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HerbalGram celebrates 40 years of bringing ancient herbal traditions back to life in AmericaHerbalGram celebrates 40 years of bringing ancient herbal traditions back to life in America

The American Botanical Council is celebrating the 40th year of publication of its magazine HerbalGram by inaugurating a year-long public engagement project.

Hank Schultz

September 27, 2023

4 Min Read
ABC Founder Mark Blumenthal

 HerbalGram, the magazine of the American Botanical Council (ABC), has reached its 40th anniversary, the organization announced recently. In that time, the publication has helped herbal remedies go from oddball outliers to mainstream products for millions of Americans. 

Project to commemorate anniversary 

The organization is celebrating the anniversary by beginning a project called the HerbalGram 40 Project and Fund. The year-long effort is meant to enhance the organization’s international, nonprofit research and educational mission, publications and programs. 

Interested parties are encouraged to use the website to explore ABC’s offerings as well as to suggest improvements and new avenues of inquiry. And, as ABC is a non-profit organization, users of the website may donate to the effort as well. 

Long history of herbal use 

The use of herbs and other natural materials for medicinal purposes predates the written word.  Evidence from a burial in Iraq puts that date at least 60,000 years ago. 

The earliest written documentation of the use of herbs for healing purposes can be found on a Sumerian clay tablet that is approximately 5,000 years old.  

And that tradition took hold in medieval Europe, where medicinal herb gardens have been documented in the history of the Benedictine monastic order, founded in Italy in 529 AD. 

The use of herbs for healing had a history in the United States, too. Compounding pharmacies prepared formulas that included extracted herbs starting in the 1800s. But by about 1950, factory-made pharmaceuticals had almost completely subsumed that practice. 

Herbalism retreated to the fringes of the healthcare system, and the knowledge base of that practice was in danger of eroding in this country. 

Stepping up to preserve knowledge 

That’s when, in the early 1980s, ABC founder Mark Blumenthal, then the owner of an herb wholesale company in Austin, Texas, and Rob McCaleb, then the research director at Celestial Seasonings herbal tea company in Boulder, Colorado, came together to create HerbalGram. 

The first HerbalGram was an 8-page newsletter that hit the presses in the summer of 1983. 

The first edition told of the founding of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) as well as the Herb Research Foundation, a sister organization to ABC. For the first five years, HerbalGram was the official publication of both organizations. 

In 1988, Blumenthal joined with renowned ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Ph.D. (1929–2017), and acclaimed pharmacognosist Norman R. Farnsworth, Ph.D. (1930–2011) to establish the nonprofit ABC. The goal was to develop HerbalGram into the four-color, peer-reviewed publication it is today. 

Over the years, many hundreds of articles have been published that have delved into the science behind herbal products, their quality issues, regulatory concerns and more. It is information that prior to the start of the publication was available in only a few difficult-to-find scientific publications. 

Providing thought leadership 

“The history of HerbalGram’s first 40 years of publication reflects much of the history and evolution of the modern herb and medicinal plant movement in the United States and beyond,” said Blumenthal in a press release. “Many of the articles in HerbalGram provided thought leadership to the emerging herb community, in areas of research, clinical practice, industry and product development.” 

Blumenthal added: “Over the past few years, numerous ABC members and various herb community colleagues have stated repeatedly how important it is for those of us who have many years of experience in the herb movement to write its history for the benefit of the younger leaders who are embracing the herbal agenda, and for future generations.” 

In the latest issue of HerbalGram (#138), Blumenthal lays out the history of the publication in a seven-page article.  In addition, ABC will publish a series of four timelines that will detail how HerbalGram has changed the modern landscape for these products. 

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About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz is senior editor of Natural Products Insider. He is an experienced journalist with a long career in daily newspapers followed by more than a decade in the natural products industry. When he's not in front of a computer, Hank can be found on a bicycle, a mountain trail, the gym or at the helm of a sailboat.

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