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2020: American Botanical Council’s Year in Review

ABC adapts and thrives amid pandemic, launching new webinar series and publications


Despite the challenges and uncertainty of 2020, the American Botanical Council (ABC) continued to thrive and expand its reach, launching a new webinar series, producing new publications, and finishing a multi-year effort to completely redesign and enhance its website.

The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a strong reminder of the need for science-based information, which ABC continued to disseminate in 2020 in new and enhanced ways. Reaching members in more than 80 countries, ABC delivers vital, authoritative information about the valuable role medicinal and other beneficial plants play in health care and self-care through several channels, including an information-rich website (a new and improved version was launched in January 2021), peer-reviewed publications, an expanding Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP), the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP), an internship program for dietetic and pharmacy students, media education, webinars, lectures, and more.

“Fortunately, we at ABC were able to assess our priorities and adapt quickly to the changing environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mark Blumenthal, ABC’s founder and executive director. “I’m very pleased to say that ABC’s staff rose to the challenge willingly and brilliantly, often working harder than ever, and so we were able to not only maintain our commitment to ABC’s unique nonprofit research and educational mission, and the vast majority of our extensive publications and programs, but to actually expand some of our offerings.”

New Webinar Series and SHP Sustainability Toolkit

During its second year as part of ABC, SHP continued to promote and inspire industry efforts toward a responsible, sustainable, and regenerative herb value network. In April, SHP published “The SHP Sustainability & Regenerative Practices Toolkit,” a resource guide for botanical industry companies to assess and improve their sustainability efforts. As of December 2020, this invaluable resource had been downloaded nearly 900 times and had more than 2,000 pageviews on SHP’s website.

In addition, ABC and SHP launched a new series of free, popular webinars. Originally, the webinars were focused on sustainability and the SHP toolkit. However, after positive reception, ABC expanded the series to include webinars on subjects related to ethnobotany and single medicinal herbs in commerce. To date, some of the webinars have been viewed more than 4,000 times.

Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Updates

BAPP continued to establish itself as a leading and authoritative source of information on herbal ingredient authenticity, counterfeiting, and fraud — topics that became even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, BAPP released the revised draft of “Best Practices Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to Prevent Resale of Irreparably Defective Articles” for a second round of industry and public comment. This included revised contract language and frequently asked questions that explained how BAPP responded to 106 comments received in the initial public comment period. The comment periods will help ensure that the documents and SOP have a wide basis of industry and public support. ABC and BAPP plan to release the finalized versions of the SOP and contract language in 2021.

Internship Program Goes Virtual

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, ABC’s dietetic and pharmacy internship program, led by ABC Education Coordinator Jenny Perez, shifted to a completely online format. This involved providing virtual classes, creating educational videos, and delivering herbal medicine distance-learning kits to interns. The kits contain herb samples that interns use in virtual labs led by Perez as part of their instruction in the basics of botany, phytochemistry, and herbal preparations.

Publication Highlights

ABC published its 2019 Herb Market Report in HerbalGram issue 127 with, for the first time, same-year data for the first six months of 2020 that highlighted the increased sale of various immune-related herbs and medicinal fungi during the initial phase of the pandemic. ABC’s Food as Medicine initiative on the health benefits of common edible plants published its 60th article. These articles are consistently some of the most popular articles in ABC’s monthly HerbalEGram electronic newsletter. In 2020, HerbalGram also introduced a new Food as Medicine page, which includes highlights from a recent Food as Medicine article published in HerbalEGram.

ABC Finishes Website Redesign

Throughout 2020, ABC Special Projects Director Gayle Engels continued to lead ABC’s effort to modernize and enhance its website. The redesigned website went live in January 2021.

In addition, in 2020:

    • BAPP published three Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, one Laboratory Guidance Document, and three Botanical Adulterants Monitor newsletters, raising the total of all BAPP peer-reviewed documents to 62.
    • ABC trained four interns, introducing sixth-year pharmacy school and graduate dietetic students to the science behind botanicals and herbal medicine.
    • ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD, chaired a risk assessment group during the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (GA) eSymposium Session in September 2020.
    • Gafner also co-authored two articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and gave eight virtual presentations, including one for SANA, the International Exhibition of Organic and Natural Products.
    • ABC presented six Botanical Excellence Awards to individuals and companies for their valuable contributions to the US and global botanical community.
    • The 75th herb was adopted on ABC’s HerbMedPro database through the ABC Adopt-an-Herb program.
    • ABC issued 21 press releases.
    • ABC published four issues of HerbalGram, 12 issues of HerbalEGram, 51 issues of Herbal News & Events, and 384 HerbClips.
    • ABC purchased a residential property immediately adjacent to its headquarters at the historic 2.5-acre Case Mill Homestead in East Austin, thereby creating expansion opportunities for ABC’s nonprofit research and educational mission in the future.

As these tangible and important accomplishments show, ABC was able to continue all but its in-person activities in 2020, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. ABC is now, more than ever, being recognized worldwide as a highly credible, respected, and important source of information on the science behind herbs, herbal ingredient authenticity, and herb sustainability and conservation.