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The Formative Years of American Botanical Council Led to More Projects and More Jobs.
This is the second part of series recording the history of the American Botanical Council, published in observance of a full year's celebration of ABC's 10th year anniversary, which began November 1, 1998.

As ABC moves through the 10th anniversary year, it becomes clear that the growth of this organization is far-reaching. As founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal recalls, HerbalGram became the vehicle to stimulate the organization's expansion. After five years of working with Rob McCaleb in co-founding and directing Herb Research Foundation (HRF) and as a founding director of American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Blumenthal felt communication of herbal studies was a niche that needed filling in this country's herbal movement. American Botanical Council was the vehicle needed to empower HerbalGram and other projects to fulfillment.

In 1977 the Herb Trade Association met in Santa Cruz, California, and the pioneers of the "Herbal Renaissance" first met, as James A. Duke, Ph.D., Economic Botanist and Trustee of ABC recalls. "That was where I first met Mark Blumenthal. We all came together to further responsible research on the legitimization of herbs as real medicines. Later, I saw ABC as a vehicle to trigger and sponsor the research needed."

Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., Sc.D., Dean and Distinguished Professor of Pharmacognosy Emeritus, School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences, Purdue University, also remembers meeting Blumenthal in the late 1970s and sharing the notion that what the United States needed was a group that would promote the rational use of herbal products in a scientific way rather than through folklore. And so on November 1, 1988, American Botanical Council was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational and research organization. Dr. Tyler sits on the Board of Trustees of ABC now with the opinion that this is the organization that is fulfilling that role.

As the major pharmaceutical companies move into the herbal supplement field, Dr. Tyler feels that all the herbal product companies have a responsibility to the American public to do things right scientifically. Dr. Tyler is delighted with the publication of ABC's The Complete German Commission E Monographs -- Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. "I feel this publication is the most comprehensive study available today in the English language of the proven rational use of herbal medicine," he says. "This translation is a tremendous achievement."

In realizing its goal of providing the public the most complete resource information for the responsible use of herbs and phytomedicinals, ABC has certainly had to look forward to expand effectively. Jobs are filled now that were not imagined 10 years ago. Projects have now been completed that perhaps seemed insurmountable then.

As ABC offices and the shipping of HerbalGram gradually took over founder and director Mark Blumenthal's home, both the public and the scientific community demanded more source information about the origins and uses of botanical medicines. Communication was ever expanding through magazine subscriptions, as was Blumenthal's popularity as both a speaker and writer. More incoming telephone lines were added and it soon became obvious that someone was needed just to handle the onslaught of calls to the flourishing organization.

In the spring of 1993, Linda Prudhomme answered a volunteer request sent through the Texas State Commission for the Blind to help this burgeoning organization. Linda had received excellent telephone and customer service training at Lighthouse for the Blind in Houston, and even at the age of 15, she was working as the receptionist at Texas School for the Blind. A pleasant manner and friendly voice let callers know they were receiving efficient attention, and, after six weeks of volunteering, Linda was hired to apply her skills full-time.

Since Linda's employment at ABC, she has seen the amount of incoming calls increase. As the sales department of ABC has expanded, so have the number of national and international calls -- many from non-English speakers. It is also obvious to Linda that many visually or hearing challenged people are accessing HerbalGram. She receives calls from specially trained operators who type out her responses for the hearing impaired and she knows that many inquiries come from the visually impaired who are being read excerpts from the publication. Linda feels great pride in being able to answer any requests for more information. "The new headquarters at Case Mill has provided many fresh opportunities for ABC -- so many more inquiries are coming locally for herbal research and education within our community."

The pace was certainly picked up in early 1993 as public awareness grew about ABC. Again, this was directly impacted by Blumenthal's travel and speaking schedule. He was actively looking for a transcriptionist who could transcribe his taped thoughts and letters. When he put out the word to the Austin community, capable help showed up to fill the job.

A student of master gardening working part-time at a nursery, Karen Newton answered Mark's call for a part-time transcriptionist with an understanding of botanicals. Within a short time, she was working full-time with him, helping wherever her organizational skills were needed. She created databases and mailing files and transcribed many letters, documents, and speeches in Blumenthal's behalf. Certainly Karen has seen the amount of writing and correspondence increase greatly along with the over-all expansion of the group. "I still remember when we could all fit around the kitchen table at Spicewood for staff meetings. We've grown so far from that now," she says.

Tara Hall was another qualified person recommended to Blumenthal in 1993. A recent Boston transplant, Tara brought with her 10 years experience as an executive secretary adept at handling busy executives' demands. She met with Blumenthal who was quite impressed with her skills, but had no money to fill another position within the group. Tara had faith that something would open up, because she was really interested in joining the herbal education movement. For two weeks she volunteered with ABC, acquainting herself with Mark's travel schedule, preparing and organizing his presentation slides, and discussing Mark's visions for upcoming projects he was trying to fund. At the end of that two weeks, funding was procured and Tara's job was created.

Money was awarded for the Ginseng Evaluation Program (GEP Project) in the summer of 1993 and Tara was named project manager. Hundreds of ginseng products have been purchased for the purpose of laboratory analysis to determine ginseng amounts, types, and labeling claims of specific brands. The results will be released in HerbalGram #47 in the summer of 1999. This is the first time a project of this scope has been done

Along with her involvement with GEP, Tara was also writing grants for a book project, The Complete German Commission E Monographs -- Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines, ABC's recently published guide to effectively administering phytomedicinals. This project is a translation of the German Commission E's evaluations. In May 1998 she saw completion of this tremendous 700-page reference text and helped guide it to publishing by late July 1998. As she speaks about the tremendous growth experienced by ABC, she says, "I am so pleased and impressed with how ABC has developed and grown. The quality of the staff with dedicated, focused energy has certainly helped this organization mature into its vision." -- Nancy Beckham

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Nancy Beckham