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The Top 10 HerbalEGram Articles of 2021

By ABC Staff

Each January,Andrographis ©2022 Steven Foster the editorial staff of the American Botanical Council (ABC) compiles a list of the 10 most popular HerbalEGram articles from the previous year, as determined by the number of individual link clicks. The list reflects the topics that interested the organization’s diverse audience of researchers, educators, health care professionals, industry members, the media, and other members of the public.

The top 10 list of 2021 includes articles about the use of herbs for conditions ranging from COVID-19 to cancer, a travelogue that documents the Uighur rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea, Crassulaceae) trade in China, a report of adulteration of elder berry (Sambucus nigra, Viburnaceae) ingredients and products, and several installments from ABC’s ongoing “Food as Medicine” series.

The most-clicked HerbalEGram article of 2021 was HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley’s report on the government of Thailand’s approval of a pilot study of andrographis (Andrographis paniculata, Acanthaceae) extract for the treatment of COVID-19. The approval came after promising preliminary human trials showed that giving andrographis extract within 72 hours of symptom onset significantly improved some COVID-19 symptoms. Andrographis has a long history of use for respiratory and other conditions in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.

The second-most-clicked article, which was written by ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD, and colleagues, reviews the results of Rhodiola ©2022 Steven Fosteroriginal laboratory analyses that determined the adulteration of some elder berry ingredients and consumer products in the dietary supplement market. This is the first known peer-reviewed publication in the global scientific literature that documents the intentional adulteration of elder berry. The article also provides a comprehensive overview of elder berry’s historical uses, the growth of the US market for elder berry dietary supplements, and differences in chemical compositions among Sambucus species in trade.

Honorable mentions that narrowly missed the list include two articles about flowers with histories as colorful as their blossoms: Gafner’s “The Autumn Crocus and Its Constituent Colchicine: The Story of a Late Bloomer”1 and Steven Foster’s conservation-focused historical review “Lady’s Slippers: Once a Commercial Conundrum, Now a Conservation Success Story.”2

Below is the full list of HerbalEGram’s 10 most popular articles of 2021.

  1. Thailand Approves Asian Herb Andrographis to Treat COVID-19
    By Connor Yearsley (January)
    In December 2020, the government of Thailand approved the Asian herb andrographis, also called “the king of bitters,” to treat COVID-19. It reportedly was made available at some hospitals in Thailand, on a voluntary basis, and was to be administered within 72 hours of symptom onset. The plant’s aerial parts have benefits for other respiratory infections and reportedly improved COVID-19 symptoms in preliminary human trials in Thailand.

  2. Tales from the Elder: Adulteration Issues of Elder Berry
    By Stefan Gafner, PhD; Travis Borchardt; Melanie Bush; Sidney Sudberg; Nicolas G. Feuillère, PhD; Mathieu Y.R. Tenon; Justine H. Jolibois; Pascale J.N. Bellenger; Hong You, PhD; Rebecca E. Adams; Jeremy Stewart, PhD; Ido Dagan; Timothy Murray, PhD; David L. Erickson, PhD; and Maria J. Monagas (March)
    In 2020, sales of elder berry dietary supplements increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers increasingly sought herbal ingredients with claimed immune benefits. This sharp rise in demand, coupled with pandemic-related disruptions in the supply chain, led to concerns about potentially low-quality and/or adulterated elder berry ingredients entering the market. In this article, Gafner and colleagues reviewed previously unpublished analytical evidence from eight industry laboratories that determined the adulteration of some elder berry ingredients and products in the international market.

  3. Remembering Gabriel Howearth: Gardener Extraordinaire and Seed Saver
    By Connor Yearsley (October)
    On August 6, 2021, Gabriel Howearth, a master gardener, pioneer of the organic farming movement, biodiversity champion, and co-founder of the company Seeds of Change, was a passenger in a truck that was swept away during a flash flood in Lo de Marcos, Mexico. The truck was found later but Gabriel was not, and he is presumed dead. His family gave ABC permission to publish tributes to Gabriel. Some of his many friends and colleagues provided detailed remembrances of him, which are compiled here. They describe his prodigious green thumb, caring nature, optimism in the face of adversity, and much more.

