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Herbs of Commerce. Second Edition
Herbs of Commerce. Second Edition

Herbs of Commerce. Second Edition. Edited by Michael McGuffin, John T. Kartesz, Albert Y. Leung, and Arthur O. Tucker. American Herbal Products Association. 2000, hardcover, 421. pp. ISBN 0967871905 $95.00 ABC catalog #B475

As a trade association, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has made various attempts at developing self-regulation guidelines for the herb industry. The first edition of Herbs of Commerce, (HOC 1) published in 1992 included scientific names, family names, common names, including a "standardized" or usual common name for herbs then in the trade was one such effort. The intention was that AHPA members and, presumably, other industry members would comply with use of the standardized common name as published in the first edition. Few manufacturers, even within AHPA, seemed to fully follow the organization's attempt at a lead. For example "eleuthero" was the suggested standard common name for Eleutherococcus senticosus in HOC 1, yet most manufacturers continued to use the name "Siberian ginseng" to refer to products made from the plant. Since that time the industry and AHPA have matured considerably. Back then, AHPA was a fledgling one-person half-time home office. Now it is a fully staffed, professional trade association located in earshot of the Federal government, making a difference in how the world sees the herb trade and how the herb trade sees itself. These differences are certainly reflected in the leap from HOC 1 to the new, greatly expanded second edition of Herbs of Commerce (HOC 2).

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), for better and worse, provided an entirely new playing field for the regulation of herb products. One of the regulations implemented by the Food and Drug Administration requires the use of common names on product labels, and that "The common or usual name of ingredients of dietary supplements that are botanicals (including fungi and algae) shall be consistent with the names standardized in Herbs of Commerce, 1992 edition." The second edition of Herbs of Commerce is suggested to be the leading guide document to determine whether or not an ingredient is "grandfathered" under DSHEA, that is, marketed in the U.S. before October 14, 1994. Those do not require safety and toxological data to be submitted to the FDA as a "new dietary ingredient" prior to marketing the product. Whether this will come to pass or not is up to the FDA in the final analysis since HOC 2 appeared six years after the implementation of DSHEA.

The second edition of the AHPA's Herbs of Commerce more than triples the number of plants listed in the first edition. The new edition is much better organized for ease of use, compared with the first edition, in two broad sections. Section 1 lists ingredients by Latin name and the second lists them by common names. Section 1 lists 2,048 separate species alphabetically by Latin name in boldface type (including the botanical authority - the person(s) who named the taxon), followed by the scientific family name, botanical name synonym (if applicable) standardized common name (SCN) in bold, followed by other common names, or in the case of Chinese ingredients, the pinyin name, and for Ayurvedic ingredients, the Ayurvedic names. If the Latin name is an older synonym, the entry leads the user to the currently accepted scientific name. Section 2 of the book is organized alphabetically by Standardized Common Name in boldface type. Appendices include a table of common names changed between HOC 1 and HOC 2 and a useful bibliography. Adding to further ease of use, the book is well indexed.

What can you say about a book, which simply lists names of plants? It is important to underscore the process that created it and its very important role in the present market and all its peripheral information resources.

Although listing a name seems like a simple enough task, considerable research has been necessary for each and every entry. Given the malleable state of botanical nomenclature, it sometimes requires a library of botanical works to find a "one-size-fits-all" name. That includes making sure each scientific name is up-to-date, requiring checking taxonomic literature for the latest information. Resolving inconsistencies present in the literature on citation of botanical authorities is itself a daunting task often requiring seeking the original publication in which the name appeared. Teamwork was required to achieve consensus at the standardized common name, including resolving differences between common names in use horticulturally, by botanists and field workers, and by the herb trade. The task becomes even more complex with plant materials of Asian, South American, or African origin, many of which do not have common names in English. Spelling of Chinese and Ayurvedic names required careful input from experts familiar with the source materials. HOC 2 was largely a volunteer effort spearheaded by Michael McGuffin both before and after he assumed the position as Executive Director of AHPA. It required thousands of hours of thankless work.

Use of HOC 2 and compliance with use should be second nature to all in the herb industry. If there's one area that most in the herb industry can agree on, it would seem to be conforming to the use of a single common name with a corresponding Latin binomial for the many hundreds of herbs in commerce. I'm afraid many in the herb trade will simply buy one copy of the book and tuck it away in the corporate library for the enterprising employee to occasionally reference. However, this is a book that we should all have on our desks. Let's speak the same language when it comes to the naming of plants. HOC 2 is a tool that allows us to do just that. This book should be in the research department, quality control offices, product manager's desks, graphics department, marketing department, Internet services department, and management of each and every herb company. It should also be used by pharmacists, healthcare practitioners, suppliers, writers, art directors, researchers, professors, and, in short, everyone with a professional interest in the supply, research, information, instruction and marketing of herbs. HOC 2 will only become a standard reference for common and scientific names of herbs if potential users make it just that.

-Steven Foster