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Creating HerbMed®— A Combination of Expert Curation and Automatic Generation


An article in a previous issue of HerbalGram provided a brief history of the HerbMedPro database and the exclusive arrangement that the database’s originator, the Alternative Medicine Foundation, has with the American Botanical Council.1 This new column will highlight features of the database and provide news on development of basic content and extra functionality.

One fundamental characteristic of HerbMedPro, and the underlying HerbMed database, is that it is built incrementally as a structured, scientific database. It combines the power of expert curation (the process of organizing and supervising the compilation of data) and automatic compilation of data from multiple electronic resources. Although much of the scientific research data is drawn from the US National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database, searching HerbMedPro yields creative cross-referencing and new information that cannot be obtained from PubMed alone. The records viewed in HerbMedPro may look like static files or documents, but they are frequently updated by expert compilers and can be automatically enhanced by the user when clicking on the “Live Links to PubMed” search feature.

The tasks of the expert compilers of the database are the following:

  1. To research the literature from various online published sources;

  2. To categorize and sub-categorize the data;

  3. To summarize briefly each item and hyperlink it directly to the source data.

Expert compilers must be thoroughly conversant with the scientific literature on medical herbs and need to be scientists, usually PhD pharmacologists or pharmacognosists, and have an unusually broad knowledge of the field so that they can correctly identify relevant literature and other research resources and allocate data to the correct category or subcategory. They all work within the strictly impartial framework of presenting neutral, categorized data.

Each herb is identified by scientific, family, and common names, and the research information that has been identified is sorted into clear categories and subcategories, as follows:

  • Evidence for Efficacy: Human Data from Clinical Trials; Case Reports; Traditional/Empirical Use;

  • Safety Data: Adverse Events; Interactions; Contraindications;

  • Evidence of Activity: Animal Studies; Pharmacodynamics; Analytical Chemistry; Pharmacokinetics; Genetics & Molecular Biology;

  • Formulas and Blends: Modern Methods of Preparation; Patents; and where appropriate, whether the herb is used as a component in a Folk Blend or Contemporary Mixture;

  • Other Information: Pictures & Distribution Maps; Cultivation, Conservation, and Ecology; Related Links;

  • Dynamic/Live Search Updates.


Finally, the expert compiler writes a brief, one-sentence summary for each database item. Essentially, this is a one-sentence “bottomline” statement of the main findings of the published research or trial, whether positive, negative, or inconclusive. The compiler does not make a judgment on the quality or reliability of the document. The goal is to state simply and briefly the findings of the original article.

The neutral presentation of research information in HerbMed means that it is available for a variety of uses and interpretations by companies, researchers, educators, government bodies, health science libraries, and other similar organizations. Access through HerbMedPro provides clear categorized medicinal plant data on which users can base their own judgments and policy, based on their own organizational priorities and goals.

ABC’s HerbMedPro team is continually updating the database by building new herb records and updating existing ones, particularly those that have been “adopted” through ABC’s new Adopt-An-Herb program. This is quite an intensive process. Continuous comprehensive coverage for users is facilitated by the unique and powerful Dynamic Updates feature, where search terms are provided to automatically pull up all the most recent publications for any specific category of research and information for each herb.

Due to the combination of expert-curated categorization and summaries and dynamically generated data, HerbMed has a breadth and comprehensiveness that enables creative cross-referencing and unexpected links that provide fresh insights for a variety of users and needs.

The HerbMedPro database is available to all ABC members at the Academic level and higher. Information on how to set up a subscription, license the content, or use the Pay-Per-Day feature is available at www.

Jacqueline C. Wootton, MEd, is founder and president of the Alternative Medicine Foundation, Inc, in Potomac, Maryland and director of the HerbMed® and HerbMedPro databases.


1. Wootton J. ABC acquires the popular herbal database HerbMed. HerbalGram. 2008:78:14.