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American Botanical Council Hosts Annual Botanical Excellence Awards Ceremony


The American Botanical Council (ABC) hosted its 14th annual American Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 6, 2019. The event took place at the Hilton Anaheim during the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California, and focused on ABC’s 30th anniversary, which occurred in November 2018.

The ceremony is held each year to honor the recipients of the ABC Botanical Excellence Awards and celebrate the supporters of ABC’s nonprofit educational mission. This year, more than 350 guests attended, including ABC Sponsor Members, Adopt-an-Herb participants, and supporters of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program and the new Sustainable Herbs Program. Many members of ABC’s Board of Trustees, Advisory Board, and Director’s Circle also attended. Guests enjoyed lively conversation, vegetarian hors d’oeuvres, and cocktails.

Mark Blumenthal, ABC’s founder and executive director, summarized ABC’s accomplishments in 2018 and then introduced Jim Emme, the CEO of NOW Health Group, who received the 2018 ABC Champion Award for his generous support of ABC. Blumenthal also presented the 2018 ABC Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award to husband and wife Larry and Linnea Wardwell, who have been organizing and promoting herbal medicine conferences for more than 25 years. Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC’s chief science officer, presented the 2018 Varro E. Tyler Commercial Investment in Phytomedicinal Research Award to GW Pharmaceuticals. Founded in 1998, the Cambridge, England-based company’s focus is “to bring novel, cannabinoid-based prescription medicines to patients in areas of serious unmet need.”1Alice Mead, vice president of US public policy and public affairs at Greenwich Biosciences (the US subsidiary of GW Pharmaceuticals), accepted the award on GW’s behalf.

Gafner also introduced the recipient of the 2018 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award: Otto Sticher, PhD, a professor, pharmacist, pharmacognosist, and natural products chemist from Switzerland. Sticher accepted the award via a prerecorded video.

The 2018 James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award went to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research, Volumes I and II (ESPD50). HerbalGram Associate Editor Hannah Bauman presented the award to Dennis J. McKenna, PhD, the editor of ESPD50. Published by Synergetic Press, the book contains the proceedings of the groundbreaking 1967 ESPD symposium and the 50th anniversary symposium held in 2017.

Finally, the second annual ABC Fredi Kronenberg Excellence in Research and Education in Botanicals for Women’s Health Award was presented by ABC Trustee Peggy Brevoort to Aviva Romm, MD, a midwife, herbalist, author, and Yale-trained physician who is a recognized expert in botanical medicine. Romm accepted the award via video.

Historic Compilation of Psychoactive Research Receives James A. Duke Botanical Literature Award

ABC gives the Duke Award annually to books that contribute significantly to the medicinal plant-related literature, and the fields of botany, taxonomy, ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, phytomedicine, and other related disciplines.

The Duke Award was created in 2006 to honor economic botanist and author James A. Duke, PhD, who died in December 2017. Duke’s prestigious career achievements in economic botany and ethnobotany included decades of work at the United States Department of Agriculture and the authorship of more than 30 reference and consumer books. Among his many other activities and positions, he was also a co-founding member of ABC’s Board of Trustees.

Public interest in the field of psychedelic and psychoactive substances is growing: Tourists travel in increasing numbers to the Amazon to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies, which involve a traditional psychoactive brew made of multiple Amazonian plants; more clinical studies are being conducted on the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin, a psychoactive compound from mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe (Hymenogastraceae) and other fungal genera; and an attempt to restrict access to kratom (Mitragyna speciosa, Rubiaceae), a botanical with pain-relieving properties, in the United States in 2016 caused such an outcry that the proposal was withdrawn.

All of the sessions at the 2017 symposium were live-streamed on Facebook to an audience of more than 100,000 people, and ESPD50 is currently in its third print run to meet consumer demand.

McKenna commented: “Many discoveries were made in the five decades between the 1967 symposium and the 2017 symposium. The topics covered were timely then, and are even more timely now, as the habitats and cultures that are the holders of the knowledge are disappearing rapidly…. Science has always looked to nature for psychoactive remedies that may be used to alleviate human suffering. It is my hope that these symposium volumes will inspire a new generation of young investigators to continue this quest.”

Blumenthal praised McKenna and his colleagues for their accomplishment. “This two-volume set is a major contribution to the world’s literature on psychoactive plants and fungi,” he said. “The growing body of compelling clinical research on compounds from psychoactive plants and fungi to provide remedies for a variety of existential and medical conditions continues to underscore the need for more research in this vital area. It is clear that many psychoactive plants and fungi and their compounds will become welcome medicines of the future, and that future is not far off.

“Dr. McKenna and his colleagues are to be commended for their pioneering work in this area,” Blumenthal continued. “I am certain that Dr. Duke would strongly approve of ABC’s choice of these books to receive his eponymous award.”

