ABC’s flagship magazine noted internationally for quality, reliability, and beauty in reporting on medicinal plants
August 2018 marks the August 2018 marks the 35th anniversary of HerbalGram, the quarterly journal of the American Botanical Council (ABC). Since its first issue in 1983, HerbalGram has transformed from a black-and-white newsletter to a full-color, 82-page journal with the visual appeal of beautiful botanical photography and intellectual draw of peer-reviewed articles. Though HerbalGram has evolved significantly, its editorial mission to serve as a reliable herbal education resource has remained the same.
In the summer of 1983, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal produced the first issue of HerbalGram, which was then titled “Herb News” with the subtitle “Herbalgram.” Blumenthal, who also was running his former herb distribution business, Sweethardt Herbs, spent many of his nights and weekends collecting, writing, and editing articles for the newsletter. It was this focus on disseminating trustworthy and timely herbal information that would eventually lead Blumenthal to found ABC in 1988.
Originally published with financial support from the newly formed American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), of which Blumenthal was a founding board member, the first HerbalGram was an eight-page, black-and-white newsletter stapled at the spine. It consisted of “herb blurbs” on herbal miscellanea, a “media watch” section with herb-related news articles, a handful of paragraph-long “Rob’s Research Reviews” authored by then-Associate Editor Robert McCaleb (who, at the time, was also head of research at Celestial Seasonings), listings of herbal information resources and schools, and more. The editorial staff included just Blumenthal and McCaleb, who also co-founded the Herb Research Foundation (HRF) together.
For the second issue, Blumenthal enlisted two additional part-time assistant editors. The publication now featured the title “Herbalgram” in larger font. This issue took on a more defined format, with organized sections on industry news, conferences/meetings, HRF news, and “potpourri” — a catch-all section featuring various news items of possible interest to the growing herbal industry and community.
In the following years, HerbalGram transformed into a modern force in the botanical medicine community. In 1988, HerbalGram issue 18/19 was the first color edition with a cover illustration of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae). This 48-page double issue also was the first published under the auspices of both HRF and ABC, which Blumenthal founded with the late ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD, and the late Professor Norman Farnsworth, PhD, in order to help transition the publication from newsletter to journal. In 1992, issue 28 was the first full-glossy, four-color issue, and featured an image of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants from the Harvard Museum of Natural History on the cover. The journal increased to its current length of 82 pages in 1999, and, in 2000, issue 50 was the first to be published by ABC alone.
Eighteen years and almost 70 issues later, the editorial staff of HerbalGram has grown to include an art director and three full-time editors, in addition to Blumenthal, who serves as editor-in-chief, along with many other employees at ABC who serve in a variety of other important roles. The journal features articles both from in-house writers and botanical experts from around the world, and all are peer-reviewed by members of ABC’s distinguished advisory board or other professionals with relevant expertise. HerbalGram reaches thousands of readers in more than 81 countries who represent a range of diverse professions, from research scientists (e.g., pharmacognosists, ethnobotanists, etc.) and health practitioners (e.g., herbalists, naturopathic physicians, pharmacists, conventional physicians, etc.) to industry members, government regulators, and many others.
HerbalGram has been a leader in presenting extensive literature reviews on specific herbs in an effort to help establish a scientific basis for their potential health benefits. In some cases, these reviews can also help clarify erroneous or inappropriate claims about the uses of the herbs.
“HerbalGram has served as the go-to source for detailed perspectives on developing herb-related topics for 35 years,” said Steven Foster, an herbalist, photographer, author, and ABC Board of Trustees member. “The publication is at the forefront of covering topics such as herb conservation and the effect of climate change on herb crops, clear assessments of regulatory and market developments, as well as emerging science.”
Foster added: “The depth of coverage, detailed quality of presentation, rigorous peer-review process, meticulous editorial attention, aesthetic beauty, and broad appeal [of HerbalGram] combine to reach a standard of lasting excellence that few science-based periodicals achieve.”
Recent HerbalGram issues have featured significant articles such as issue 118’s pictorial on Joseph Banks’ historic Florilegium of botanical life that was encountered on Captain Cook’s first South Pacific voyage; issue 116’s beautiful and informative deep-dive into medicinal trees of North America; and issue 103’s feature about the effects of climate change on the quality of tea.
Each year, HerbalGram also publishes its annual Herb Market Report, which describes the trends of the botanical dietary supplement market in the United States and frequently is cited in other publications. Additional in-depth key articles published in recent issues have included a look into the history and pharmacology of the emerging Southeast Asian tree kratom (Mitragyna speciosa, Rubiaceae); a pet supplement herb market report; notes from a 17th-century ethnobotanical expedition to South Africa; and many more.
Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, praised HerbalGram’s diverse content. “When my HerbalGram arrives in the mail, I know I will begin another journey into the wonders of the herbal kingdom,” he said. “While I no longer save other magazines, I treasure and hold tight to my copies of HerbalGram. I, along with many others, salute ABC and HerbalGram for its 35 years of service to the advancement of consumer, industry, and professional education, high level of professionalism, and documenting the rich history of our remarkable community.”
In November 2011, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) published its first feature-length article — “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs” — in HerbalGram issue 92. The article, written by Foster, reviewed numerous cases of adulterated, fraudulent foods, spices, and drugs during the past two millennia. HerbalGram also has published extensively peer-reviewed BAPP feature articles on the adulteration of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae) extract, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae) herb, so-called “grapefruit seed extract,” and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) in addition to Foster’s epic 22-page article, titled “Toward an Understanding of Ginseng Adulteration: The Tangled Web of Names, History, Trade, and Perception.”
In 2012, ABC introduced an online “page-flip” version of HerbalGram that is optimized for viewing on smartphones, tablets, and computers. In 2016, all issues of HerbalGram became available in PDF format, from 1983’s issue 1 through the current issue, thanks to a digitizing project overseen by Art Director Matt Magruder in 2016. Before that, only issues 85 and above were available as PDF files.
HerbalGram is available as a benefit of ABC membership at the Individual level and up. It also is sold in some bookstores and natural food stores.