Each January, the editorial staff of the American Botanical Council (ABC) compiles a list of the 10 most popular HerbalEGram articles from the previous year, as determined by the number of individual link clicks. The list reflects the topics that interested the organization’s diverse audience of researchers, educators, health care professionals, industry members, the media, and other members of the public.
The top 10 HerbalEGram articles of 2020 included two stories on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chains for botanical ingredients; reports about global issues including the kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae) trade in Vanuatu and the alleged racial motivation behind the murder of a Maya healer; a review of a documentary that extols the potential benefits of fungi; and several installments from ABC’s ongoing Food as Medicine series, a project helmed by ABC Education Coordinator Jenny Perez in collaboration with HerbalGram Associate Editor Hannah Bauman that presents research on health-promoting foods that consumers commonly find in local grocery stores.
The most-clicked HerbalEGram article of 2020 was a Food as Medicine article about black elder berry (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae). All parts of the elder plant, including its flowers and root bark, have been used for medicinal purposes, but many people associate the dark-purple fruits with cold and flu season because of their immune-regulating properties. The article was published in February at the height of the cold and flu season in the United States and as the COVID-19 virus was spreading rapidly around the world. Author Perez took a deep look into the folk traditions of elder berry and the progress modern research is making to determine its mechanisms of action.
The second-most-clicked story, by HerbalEGram guest contributor Karen Raterman, investigated the impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain for herbal supplement ingredients. Raterman interviewed many representatives from botanical suppliers and supplement manufacturers about this ongoing situation and learned how these companies are balancing the safety of their workers, the unprecedented surge in demand seen in March and April 2020, the challenge of sourcing ingredients, and how, moving forward, these challenges may help build a stronger industry.
Below is the full list of HerbalEGram’s 10 most popular stories of 2020. All articles can be found on ABC’s website at https://herbalgram.org/resources/herbalegram/.
- Food as Medicine: Black Elder Berry (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae)
By Jenny Perez (February 2020)
Once called the “medicine chest of the country people,” the elder shrub has long been a source of food and medicine and is associated with longevity and vitality. Every flu season, many people turn to preparations made from its deep-purple berries to ward off and shorten the duration of flu symptoms. With a tradition of medicinal use that spans centuries, elder berries are becoming one of the most popular immune system strengtheners in the world.
- Herbal Companies Brace for Supply Chain Impacts of COVID-19
By Karen Raterman (April 2020)
The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to be fully realized, but many business sectors, including the herbal industry, have already experienced significant disruptions. As the virus continues to spread around the world, many consumers have turned to herbal products marketed or traditionally used for immune health benefits. This surge in demand, particularly for herbal materials usually sourced from China, the original epicenter of the outbreak, has forced many companies to look for new suppliers or alternative formulas. Despite these unprecedented challenges, responsible members of the herbal industry remain optimistic and committed to delivering quality products for consumers.
- Food as Medicine: Cashew (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae)
By Jenny Perez (October 2020)
The curious case of the cashew: It belongs to the same family as poison ivy (Toxicodendron spp.), grows at the end of a pseudofruit, and goes through a lengthy processing procedure to reach store shelves. Cashew is high in fat and also contains fatty acids, tannins, and other polyphenols that may aid a number of metabolic conditions with minimal impacts on weight gain.
- The Rising and Falling Fortunes of Vanuatu Kava
By Chris Kilham (July 2020)
“Medicine Hunter” Chris Kilham traveled to the Republic of Vanuatu, an island country in the South Pacific, in February 2020 to gain a better understanding of the kava trade there. Kava root, which has prized anxiolytic and sedative properties, is the source of a traditional beverage that has been an important part of South Pacific culture for thousands of years and, more recently, has gained international attention. Kilham has monitored the kava trade in Vanuatu since 1995, but Cyclone Harold in April 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak have created a unique situation and hardships for kava farmers, producers, and exporters.
- US Supplement Sales Rise Sharply during First Six Months of 2020
By Tyler Smith (August 2020)
In the first half of 2020, some ingredients traditionally used for immune support saw dramatic sales increases, by percentage, compared to the same time period in 2019, which suggests that many consumers may have turned to natural remedies to help maintain and protect their health, especially at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the limited published research on botanicals for COVID-19.
- Food as Medicine: Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa, Malvaceae)
By Jenny Perez (August 2020)
Bright red and pleasingly tart, the hibiscus flower has become popular in tropical climates as part of a cooling beverage in warm weather and a seasonal cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, Ericaceae) replacement in the winter. Traditionally, hibiscus was used for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and fever-lowering actions. Based on these traditional uses, modern research is studying hibiscus as a potential cardioprotective aid, metabolic aid, and more.
- The Murder of Maya Healer Domingo Choc Che: A Q&A with Mónica Berger Gonzalez and Michael Heinrich
By Connor Yearsley (September 2020)
In early June 2020, Domingo Choc Che, a Maya traditional medicine expert, allegedly was accused of witchcraft and burned alive by a group of people in Chimay, Guatemala. At the time of his death, he was part of a project to document traditional medicinal plants in the Petén department of Guatemala. Choc Che’s murder reflects longstanding racism and ignorance in the region and reinforces the importance of projects like the one he was working on. This article includes a Q&A with two of Choc Che’s colleagues, who provide insights about who he was and what should be learned from his murder.
- Less Gas with Lemongrass? Burger King Aims to Reduce Methane with Modified Cattle Diet
By Connor Yearsley (October 2020)
In July 2020, the “reduced-methane” Whopper® debuted at select Burger King locations in the United States. The burger is sourced from cattle that were fed lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus, Poaceae), which Burger King claims has the potential to reduce methane emissions from those animals by up to 33%. The initiative has created some controversy, but it may be a step in the right direction for reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.
- Fantastic Fungi Film Explores the Magic and Mystery Underneath Your Feet
By Connor Yearsley (April 2020)
Fungal species greatly outnumber plant species and have existed longer than land plants, but people often forget about fungi, which help ecosystems flourish. Fantastic Fungi: The Magic Beneath Us, a documentary that features notable naturalists like Paul Stamets, explores the complexity, diversity, and versatility of fungi. The film shows that fungi and their derivatives can alleviate existential distress, break down oil, filter water, and much more.
- Food as Medicine: Moringa (Moringa oleifera, Moringaceae)
By Jenny Perez (April 2020)
All parts of the moringa plant, including its long, alien-looking pods, have been used medicinally in Asia, including India, and Africa, but moringa leaf specifically may provide a solution to malnutrition and maternal health in underserved communities. Drought resistant and packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein, moringa has been labeled as a plant that “might save the world.”