Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Dear Reader

Many ABC members say that they appreciate our in-depth coverage of various topics of interest to the global botanical community. Our cover story on ginseng counts among these comprehensive articles. This 22-page article with 112 references has crowded out other articles proposed for this issue, including some of our usually published Research Reviews, book reviews, and an obituary, which will be published in our next issue.

Steven Foster’s excellent review of the history of the nomenclature, taxonomy, and trade in ginseng (i.e., plants of the genus Panax) — produced for the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program — is one of the most extensive articles we’ve ever published. Foster’s first article for the Program in HerbalGram issue 92 covered the history of adulteration of herbs, spices, and botanical drugs in the past two millennia; it documented the unfortunate fact that people have cheated since the beginning of modern civilization (and, presumably, before). He has also written articles on the adulteration of skullcap (issue 93), bilberry (issue 96), and black cohosh, the latter being the cover story of issue 98 in 2013.

In order to fully understand the nuances related to ginseng adulteration, we believe that it is essential to have knowledge of its evolving nomenclature and taxonomic classification, as well as how it has been traded in the past several hundred years, particularly since the discovery of American ginseng in the early 18th century. Accordingly, Foster has spent a good portion of the past several years researching this subject, including his collecting data on the use and misuse of the common name “ginseng” in trade and in scientific research — nomenclatural nuances that have added significant confusion and misinformation in the global herb trade.

PubMed searches for trade names such as “Siberian ginseng” (eleuthero; Eleutherococcus senticosus), “Indian ginseng” (ashwagandha; Withania somnifera), and “Brazilian ginseng” (Pfaffia paniculata) result in numerous citations. It is disappointing to find that scores of researchers used these confusing common names in the titles of research papers. This misuse of the name “ginseng” only muddles and confuses issues, and does not further scientific accuracy.

Accompanying Foster’s seminal article are historic images and illustrations of ginseng, some of which are the first publications in Western literature of ginseng images from the 17th and 18th centuries. This evinces Foster’s knowledge of the historical literature on herbs in general, and ginseng in particular.

This article is the first of a two-part series on ginseng adulteration. The next ginseng article from Foster will focus on the types of ginseng adulteration and which laboratory analytical methods have been developed to detect such adulteration. We expect to publish it in the coming months as part of the growing educational coverage the Program is producing to inform members of industry and related stakeholders on the problems associated with accidental and intentional (fraudulent) adulteration of botanical raw materials and botanical extracts.

Editor Tyler Smith and colleagues have produced the annual HerbalGram Herb Market Report showing in detail how retail herb supplement sales in the US grew 7.5% in 2015 to almost $7 billion — a trend in line with past years of continue growth. This increase occurred despite significant negative publicity for the herbal supplement category resulting from the New York Attorney General’s misguided DNA analysis of herb products at major retailers last year.

The maca market in China has experienced significant changes. Acupuncturist and Chinese herb expert Eric Brand contributes news about the fluctuations in price of Chinese-grown maca in the Chinese market.

In the arena of sustainability, we also include Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley’s review of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s recent sobering State of the World’s Plants report, documenting the serious peril of many plants with respect to their survival. An estimated 391,000 vascular plants on earth — almost 21% — are threatened with extinction!

Finally, ABC’s Gayle Engels and Traditional Medicinals’ Josef Brinckmann continue their series of in-depth profiles on commonly used medicinal plants, this time focusing on the dog rose, also referred to as rose hip, a traditionally popular ingredient in many herbal teas and vitamin C dietary supplements.

—Mark Blumenthal