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ABC and SHP Launch Webinar Series Focusing on Sustainability, Ethnobotany, and Plants in Commerce


In August 2020, the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) announced a new series of free webinars as part of the SHP Sustainability and Regenerative Practices Toolkit, a collection of resources and best practices for the botanical industry. Since then, largely due to the success of the first webinars, the SHP webinar series has evolved into a joint ABC-SHP webinar program with three tracks or series: the original SHP Toolkit series, an Ethnobotany series, and a Plants in Commerce series.

The SHP Toolkit series of webinars, moderated by SHP Director Ann Armbrecht, PhD, features conversations with experts in botanical sustainability and related fields. As of early October 2020, there have been three SHP Toolkit webinars: “Personal Wellness for Young Adults in the Time of COVID” with Tieraona Low Dog, MD, an internationally recognized integrative medicine physician, author, and educator; “Botanical Supply Sustainability in the Time of COVID” with Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, Angela McElwee, president and CEO of Gaia Herbs, and Ajay Patel, founder and CEO of Verdure Sciences; and “The Business Case for Sustainability” with Andrea Zangara, head of scientific marketing at Euromed, and Brian Zapp, creative director at Applied Food Sciences.

Two new webinars in the SHP Toolkit series have been scheduled: “Leadership and Mission: Creating a Culture of Sustainability and Regeneration” with Sebastian Pole, co-founder of Pukka Herbs, and Tal Johnson, CEO of Herb Pharm (November 19, 2020); and “Paths to Regenerative Farming in the Botanical Industry” with representatives from Gaia Herbs, Herb Pharm, and Mega Foods (December 3, 2020).

“I have been thrilled with the richness of the conversations that have been possible through this webinar series,” said Armbrecht. “We have also been able to reach a far wider and more diverse audience than would ever be possible at in-person events, which is exciting as well.”

Armbrecht also publishes related articles with more information and extended conversations with the webinar speakers on SHP’s blog. Links to these articles and descriptions of past and planned webinars can be found on SHP’s website.

Webinars in the Ethnobotany series “explore themes of plants, people, and commerce through the lens of ethnobotany,” according to SHP’s website. As of this writing, ABC and SHP have held two webinars in this series. The first webinar, “Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany,” featured a discussion with ethnobotany experts, researchers, and authors Mike Balick, PhD, and Paul Cox, PhD, based on the recently released second edition of their book of the same name (CRC Press, 2020). In “Ethnobotany and the Secret Life of Plants,” Claudia Ford, PhD, an ethnobotanist, educator, and author, discussed medicinal plant use by African slaves in the American South during the 19th century.

Two additional ethnobotany webinars are currently scheduled: “From Peru to Pompeii: What Everyone Needs to Know About the Amazon with a Chaser of the Ethnobotany of Ancient Wine” with Mark Plotkin, PhD, of the Amazon Conservation Team (November 12, 2020); and “Cultural Values of Medicinal Plants” with Nancy Turner, PhD, an ethnobotanist and professor at Michigan State University (December 10, 2020). Wade Davis, PhD, explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society, and Steven King, PhD, executive vice president of sustainable supply, ethnobotanical research, and intellectual property at Jaguar Health, have also agreed to be featured speakers in future ethnobotany webinars, with topics and dates to be announced.

The Plants in Commerce webinars focus on individual herbs and include discussions with experts on quality and sustainability issues. The first Plants in Commerce webinar, held in early October, was on “Saw Palmetto: A Conversation on Sustainability, Quality, and Authentication” with herbal expert, author, and photographer Steven Foster; ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD; Umasudhan Pal, CEO and president of Valensa International; and Edward Fletcher, president of Native Botanicals. The next Plants in Commerce webinar will focus on elderberry (Sambucus spp., Adoxaceae).

According to ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal, the webinar series is an example of how ABC has been able to adapt during the pandemic to continue to serve its members and the public.

“Our new series of webinars is based on the basic nonprofit research and educational mission of ABC,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “Our webinars provide additional value to ABC members, giving them more opportunities to learn directly from many key experts in the various fields associated with herbalism. And, they are free!”

So far, the webinars have exceeded expectations in terms of viewership and, as with most of ABC’s content, these webinars are reaching a global audience. Balick and Cox’s ethnobotany webinar was particularly popular. More than 3,370 people in at least 38 countries had watched the live or recorded version of the webinar as of October 15, 2020.

“The Plants, People, and Culture webinar was truly the best I have watched in recent times,” noted one attendee, Nelle Rose, in feedback submitted to ABC (email, September 18, 2020). “Balick and Cox were full of joy and reverence. Together, they gave us a flowing narrative that was authentic in reflecting their basic theme of how stories matter.”

How to Watch

All webinars are free and available to the public. Participants must register for the event beforehand, and registration links are available on the webinar description pages, which can be found on ABC’s Webinars page and SHP’s Webinar Series page. Attendees can watch the webinars live on Zoom and Facebook Live, and participants are invited to submit questions in advance of and during the webinar. For those who are unable to attend the webinar, recorded versions are available for free on ABC’s Facebook page, SHP’s Vimeo channel, and through SHP’s and ABC’s websites.

ABC and SHP are currently planning additional webinars. For a full list of scheduled webinars, visit ABC’s Webinars page or SHP’s Webinar Series page.