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Celebrating 50 issue of HerbalGram

The magazine you hold in your hands is the fiftieth issue of HerbalGram. Started in 1983, HerbalGram reflects the growth and concerns of the herbal movement in those years, as well as the development of publishing technology.

HerbalGram started as a labor of love by Rob McCaleb and me,” said Editor and Publisher Mark Blumenthal. “At that time there was little, if any, reporting to the general public or health professionals on the scientific research of herbs.”

Blumenthal and McCaleb co-founded the Herb Research Foundation (HRF) as vice president and president, respectively; the American Botanical Council was formed some six years later, in 1988, by Blumenthal. McCaleb continues to direct HRF.

“Doctors don’t generally read journals like Planta Medica, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Journal of Natural Products, or the other excellent sources of peer-reviewed scientific information on herbs,” McCaleb said. “We started HerbalGram with the idea of letting healthcare professionals, the general public, and the media know that there was, and is, high-quality research on the safety and benefits of herbs for all kinds of health problems and, perhaps more importantly, for helping to maintain and improve health.”

HerbalGram has featured writing by some  of the leading authorities in the herbal move- ment: Francis Brinker, James Duke, Norman Farnsworth, Steven Foster, Christopher Hobbs, Loren Israelsen, Peter Landes, Varro Tyler, and Roy Upton, just to name a few. 

“Certainly, HerbalGram is the best all around herbal medicine publication in the U.S., if not the world,” said Varro Tyler. “I’ve read it almost since its inception. Aside from the evolution of the format, the increase in content has been the biggest change.”

For the first 49 issues, Barbara “BJ” Johnston served as managing editor.  “I enjoyed most working on articles about people. For example, Richard Evans Schultes (issue no. 38) was a great ethnobotanist, an astounding man who went into the unexplored jungle. He is a true hero of mine. Look at all the plants he identified and brought back for further research.”

BJ first created HerbalGram on a glorified typewriter and a daisy wheel printer. On to nascent desktop publishing software by the tenth issue, BJ said, “It was like taking Conestoga wagons into the wilderness; you had to figure it out as you went.”

At the twentieth issue, HerbalGram was printed on a four-color press, and photographic images and artistic design filled the pages with color. Four art directors have added flair to the appearance of HerbalGram. Diane Perwein developed the HerbalGram logo on the cover, followed by Ira Kennedy, Ginger Hudson, and Natalie Reittinger.

In addition to the rigorous scientific standards set for articles, HerbalGram brought attention to the beauty of plants, featuring articles on medicinal plant stamps of Yugoslavia (issue no. 30), an exhibit of glass plant specimens at Harvard University (no.  28), plants in porcelain (no. 38), botanical jewelry (no. 29), dried plant sculpture (no. 26), African ethnopharmacology artifacts (no. 47), the flora of Louisiana (no. 41), tea (no. 37), medicinal plants of Shakespeare (no. 35), Tibetan medical paintings (no. 31), and an excerpt from the National Geographic book, Nature’s Medicine (no. 49).

Conservation of the unique environments that produce medicinal plants is another topic discussed in HerbalGram articles about the Amazon (no. 33), Mexico’s Copper Canyon (no. 34), and the Stoltmann Wilderness (no. 48).

HerbalGram is a real tool for the professional,” McCaleb said, “whether in medical practice or the herbal industry, and for people learning more about herbs from a solid scientific perspective in an interesting way.”

Certain issues continue to warrant space in these pages: the activities of the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies, the state of the market as reflected by consumption of herbal products, and, of course, scientific research and conference reports. These years of work and the standards of quality have been noted, formally, by Utne Reader, which twice in three years, nominated HerbalGram as one of the best magazines in alternative magazine publishing.

 “We have attempted to chronicle the development of the herb movement in the U.S.,” said Blumenthal. “And we are extremely grateful for the recognition and support we have received from our readers.”    Karen Robin, ABC  


[Note: Special “50th Issue” celebration rates now apply to back issues of HerbalGram. Visit ABC’s  website: ]