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Members of the American Botanical Council Advisory Board — who provide expert peer review for HerbalGram articles, among many other essential tasks — hold a variety of esteemed positions around the globe. Earlier this year, ABC was pleased to discover that one such member had accepted a new type of position — a first for the Advisory Board. In June, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was named president of the small Indian Ocean island republic of Mauritius; she is the first woman president of that country and probably the first medicinal plant scientist to hold this exalted position in any country.

This issue’s cover photo of arnica reflects the herb profile by ABC’s Gayle Engels and Traditional Medicinals’ Josef Brinckmann on this popular herb that can be found most often in topical creams. Although the botanical rarely is used internally in modern phytomedicine, arnica is possibly the most widely used herb in homeopathic preparations.

We are always interested in clinical trials that attempt to document the safety and efficacy of various herbs and phytomedicines. Craig Hopp, a pharmacognosist at the US National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, formerly NCCAM) provides a general review of NCCIH/NCCAM-funded clinical trials on herbs, most of which have resulted in less-than-encouraging outcomes.

Despite some negative research findings (and there are many positive research studies, too), consumer and professional demand for herbal dietary supplements continued to grow in 2014. As discussed in our annual Herb Market Report, herbal supplement sales in the US increased by an estimated 6.8% last year, with sales growth in all channels. We are grateful to our colleagues at Nutrition Business Journal, SPINS, and IRI for their continued collaboration to produce what many consider to be the most comprehensive annual report on the sale of herbal supplements in the US, something we’ve been doing in HerbalGram for more than 15 years. And, interestingly, so far as we are aware, this is one of our most-cited articles.

Whether this continually growing demand will persist in 2015 is a question on many people’s minds, particularly after the strongly negative media firestorm on herbal supplements that was generated by the New York Attorney General’s (NY AG) unfortunate misuse of DNA testing technology. However, sales data for early 2015 are showing continued strong demand for herb products, particularly multi-herb formulations. (The AG’s erroneous conclusions that the herb capsules he had tested from four major retailers were mislabeled — as misreported by the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets — were covered extensively in our previous issue.) 

And yet, as we have been saying for many years, there are problems regarding the quality and identity of some herbal ingredients, despite the NY AG’s botched and non-credible investigation. ABC members and long-time readers of this publication will recall that ABC has been managing a consortium of nonprofit organizations and others in the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program. We’ve previously published extensive reports in these pages about accidental and intentional adulteration of various herbs (bilberry fruit extract, black cohosh, so-called “grapefruit seed extract,” and skullcap). Now the Program moves to another level, not only reporting on cases of adulterated herbs (stay tuned), but also providing resources and remedies for in-house and third-party laboratories: the Laboratory Guidance Documents (LGDs). These extensively peer-reviewed documents were created to help industry and third-party analytical labs save time and money in determining the suitability of various analytical methods to authenticate particular ingredients and detect potential adulteration. The Program’s LGDs published thus far have summarized and evaluated literally dozens of methods (21 for skullcap and 39 for bilberry). This can really be a boon to industry members, and eventually, to consumers, health professionals, and researchers.

This issue also has an introductory article by Jahan Marcu on the endocannabinoid system to help readers better understand the growing positive clinical data on the health benefits of cannabis; a guest editorial from toxicologist Amy Roe about the lack of a common framework from which to gauge the need for herb-drug interaction studies in humans; and Karen Raterman’s review of the recent BMPEA problem in which a few companies were selling an unapproved stimulant drug as an herbal extract, claiming it was derived from an acacia tree.

-Mark Blumenthal