The American Botanical Council and the Alternative Medicine Foundation frequently receive inquiries on the difference between HerbMed and HerbMedPro. The answer to this question is partly historical. In 1998, there were many misconceptions about herbs; one particular double-think was to see them as both clinically ineffectual and yet dangerously unsafe—an apparent contradiction. However, the main misperception that the development of the HerbMed database set out to address was the claim that there was very limited clinical or scientific evidence to support their use. On the contrary, a search on a primarily conventional biomedical database, such as MEDLINE, returned an astonishingly large amount of high quality, published, peer-reviewed, scientific data on various aspects of herbs used for health.
Around the same time, medical informatics was expanding its reach to provide public access to the scientific and clinical data on which medical decisions are based so that not just medical practitioners, but patients too, could make informed decisions. PubMed, the publicly available interface for MEDLINE, was first released as an experimental database in 1996; in January 1998, it was redesigned and updated, then re-released.
PubMed was a powerful model and inspiration for the HerbMed database and name. In the same spirit of providing open information, our intention at the Alternative Medicine Foundation, Inc. was to make all of the HerbMed data freely available for the use of professionals and the public. Furthermore, in 1998, no other herbal information resource, either publicly or commercially available, provided evidence-based, categorized, structured and neutral information and research resources with direct links to research abstracts.
From 1998 to 2000, Soaring Bear, PhD, a research pharmacologist with a background in herbal medicine, helped design and build the prototype HerbMed database with an emphasis on speed and useful content, using minimal graphics. HerbMed has since been completely modified, re-categorized, the software rewritten, and the content hugely expanded by a succession of research pharmacologists and pharmacognosists.
In 1999, the HerbMed name was trademarked and both the underlying database and the public website that provided access to the herb records were known as HerbMed®. In 2001, the database was re-engineered to make it more robust and to enable multiple researcher-compilers to access and build the data through a secure administration site on the server. The newly engineered database made it possible to create a professional interface for the database that was named HerbMedPro™.
The ambiguity of name remains; both the underlying database and the public website are still called HerbMed, but essentially, the public website (www.herbmed.org) provides pre-computed web pages of the herb records derived from the database that have to be republished periodically as new data is entered into each record. HerbMedPro, by contrast, provides immediate access to the data generated directly from the database, ensuring continuous updating to the records as new research data is entered and published.
So both HerbMed and HerbMedPro draw from the same underlying database, but HerbMed provides access to only a subset of the herb records and is not continuously updated. The initial objective of making all the data freely available had to be abandoned after the dot-com bubble collapse. One spin-off from the dot-com era was the trickle-down funding for open-access information. The realities of funding a sustainable operation provided the impetus for developing HerbMedPro, the subscription-based, professional version. Nonetheless, the public HerbMed website still provides full access to the 20 most popular herbs, with an additional new Herb of the Month available each calendar month.
HerbMedPro has other advanced features not found in HerbMed. While HerbMed provides a simple search function, HerbMedPro has an advanced search engine. You can search on individual entries or summaries, using author name, journal references, or specific keywords. For example, instead of searching through all the entries in the turmeric (Curcuma longa) record for articles on its effect on the prostate, the user can enter prostate as the search term and choose C. longa from the herb list to find just those articles.
Additionally, the user can search for herb actions and health indications, drawn from the underlying extra information fields in the database. For example, the user can search for articles that address any herbs that have anti-inflammatory actions that might be helpful in arthritis. The Dynamic Updates feature is available on both HerbMed and HerbMedPro, whereby search terms are provided for each herb, to automatically pull up all the most recent publications, from MEDLINE via PubMed, for any specific category of research.
HerbMedPro provides paid access to the entire database, either through direct individual membership (in HerbMedPro alone or via membership in ABC at the Academic level and higher) or by licensing. The membership option works best for individuals, academic and commercial research groups, and libraries providing the resource for their staffs and students. Licensing is ideal for governmental or private groups that wish to stream the database across to their own server to combine with other data resources, or to add functionality, extra data, and features.
HerbMedPro provides a powerful tool for those who regularly research the scientific literature on herbs, be they writers, educators, or product developers. Individuals can join via ABC’s secure online ordering system. To determine if a higher level of membership or licensing is the better option for your organization, contact ABC at 512-926-4900.
Jacqueline C. Wootton, MEd, is founder and president of the Alternative Medicine Foundation, Inc, in Potomoc, Maryland and director of HerbMed and HerbMedPro.