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Of the myriad ways plants have adapted to their environment, none are more curious than carnivorous plants — plants such as the Venus flytrap and pitcher plants that have developed anatomical structures and chemistries that allow them to attract, trap, and digest insects and other arthropods. Our cover story this issue features the amazing Venus flytrap, the inspiration for the man-eating plant in the original 1960 movie The Little Shop of Horrors. Although they have limited documented medicinal value — some have claimed anti-cancer effects of a proprietary extract of the plant — Venus flytraps are considered threatened in their habitats in a relatively small area of the eastern United States. HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley documents the current vulnerability of these curious creatures.

ABC’s Gayle Engels and Traditional Medicinals’ Josef Brinckmann provide an extensive profile on nigella, or black cumin, an herb that has been used as both food and medicine since ancient times. As nigella becomes increasingly popular in the United States and elsewhere, new research is emerging on its potential use for a variety of conditions, including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

 According to our annual herb market reports, turmeric has been the top-selling herbal dietary supplement in the US natural food retail channel for the past four years. Turmeric supplements often consist of extracts standardized to certain levels of compounds collectively referred to as curcuminoids, or simply “curcumin,” and sales have been driven by reports of anti-inflammatory effects and other potential benefits as shown in a growing body of published clinical trials. A critical review of curcumin for its potential use as a purified compound for development as a conventional pharmaceutical drug was recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, and it concluded that curcumin is not a likely conventional drug candidate. However, the authors left the door open for possible benefits of chemically complex turmeric and curcumin standardized extracts. Media reports of this research erroneously announced that turmeric has no health value. We attempt to clarify this confusion in our Research Review section.

In recent years, there has been increased research on the potential medical benefits of hallucinogenic substances, such as psilocybin, which is derived from fungal species of the genus Psilocybe and other genera. Yearsley provides a review of two recent clinical trials on psilocybin for the reduction of anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer.

 Western-trained natural products chemist and pharmacognosist Edward Kennelly, PhD, a member of the ABC Advisory Board, recently completed his Fulbright Scholar Program in Hong Kong. In one of our featured articles, Kennelly and colleague Clara Lau, PhD, a pharmacognosist and expert in traditional Chinese medicine, share their perspectives on the development and modernization of traditional Chinese herbal medicine in one of the world’s most modern cities.

In March, the 2016 ABC Excellence Awards were presented at the 12th annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony at the Natural Products Expo West trade show and conference in Anaheim, California. As usual, we provide a narrative and photos of this event. Of particular note is that the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award was granted to Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PhD, the President of the Republic of Mauritius. This marks the first time that one of our awards has been given to a head of state. President Gurib-Fakim is an advocate for African medicinal plants, and she has been a member of the ABC Advisory Board for many years.

Finally, we are deeply saddened to include in this issue a tribute to our dear friend and colleague, the late Fredi Kronenberg, PhD. Among her many other activities and accomplishments, Fredi was a pioneer in the area of complementary and alternative medicine research for women’s health, and she served on the ABC Board of Trustees for 18 years, from 1999 until her death in April. Fredi co-founded and directed the Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Columbia University, and, for 10 years, she directed the week-long botanicals training course for physicians and other health care providers at Columbia. Our extensive tribute by HerbalGram Associate Editor Hannah Bauman attempts to document her significant influence in the fields of botanicals, nutrition, and integrative medicine. Her positive impact has been immeasurable. ABC and the natural medicine community at large owe her our heartfelt gratitude for her life of service to us all.

—Mark Blumenthal