Michael J. Balick, PhD, a respected ethnobotanist and vice president for botanical science and director and philecology curator at the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, agreed. As a member of the ABC Board of Trustees, Balick served on the selection committee for the Duke Award. “Dr. McKenna has compiled, in a single reference, a remarkable collection of scholarship relating to plants and fungi that indigenous cultures have used to ‘enter the other world,’” he noted, “and in doing so, he has created a resource that will serve a generation of scholars who are interested in this fascinating relationship among botanicals, phytochemicals, and people. This is especially interesting as he has included many papers of historical importance based on the first symposium 50 years prior. Bravo to Dennis and his colleagues for organizing the meeting that led to this publication and, as editor, for bringing it to fruition.”

Professor Otto Sticher Receives Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award

ABC presents this annual award, named in honor of the celebrated Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, to an individual who has made significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other scientific disciplines related to medicinal plants. Farnsworth, who died in 2011, was a highly published and internationally renowned research professor of pharmacognosy, a senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the founding members of ABC’s Board of Trustees.

Sticher, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland (ETH Zürich), is best known for his pioneering work on the chemistry of plant compounds known as iridoids. He also has made extraordinary contributions to the development of analytical methods for quality control of herbal medicines and to the knowledge of the chemistry and medicinal properties of many extracts and isolates from plants, bacteria, and marine organisms.

For more than 50 years, Sticher has been at the forefront of research in the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, natural products drug discovery, and analytical chemistry. He published what may have been the first HPLC-UV (high-performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet) analytical method to measure ginsenosides in ginseng (Panax spp., Araliaceae), and established a ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgoaceae) extract fingerprint, which includes the separation of 33 ginkgo flavonoids.

According to Gafner: “The latter is not only an amazing piece of liquid chromatography, but also one of the first papers to consider evaluating the quality of an herbal extract not by a single marker compound, but by the entirety of its chemical composition, or fingerprint.”

The impact of Sticher’s many scientific contributions goes well beyond his more than 400 scientific papers, book chapters, and books (most notably the textbook Pharmakognosie – Phytopharmazie, which is now in its 10th edition). He taught and mentored many students, and some of the most prominent natural products researchers (e.g., Kurt Hostettmann, PhD; Ikhlas A. Khan, PhD; A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD; Gabriele M. König, PhD; Beat Meier, PhD; and Fabio Soldati, PhD) worked in his laboratories at ETH Zürich.

Sticher has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Egon-Stahl-Award in Gold from the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (GA) in 2014 and an honorary doctorate from the University of London in 2002. In March 2014, the Journal of Natural Products published a special edition in his honor.

Gafner also noted: “Professor Sticher was one of the pioneers in using HPLC to measure the composition of plant extracts. Examples of his earliest work include the HPLC analysis of licorice [Glycyrrhiza glabra, Fabaceae] saponins or the bitter principles in gentian [Gentiana spp., Gentianaceae] in 1977. But while his research publications most often focus on the chemical or quality aspects of plants, he has a much broader view of herbal medicine quality, which he has passed on to several generations of pharmacy students through training in botanical identification, macroscopic and organoleptic analysis, and botanical microscopy. Besides being an exceptional scientist, he is known to colleagues and friends mainly as a kind and honest human being, a true gentleman.”

Sticher wrote: “I am very pleased and grateful to receive the 2018 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award. I would like to thank the American Botanical Council for honoring me with this award. Over the years, our research group at the ETH Zürich had a close scientific collaboration with the group created by Norman Farnsworth at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). This resulted in an ongoing exchange of visitors between ETH and UIC. By fostering such collaborations, Norman Farnsworth helped to build bridges internationally among scientists in the field of traditional botanical medicine.”

GW Pharmaceuticals Receives ABC Tyler Award for Phytomedicinal Research

The ABC Tyler Award was created to honor one of the most respected educators in late-20th century herbal medicine and pharmacognosy. Varro E. Tyler, PhD, who died in 2001, was vice president of academic affairs at Purdue University and dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Purdue for 20 years. He was the senior author of six editions of a leading pharmacognosy textbook and numerous other professional and popular books and academic articles. Tyler, an early member of ABC’s Board of Trustees, encouraged scientific and product integrity and envisioned a rational phytomedicinal health care sector that valued the proper evaluation of botanical products’ quality, safety, and efficacy.

“GW Pharmaceuticals is extremely honored to receive this prestigious award recognizing our many years of cutting-edge research in the field of cannabis-derived medications,” said Justin Gover, CEO of GW. “Professor Tyler was a great pioneer in the field of pharmacognosy, and, like him, we believe that plants, like cannabis, have vast therapeutic potential. Our work demonstrates that, with rigorous research and the advent of new scientific techniques, the cannabis plant can form the basis for new prescription medicines that have the potential to make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives. We are committed to continuing our research into the therapeutic applications of cannabis and cannabinoids for many years to come.”

