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Finn Sandberg 1920–2011
Internationally respected pharmacognosist and medicinal plant researcher Finn Sandberg, PhD, passed away in July of 2011 at 91 years of age. Among his many accomplishments, he is remembered as one of the pioneers of the Asian Symposium of Medicinal Plant Science, Spices and Other Natural Products (ASOMPS) conference series and a champion for scientists in developing countries.

Professor Sandberg “was a man with many facets: pharmacologist, pharmacognosist, phytochemist, herbal products enthusiast, etc.,” said R.O.B. Wijesekera, a former colleague who memorialized Prof. Sandberg in an article in Link Natural Products Digest—the newsletter of the Sri Lanka-based company Link Natural Products, which specializes in Ayurvedic health, wellness, and personal care products.1,2

“There was no question regarding his dedication and genuineness,” said Wijesekera (email, March 16, 2012). “Personally, I shall miss his cheery presence as will so many scientists the world over.”

In his early career, Sandberg joined the Royal Institute of Pharmacy in Stockholm, Sweden in 1954, as a professor of pharmacognosy.

“He was very much respected in the beginning of his career,” said Lars Bohlin, PhD, a former student and colleague of Prof. Sandberg’s (email, February 17, 2012). “He introduced both pharmacology and biochemistry as new subjects in the curriculum, [and] he developed pharmacognosy from morphology to a modern subject including phytochemistry and pharmacology.”

At times, Sandberg’s research focused on the pharmacological properties of plant alkaloids and saponins, both of which are naturally occurring secondary metabolites. Later, he became interested in medicinal plants on a global scale.

Sandberg was also known for having developed a simple field test for detecting biological activity in plant extracts. “He delighted in demonstrating this technique in workshops held in several developing countries, including Indonesia and Ghana,” said Jack Cannon, a friend and former colleague of Prof. Sandberg’s (email, March 19-28, 2012).

In 1968, Sandberg transferred to Uppsala University, where he spent most of his professional life. In addition to his reputation as a researcher, Sandberg was instrumental in creating a series of medicinal plant conferences in in Asia.

“[Finn] took a leading role in the establishment of ASOMPS, which … soon became a major forum for young scientists in Asia,” said Cannon. “In later years, scientists from industrialized countries were attracted to these meetings, and the research of scientists in the region reached a wider audience.”

Cannon is currently working on a history of ASOMPS, which he says is a tribute to Prof. Sandberg’s vision and accomplishments. “It was planned to present a specially bound copy of the history to Finn at ASOMPS XIV,” said Cannon. “However, Finn’s illness and the unrest in Pakistan forced the indefinite postponement of ASOMPS XIV, and the history … remains unpublished.”

Shortly after his 80th birthday, Sandberg co-authored Natural Remedies: Their Origins and Uses (Taylor & Francis, 2001) with Desmond Corrigan of Trinity College in Ireland. The 192-page pharmacognosy textbook, designed for pharmacy students and others, begins with an introduction to the history of botanical pharmacognosy and quality control of herbal medicines. The largest section of the book, organized by body system, contains descriptions of herbs used for various ailments.

Later in his career, Sandberg traveled extensively throughout Africa, South America, and Asia on research expeditions. Wijesekera described him as “a man who developed a tenacious rapport with the scientific researchers of four continents.”1

“[One of] his most proud achievements was that he inspired research in so many laboratories around the world doing hands on duty in conditions so different from his native Sweden,” said Wijesekera. “Many of the third world scientists he associated with became his lifelong colleagues and some of the younger ones even became his students.”1

In recent years, the ASOMPS committee proposed the creation of the Sandberg Medal for research in plant-based bioactive agents by scientists in developing countries. “It is an objective we sincerely commend to a sponsor as a fully worthy one,” said Wijesekera. “With him now gone the scientists of the third world and those dedicated to phytochemistry, pharmacology, and bioactive plant products, have lost perhaps their best friend.”1

—Tyler Smith

As all plants are made resplendent by sunshine and dew,

Our world is made richer by the life of one like you;

If you seek Finn’s monument, then look around the world,

For the tradition of his learning his wisdom and his name;

But surely he lived for ends, more durable than fame.1

R.O.B. Wijesekera


1. Wijesekera R. A memorial tribute to a global authority on medicinal plants. Link Natural Products Digest. 2011; 7(2):27.

2. Welcome to Link Natural Products. Link Natural Products website. Available at: Accessed March 28, 2012.