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On the cover this issue is another of our good friend Steven Foster’s compelling photos — this time of saffron. Saffron is probably the most expensive spice on the market today, and it has been for centuries. The reason? Each plant contains only three yellow-gold stigmas per flower, and it is a laborious process to harvest these stigmas for any appreciable yield. (Reportedly, it takes 225,000 stigmas from 75,000 flowers to produce a single pound of saffron spice!) Previous HerbalGram issues have included Research Reviews of clinical trials on saffron, showing promising activity for depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and several other conditions. Most of this research is conducted in Iran, where saffron grows and is a traditional spice and herbal medicine, and where a burgeoning saffron extract industry is now producing medicinal preparations of saffron stigmas and petals. Our Canadian herbal friends Linda Woolven and Ted Snider have compiled the available saffron clinical trials and provide a thought-provoking review. They previously published an overview of herbs for erectile dysfunction in issue 99.

As part of our ongoing series of extensive botanical profiles by ABC’s Gayle Engels and Traditional Medicinals’ Josef Brinckmann, we present stinging nettle, a time-honored herb with various health benefits. This profile covers both nettle leaf and root — an example of how two separate parts from the same plant can be used for totally different medicinal applications.

The world of medicinal cannabis continues to expand quickly, both in the US and in many other countries around the world. One of the questions that continues to surface about cannabis relates to its proper taxonomy: are Cannabis sativa and C. indica two separate, legitimate species? Botanical experts Robert Clarke and Mark Merlin, PhD, explore this question in this issue. They are co-authors of the highly informative and authoritative book Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany (University of California Press, 2013). While some people in the cannabis industry may or may not find such taxonomic distinctions important, as a science-based organization, we at ABC consider such discussions not only relevant, but also interesting, and, yes, even fun!

As many HerbalGram readers are now aware, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded, in part, to the leader of a Chinese research team that discovered the highly effective antimalarial compound artemisinin, which is derived from the traditional Chinese herb sweet wormwood. Extensive study of the traditional Chinese medicine literature helped lead to the discovery of artemisinin, whose derivatives are reportedly the most potent and rapidly acting antimalarial drugs ever. This validation of the ethnobotanical approach to drug discovery is explored in great detail by HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley in his feature article.

In the quality control arena, we present news of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program’s Botanical Adulterants Bulletins, a new series of publications on adulterated herbs. Three Bulletins were published online in early May on bilberry fruit extract, grape seed extract, and skullcap herb. In these pages we have previously run extensive articles on bilberry and skullcap adulteration, but grape seed extract adulteration is a new subject for the Program. In this issue, we provide the full Bulletin on grape seed. This new series is designed to provide members of the herb and botanical industry, analytical laboratories, and other interested parties with authoritative reviews that confirm the adulteration of various botanical materials and extracts found in the US and global marketplace. The purpose of these reviews is to assist the industry in the proper analysis to authenticate the identities of botanical materials. Forthcoming Bulletins will cover arnica, black cohosh root and rhizome, ginkgo leaf extract, and numerous others. As a reminder, all documents on the Botanical Adulterants Program homepage of the ABC website are freely available to any ABC registered user. We appreciate further distribution of these important documents to stakeholders in the botanical community. In this way, we can be more certain that herbal preparations will be able to deliver the health benefits that people seek.

—Mark Blumenthal