GW is especially known for the development of two phytomedicines from cannabis (Cannabis sativa, Cannabaceae). The first is Sativex®, a standardized complex botanical mixture delivered as an oromucosal spray that has been approved in more than 25 countries outside the United States to treat multiple sclerosis-related spasticity. According to the company, Sativex is the world’s first cannabis-derived prescription medicine. Sativex contains equal parts of cannabidiol (CBD, the most-studied non-intoxicating compound in cannabis) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main intoxicating compound in cannabis). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Sativex. But, according to Mead, GW expects to begin a phase 3 clinical trial in the United States later in 2019. The trial will investigate Sativex’s effects in patients with multiple sclerosis, and the company hopes it will lead to FDA approval.

The second is Epidiolex®, a standardized oil-based CBD oral solution. In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare, severe, early-onset forms of epilepsy, both with frequent, difficult-to-control seizures of multiple types. Epidiolex is the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and is also the first cannabis-derived prescription medicine available in the United States. Additionally, it represents a new class of anti-seizure medication.

The FDA’s approval was prompted, at least partly, by three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials on Epidiolex (all funded by GW). In these trials, patients in the Epidiolex group experienced statistically significant reductions in seizure frequency compared to those taking placebo. Importantly, these patients otherwise had been unable to achieve seizure control with their standard treatment regimens.

According to Mead, GW has invested more than $1 billion on research and development. The company is also developing other cannabinoid product candidates, with a focus on neurological conditions.

GW grows its cannabis in greenhouses that control temperature, humidity, and lighting, and the company does not use pesticides or fungicides. The company has bred a proprietary chemovar (chemical variety) of cannabis that has higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC. It has been growing the plants in-house for more than 20 years.

Gafner said: “The clinical work by GW Pharmaceuticals has led to effective therapeutic agents to reduce spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients and treat Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. However, the impact of its research cannot be measured solely by the patient benefits. The company’s pioneering work on Cannabis sativa has helped to destigmatize the plant and opened the door for additional research, which will hopefully lead to treatment successes for other diseases in which effective therapies are desperately needed.”

Aviva Romm Receives ABC Fredi Kronenberg Excellence in Botanicals for Women’s Health Award

The award was named in honor of distinguished researcher, educator, and longtime ABC Board of Trustees member Fredi Kronenberg, PhD, who died in April 2017. Kronenberg dedicated her professional life to the study of medicinal plants and phytomedicines for women’s health conditions and was particularly interested in phytoestrogen-containing botanicals, such as black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae), for the treatment of menopause symptoms.

“Fredi was brave in both her life and her death,” Romm said in a recorded acceptance speech. “As a scientist, she charted territory in medicine that can only be called pioneering. Her work was part of creating recognition for herbal medicine, which paved a pathway that has allowed herbal medicine to have a place on the modern map of health care.”

Kronenberg was a champion of integrative medicine and co-founded the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) at Columbia University — the first CAM program at an Ivy League school and the first government-funded CAM research and educational center. For 10 years, she also co-directed an onsite five-day continuing education course for physicians and other health care providers interested in botanical medicine.

“In a larger medical culture in which women’s wisdom has historically been suppressed, women healers and scholars marginalized, and in which men of science have been considered king, modern herbal medicine is a culture that is distinctly unique,” Romm said. “Women’s wisdom, knowledge, tradition, and skills are honored and respected. It’s as part of a legacy of women in science and herbal medicine that I am profoundly honored to ... accept [this award].”

For more than three decades, Romm has focused on providing herbal medicine options for women and children that are based on a combination of traditional knowledge and modern scientific and clinical data. In her practice, she uses a holistic approach that takes into account an individual’s environment, diet, lifestyle, and many other factors to address the root causes of chronic health conditions. Previously, Romm served as both the president of the American Herbalists Guild and medical director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.

Like Kronenberg, Romm has been actively involved in herbal medicine curricula for students and practitioners. She is the co-founder of the Yale Integrative Medicine Curriculum and has created online professional training programs in integrative and herbal medicine. Romm is also a botanical industry consultant, sought-after speaker, and member of multiple advisory boards. She is the founder of DharmaMoms, a nonprofit that works to reduce maternal mortality in the United States and high-risk countries.

“ABC is pleased to recognize Dr. Romm with the ABC Fredi Kronenberg Award for her excellent work in the area of botanicals and women’s health,” said Blumenthal. “Aviva’s interests, expertise, and passion in this area are wholly in line with those of Dr. Kronenberg, making her a natural choice for this award.”

