (2010); Rudolf Bauer, PhD (2009); Ikhlas Khan, PhD (2008); the late Hildebert Wagner, PhD (2007); Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD (2006); and Joseph M. Betz, PhD (2005).
The 2023 Farnsworth Award was presented at the 18th annual ABC Celebration and Botanical Excellence Awards Ceremony on March 8, 2023, in Anaheim, California, during the annual Natural Products Expo West Conference and Trade Show.
The ABC Celebration and Botanical Excellence Awards were generously underwritten by the following sponsors from the US and international medicinal plant industry and community: Alkemist Labs, Amin Talati Wasserman, Applied Food Sciences, Brassica Protection Products, Eurofins, Euromed, EuroPharma, Herb Pharm, Indena, MegaFood, Natural Factors, New Chapter, NOW Foods, RFI, RT Specialty, and the United Natural Products Alliance.
- About Yushan. Yushan Fellow Program website. Available at: https://yushan.moe.gov.tw/TopTalent/EN/Intro. Accessed March 24, 2023.
- Southern Cross Plant Science: Our vision. Southern Cross University website. Available at: scu.edu.au/southern-cross-plant-science/about-us/. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- Michael Heinrich: Research summary. University College London website. Available at: www.ucl.ac.uk/pharmacy/people/professor-michael-heinrich. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- Silveiera D, Prieto-Garcia JM, Boylan F, et al. COVID-19: Is there evidence for the use of herbal medicines as adjuvant symptomatic therapy? Front Pharmacol. 2022;11. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2020.581840/full. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) products: How variable is the primary material? Frontiers in Plant Science. 2019;9(2018). Available at: www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2018.01973/full. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- Jalil B, Schultz F, Heinrich M. Where to begin? The best publications for newcomers to ethnopharmacology. Front Pharmacol. 2023;14(2023). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2023.1141502. Available at: frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2023.1141502/full. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- Booker A, Heinrich M. Value chains of botanical and herbal medicinal products: A European perspective. HerbalGram. 2016;112:40-45. Available at: herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/112/table-of-contents/hg112-feat-valuechains/. Accessed March 23, 2023.