The American Botanical Council recently donated the Heber W. Youngken Sr. Herbarium to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). Consisting of about 7,000 sheets of medicinal, spice, dye, and allied plant specimens, the herbarium is primarily the life’s work of the late Heber W. Youngken, Sr. (1885—1963), who is considered the father of modern pharmacognosy, the science that deals with medicinal products of natural origins, usually plants.
Dr. Youngken built the medicinal treasure house while he was professor of pharmacognosy at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) in Boston (1923—1956). ABC acquired the Youngken Herbarium in 2000 from MCPHS.
"ABC has a long, mutually supportive relationship with BRIT. When the Youngken collection was in danger of being lost, ABC stepped forward to save it even though maintaining herbarium samples for research is not within our scope of activity," said Mark Blumenthal, executive director of ABC. "BRIT does an excellent job of providing high quality botanical research materials and is the perfect place to house the collection."
"We are excited and proud to receive the Youngken Herbarium," said S.H. Sohmer, Ph.D., BRIT’s director. "A major part of BRIT’s research program is called ‘Plants and Peoples’; it focuses on documenting the plants used by different peoples of the world for the maintenance of human health and the treatment of human diseases. This herbarium will be a cornerstone of this program."
Youngken wrote the definitive texts used by two generations of upcoming pharmacists and pharmacognosists, Textbook of Pharmaceutical Botany (1914), Laboratory Manual of Botany (1929), A Textbook of Pharmacognosy (1921), Laboratory Notes on Pharmacognosy (1927), and more than 100 research papers in his field. Pharmaceutical manufacturers often sought his opinion on plant medicines and issues of adulteration. He also served as botanical editor of the 21st through 25th editions of the United States Dispensatory, was a member of the National Formulary Revision Committee, and served for 40 years as a member of the United States Pharmacopeia Revision Committee. He received the Ebert Medal in 1925 and 1931 from the American Pharmaceutical Association and was named its honorary president.
The Youngken Herbarium contains his hand-written descriptions of the identity and details of collection for the specimens that he collected. An internationally known authority on the taxonomic and morphologic aspects of pharmacognosy, Youngken also added other collectors’ medicinally relevant specimens from around the world to his renowned herbarium.
Based in Fort Worth, Texas, BRIT’s mission is to conserve our natural heritage by deepening our knowledge of the plant world and achieving public understanding of the value plants bring to life. With a collection of approximately one million dried plant specimens representing most of the earth’s plant families, BRIT has one of the largest herbaria in the United States, which is the largest independent herbarium in the Southwest and one of the world’s best collections of Texas plant specimens. Its botanical library houses more than 75,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and journals from more than 90 countries. Along with its education program, BRIT conducts research on plants and publishes journals (such as Sida) and books on botany. For information about BRIT, visit its website <www.brit.org>.