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Reflections on 100 Issues of HerbalGram


In contemplating the 100th issue of HerbalGram, I engaged in a process of consecutively looking back through each journal issue, page by page. It was a personal journey, as I have been involved with this publication and its predecessors for my entire adult life, stretching back to 1978. To the twenty-somethings of the current editorial HerbalGram staff, who know me as an aging, balding, slightly overweight guy past his mid-50s, please realize that I've been with the publication since I was younger than you are now.

The process of my personal HerbalGram retrospective took much longer than originally anticipated. I often stopped to reread an article or, in some instances, read an article for the first time. HerbalGram indirectly grew out of an occasional newsletter issued by the then-fledgling, now-defunct Herb Trade Association (HTA), which issued its first HTA Newsletter in March of 1978 with Fred Hathaway and Myron Keene as co-editors. By 1979, the HTA Newsletter had become Herb News, edited by Mark Blumenthal from the Herb Trade Association’s office in Austin, Texas, where it had moved from Santa Cruz, California, when Blumenthal became the third president of HTA. Postal distribution of the 32-page publication was limited as evidenced by the fact that the copy in my archives, postmarked January 9, 1980, is hand-addressed in the penmanship of the publication’s editor and publisher, Blumenthal.

Herb News quickly evolved. In the summer of 1981, Blumenthal wrote:

“HERB NEWS started about two and a half years ago when I was President of the Herb Trade Association. I wanted to start a newsletter for the membership to apprise them of what was going on in the association, what new information was available about herbs, new books on the scene, herbal and related conferences, industry and regulatory news, etc…The feedback thus far has been highly favorable. . . . Since the herb movement has gained so much momentum in the past few years, there has been an increasing need for a publication which attempts to funnel much of the information about the herb industry and related matters into one space. We are quite confident that this endeavor will continue to grow, just as the herb movement seems to have no end in sight.”*

Blumenthal seemed to be on to something.

By then, Herb News was 34 pages with a two-color cover. Blumenthal wanted a mechanism to inform readers about breaking news between issues of Herb News (long before the Internet). As a result, in 1983, HerbalGram was born as an eight-page newsletter.

To make a long story short, the Herb Trade Association folded, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) filled the void, and Blumenthal remained as editor and publisher of HerbalGram, with Rob McCaleb as associate editor. HerbalGram was published as a joint publication of the Herb Research Foundation (founded by McCaleb and Blumenthal) and AHPA (of which they were founding board members). This arrangement continued until the Summer 1988 issue 17, which became the first issue jointly published by the Herb Research Foundation and the newly formed American Botanical Council. Issues 18 through 53 continued to be jointly published by the two organizations. In the spring of 2002, with issue 54, HerbalGram became solely the journal of the American Botanical Council.

Since its inception as an eight-page newsletter in 1983 to its current iteration as an 80-page, four-color, quarterly hybrid of a scientific/professional journal and attractive magazine, Blumenthal has guided the editorial pen across the published pages of HerbalGram.

HerbalGram reflects the diversity of what Blumenthal envisioned as “an herb movement that seems to have no end in sight.” Within the estimated 7,500 published pages of the first 100 issues of HerbalGram, one essentially finds the golden key for unlocking the full spectrum of herbal knowledge for the past, present, and future. HerbalGram provides an important historical record of the evolution of laws and regulations affecting herbs, herbalists, and herb products over the last 30 years. The evolution of modern herbal science also is reflected in its pages. The coverage has been definitive and often has affected the direction of contemporary herbal thought.

When HerbalGram was first published, the late medicinal plant research giant, Prof. Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, used a rubber stamp on his correspondence that stated “Save the Endangered Species Pharmacognosy.” Now the study of natural products — along with complementary and alternative medical modalities — are normal undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate education programs at hundreds of universities. HerbalGram has been at the forefront of information in a time period during which herbs have emerged from obscurity and fading folk traditions to part of mainstream public healthcare policy developments on a global basis.

Reflective of Blumenthal’s ahead-of-the-curve vision of the herb industry, HerbalGram was there to anticipate and reveal trends often before they were realized elsewhere. For example, adulteration issues were first highlighted in HerbalGram in 1983 (in a short piece I wrote warning industry members of the adulteration of skullcap [Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae] with germander [Teucrium spp., Lamiaceae]). The publication reflects scientific consensus and controversy in a wide range of academic disciplines and interests — botany, history of pharmacy, history of medicine, ethnobotany, ethnobiology, conservation, sustainable development and right livelihood, phytochemistry, pharmacology, and clinical traditions (mainstream and alternatives: traditional, historical, contemporary) — all in one place, all on one planet. (When HerbalGram was first published, very little, if any, of the subjects covered by the journal were covered by the natural food and dietary supplement industry trade magazines of the day. Nowadays, such publications carry articles on herbs and herb-related issues in every edition.)

A unique blend of review articles, public interest pieces, and original peer-reviewed research, HerbalGram has been variously referred to as the Scientific American, National Geographic, and Readers Digest of herbal periodicals.

HerbalGram is the source for visually rich, scientifically sound, and engaging reading that reflects the depth, breadth, and diversity of the herbal renaissance of the late 20th and early 21st centuries — one of the most important 50 years in the evolution of human understanding of herbs and medicinal plants.

The table below is a subjective list of the items found in each issue that struck me as having an impact, at least on my thinking, and the highlights of what strikes me as most useful or still of interest in each issue. Other readers may have completely different lists, and that’s part of the beauty of HerbalGram. There’s something of interest for everyone in each issue. 

Click here to view 100 issues of HerbalGram table