  4. New Ownership Sought for Jim and Peggy Duke’s Maryland Property and ‘Green Farmacy Garden’
    By Connor Yearsley (December)
    The Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) is seeking a buyer for the former property of renowned ethnobotanist James “Jim” A. Duke, PhD, and his wife, Peggy. The six-acre property in Fulton, Maryland, between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, includes a house and an extensive garden called the “Green Farmacy Garden.” MUIH assumed ownership of the property when Peggy died in April 2021 but now wants to transfer it to an individual or organization that will hopefully maintain the site, including the garden, which many people have visited and been inspired by since it was established in 1997.

  5. Rhodiola Harvest in the ‘Mountains of Heaven’: The Uighur Traders of Xinjiang
    By Chris Kilham (June)
    Rhodiola root, which grows in cold, high-altitude circumboreal regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, has been used traditionally as an adaptogen and strengthening tonic. Xinjiang, China, home to the Uighur ethnic group, is the epicenter of rhodiola trade in China, and the Uighurs have used rhodiola in their traditional medicine practice. However, tensions between the Uighurs and Han Chinese have existed since the autonomous region was annexed into China, and the government’s oppression of this largely Muslim group has since made international headlines as a genocide. “Medicine Hunter” Chris Kilham recounts an expedition to Xinjiang in 2009 as he sought to document the status of the rhodiola trade in the region.

  6. Food as Medicine: Purslane (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae)
    By Hannah Bauman (August)
    Growing prolifically in temperate climates, purslane often can be considered an invasive weed. However, this succulent ground cover plant contains some of the highest known levels of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. These compounds, which often are lacking in Western diets, are beneficial for cardiovascular health, as well as management of chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma. Research on purslane is in early stages, but results of human clinical trials show that it may play a role in the fight against diabetes, asthma, and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

  7. Olivia Newton-John Foundation to Fund Research on Herbal Therapies for Cancer
    By Connor Yearsley (April)
    In October 2020, actor-singer Olivia Newton-John and her husband, herbalist John Easterling, launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation to fund scientific research on plant-based therapies to treat cancer and improve quality of life in people with cancer. Newton-John, who co-starred in the 1978 film Grease, has had cancer three times since 1992 and believes herbs have helped her greatly in managing the disease. She and Easterling now want to help find “kinder” treatments for cancer.

  8. Food as Medicine: Pomegranate (Punica granatum, Lythraceae)
    By Jenny Perez (January)
    Pomegranate fruit has a millennia-old history in art, folklore, medicine, mythology, and religion. Often considered a cure-all in traditional medicine systems of the Mediterranean and Asia, including India, the ruby-red pomegranate seeds were equally revered for their sweet-tart flavor in both sweet and savory cooking applications. Currently, pomegranate juice and extracts are researched for their efficacy in various conditions, including metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease.

  9. Research Review: Systematic Review of Human Trials Regarding Dosage, Efficacy, and Safety of CBD in Adults
    By Mariann Garner-Wizard (May)
    This summary of recent clinical trials examined evidence on the safety, administration, dosage, and efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) supplementation in adults. CBD, a psychoactive but non-intoxicating compound in cannabis, has gained popularity for various conditions, including anxiety and other mental health disorders, substance abuse recovery, and seizures. However, CBD remains controversial partly due to its legal status, which varies by location.

  10. Food as Medicine: Black Currant (Ribes nigrum, Grossulariaceae)
    By Hannah Bauman (October)
    Black currant’s history in the United States and abroad involves an interesting mix of war, industry, and traditional medicine. Banned in the United States in the early 20th century, black currant plummeted in availability and popularity. However, in its native range across Europe, it remains a popular culinary and medicinal ingredient. The berries, which contain high levels of vitamin C, anthocyanins, and fiber, have been investigated for their potential benefits for various inflammatory conditions.

Image credits (top to bottom):

Andrographis paniculata. ©2022 Steven Foster
Rhodiola rosea. ©2022 Steven Foster


  1. Gafner S. The Autumn Crocus and Its Constituent Colchicine: The Story of a Late Bloomer. HerbalEGram. 2021;18(2). Available at: Accessed January 3, 2022.
  2. Foster S. Lady’s Slippers: Once a Commercial Conundrum, Now a Conservation Success Story. HerbalEGram. 2021;18(7). Available at: Accessed January 3, 2022.