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Dear Reader

I was a bit skeptical when I first saw the initial submission of the article on potential effects of moon phases on medicinal plants, featured in this issue. My left-brained mind flashed an “Are you kidding?” message, which I quickly shunted aside upon remembering how much force the moon has on the Earth—particularly ocean tides. I also had to acknowledge the issue of menstrual cycles (both moon and month have obvious etymology), as well as the conventional wisdom or myth that more babies are born on or near the full moon than any other time of the month (a notion that has not held up to some recent research). Additionally, I had to take the subject seriously as the person who submitted the article is my dear friend and colleague Michael Balick, PhD, a member of the ABC Board of Trustees and an internationally respected ethnobotanist. Ian Cole and Dr. Balick’s article is both fascinating and compelling. It reviews agricultural and plant collection practices throughout history and from various cultures suggesting lunar influences on plant composition based on harvest times, and it points out the potential value of additional research into this topic.

In another article featured in this issue, HerbalGram staff writer and assistant editor Lindsay Stafford has delved into the widespread use of herbs and other forms of traditional medicine in Cuba, where access to conventional Western medicines has been severely limited due to the US-imposed trade embargo. Cuba’s system of natural and traditional medicine has evolved over time, incorporating the practices of indigenous and immigrant groups. Its current prevalence in Cuba attests to the local availability, widespread cultural and political approval, and supposed effectiveness of herbal medicines.

Last spring, the US Food and Drug Administration pulled a weight-loss product called Hydroxycut® off the market in the United States due to concerns related to 23 cases of liver problems associated with the use of this line of products. Some people questioned whether the alleged hepatotoxicity of Hydroxycut (the product has not been proven to be toxic) might be associated with hydroxycitric acid (HCA), one of the primary ingredients in some of the Hydroxycut formulations (not all Hydroxycut formulations contain HCA). Pharmacognosist Sidney Stohs, PhD, and colleagues have written a review of the toxicological and pharmacological literature on HCA and have determined that HCA is a safe ingredient with no evidence of liver toxicity. (We should emphasize that the publication of this review is not an endorsement of the safety of the Hydroxycut product per se, but simply a review of the safety of one of the ingredients used in some forms of the product. Like all features and most articles in HerbalGram, this safety review was formally peer reviewed.)

Also in this issue, Tony Cunningham, an internationally respected medicinal plant conservation expert, and ABC Advisory Board member Josef Brinckmann, vice-president of research and development at Traditional Medicinals, describe the efforts of a current project to sustainably collect southern schisandra fruit from China, as well as the potential market possibilities of this relatively under-utilized botanical.

An article in the legal-regulatory section discusses the attempts of Lyle Craker, University of Massachusetts professor and ABC Advisory Board member, to obtain federal permission to grow high quality cannabis for medical research, as well as what appears to be the government’s blocking of potential competition to the long-established government-authorized cannabis production at the University of Mississippi. As more clinical data continue to support the relative safety and efficacy of cannabis for a variety of indications, and now that 14 states have allowed its medicinal use, it is obvious that this issue will remain relevant.

Finally, we profile butcher’s broom, an herb widely utilized in Europe for its cardiovascular benefits but which is still not popular in the United States, despite its fairly impressive clinically documented properties for treating symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency.

–Mark Blumenthal