Heather Oliff, PhD, has written about six HerbClip™ articles per month for the American Botanical Council (ABC) since 1999. In August 2020, she wrote her final HerbClip as a regular contributor.
“For the past 20 years I have regularly thought, ‘It’s time to write that HerbClip!’” Oliff said (oral communication, August 25, 2020). “Now that I don’t have to do that, [it will be] odd.”
A valuable resource for scientists, researchers, health professionals, industry members, and others, HerbClips are two- to three-page summaries and critical reviews of scientific journal articles that cover medicinal plant-related human clinical research, analytical methods, regulatory data, market information, ethnobotanical reviews, conservation and sustainability studies, and more. While about one-fifth of the entire database of HerbClips is available to the public, all HerbClips are available to ABC members at the Academic level and above. When possible, the original article summarized in the HerbClip is also available to download. New HerbClips are issued twice monthly, generally in batches of 16, and according to HerbClip Managing Editor Lori Glenn, 8,052 HerbClips were available online as of August 31, 2020. Oliff estimates that she has written 1,550 HerbClips, or almost 20% of the total number.
Selected HerbClips are subjected to an additional round of peer review and editing for publication as Research Reviews in HerbalGram, ABC’s quarterly, peer-reviewed journal. Oliff’s first Research Review was published in HerbalGram issue 53 in 2001; to date, she has authored 128 articles for HerbalGram.
After earning her doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of California, Irvine and working in post-doctoral research, Oliff formed her own company, Scientific Consulting Group, LLC (SCG), in 1999 and began medical writing full time. ABC was her longest consistent client since she founded SCG.
“I’m fortunate at this point in my career to be very busy,” Oliff said of her decision to end her contract with ABC. “It’s a bittersweet farewell. On one hand, I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family. On the other, it’s like something is missing.”
When Oliff began writing HerbClip articles, the process was analog and done through the US Postal Service. Authors received printed copies of the articles and sent in their drafts through the mail. Members received hard copies of the HerbClip summaries. The first electronic HerbClips were sent out in 2007 and the entire process moved online in 2009.
Regardless of the format, Oliff appreciated the variety of articles that HerbClip authors received for review and said that being an HerbClip author gave her a competitive edge in her medical writing business.
“It helped me stay up on the current literature because I would have to read articles all the time, and it broadened my knowledge base, not just for herbs but for therapeutic conditions,” Oliff said. “Lori or previous managing editors would send me articles, and it didn’t matter if it was cardiovascular or dermatological. This enabled me to have a larger breadth of knowledge compared to other medical writers who try to focus on one area.” However, in general, Oliff says that the areas she is most passionate about are neurological diseases.
In addition to her expansive knowledge of various herbs and conditions, Oliff said her biggest takeaways from her years as an HerbClip author were the work of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) and the amount of ongoing research on herbs. The impact of herbal research, she said, influenced her as both a consumer and a scientist.
The amount of quality research submitted for review initially surprised Oliff. “It’s great that so much research is ongoing,” she said. “There’s definitely a future in plant-based medicine. A lot of people automatically assume that there isn’t any research in this area, so I like having that knowledge.”
Glenn joked that she is in “denial” about Oliff’s retirement (email, September 3, 2020). “When I began working at ABC 18 years ago, Heather was already a seasoned writer. During these nearly two decades, she has not only consistently produced quality critical reviews and summaries but has become a friend. Whether it’s been sharing the joys of her two daughters’ accomplishments as they’ve grown up or the discovery of our similar taste in music, there has been ‘a whole lot of history,’ and I will sorely miss her.”
Moving forward, Oliff will continue medical writing, but with a lessened (“Just a little bit lessened!” she clarified) workload, which will allow her to spend more time with her husband and two daughters. However, she wants to leave the door open for future projects with ABC, such as product-specific monographs. Recently, in 2019, Oliff authored ABC’s updated product-specific monograph on Pycnogenol® (Horphag Research; Geneva, Switzerland), a proprietary extract of French maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster subsp. atlantica, Pinaceae). And perhaps, once she has truly retired, she will start writing HerbClips again for fun.
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal commented: “Heather has been a truly remarkable and valuable asset to ABC for 21 years. She has done excellent work, and her drafts usually require relatively little editing. Her amazing efforts are contributions to the herbal medicine community at large. Imagine writing more than 1,500 research summaries — an astonishing feat! While we are sorry to lose her as an HerbClip writer, we are deeply grateful that she will continue to work with ABC on special publications.”
Oliff concluded: “I am sad to be closing this chapter of my life. ABC has been an important part of my life and my business. I enjoyed … being part of the herbal community. It’s sad to say goodbye.”