Romm is the author of seven books on natural medicine, including Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health (Elsevier, 2010), which received the ABC James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award in 2010. The second edition of the textbook was published by Elsevier in 2018. In addition, Romm is the author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution (Harper One, 2017) and a contributing author of the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition (CRC Press, 2013). She has written dozens of articles for major publications, including USA Today, The Boston Globe, and Prevention, and has shared her botanical knowledge as a returning guest on “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Last year, the inaugural ABC Fredi Kronenberg Award was given to Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a leading expert in integrative medicine and women’s health. Low Dog said: “A warm and heartfelt congratulations to Aviva Romm, MD, a dear friend and colleague, on receiving the ABC Fredi Kronenberg Award. Aviva has the rare gift of being a gifted clinician, teacher, and writer. Her book Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health was a major contribution to the field, as were her many years leading the American Herbalists Guild. Dr. Kronenberg would be delighted.”

Both Romm and Low Dog were guest editors of HerbalGram issue 121, a special issue dedicated to Kronenberg, which focused on botanicals in women’s health.

Jim Emme Named ABC Champion for 2018

The ABC Champion Award was created to recognize individuals who have been outstanding supporters of ABC and have helped the organization promote and achieve its nonprofit research and educational mission, whether through monetary support or contributions of time. The generosity of ABC’s friends and members is vital to ABC’s continued success and growth.

“Jim Emme is a particularly giving and supportive person,” said Blumenthal. “He is quick to see the potential and value of an ABC initiative. In fact, because of Jim, NOW Health Group was the first company to underwrite ABC’s newest initiative, the Sustainable Herbs Program partnership, which ABC announced last November. Over the years, Jim has answered many a call to support ABC’s efforts. He is a true ‘champion’ of our nonprofit educational mission and efforts.”

Emme has more than 20 years of experience in the natural products industry. In 1995, he joined NOW Foods as plant manager and became COO some years later before being promoted to the role of president and CEO of NOW Health Group. He has been a key player in NOW Health Group’s global expansion efforts and instrumental in developing its operational resources and facilities in North America. His food science education combined with decades of experience in the design and management of food manufacturing and distribution operations make Emme stand out in the dietary supplement industry. He is on the Natural Products Association Board of Directors and is involved with the Alliance for Natural Health and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, among other organizations.

Emme thanked ABC for the award, stating: “NOW is proud to support the American Botanical Council and honored by this recognition. My first introduction to botanicals education was when my sister Dorie gave me her copy of an issue of HerbalGram in the early 1980s. As a food scientist, I was impressed with the details. How would I have known that my bootleg copy of HerbalGram would be the gateway to my interest in natural products? Just as ABC is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives through the science-based, responsible use of herbs, NOW’s mission is to provide products and services that empower people to lead healthier lives, so we are aligned in passion and purpose. I look forward to working with Mark and his great staff for many years to come.”

Linnea and Larry Wardwell Receive ABC Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award

This annual award is given to individuals who have played a significant role in creating a sense of community among herbalists, botanical researchers, members of the herb and natural products communities and industries, and others who work in the area of medicinal and aromatic plants.

The Wardwells have contributed significantly to the herbal education of tens of thousands of people and have helped build and strengthen the herbal community. Through their company, Herbal Educational Services, they organize and promote the annual Medicines from the Earth conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and the annual Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Additionally, they have recorded most of the presentations at these conferences and compiled extensive conference proceedings, making them available via their company — what Blumenthal calls “an important and highly useful herb educational resource.” Many of these recordings and proceedings are part of approved continuing education modules for health professionals.

“Linnea and Larry Wardwell have given so much of their heart and soul to these conferences to ensure that there are the highest quality presenters for the best learning experience for the attendees,” said Ric Scalzo, founder of Gaia Herbs, the primary sponsor of the Medicines from the Earth conference since its inception. “They have acted lovingly and consciously out of a deep sense of stewardship – for the earth, for the plants, and for conference attendees who have become part of the herbal community.”

Herbalist, author, and founder of herb company Herbalist & Alchemist, David Winston, who has been a teacher at almost every Medicines from the Earth conference, lauded the Wardwells.

“I cannot think of many people in the [US] herbal community more deserving of the ABC Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award than Linnea and Larry Wardwell,” said Winston. “Quietly behind the scenes, Linnea, Larry, and their staff have planned and supervised two of the most important clinically oriented [US] herbal conferences since the 1990s. Through these conferences, they have brought together the foremost teachers of clinical herbalism, naturopathic medicine, functional medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and Ayurveda with thousands of eager students, many of whom are health professionals. In order to make this vital information more available, they have also produced yearly proceedings and recordings for both conferences that are a testament to both ancient healing traditions and the most up-to-date research in the herbal world.

“Few people have had such a profound impact on herbal education as the Wardwells,” Winston continued, “and it is time for them to step out from behind the computer and receive our sincere gratitude and congratulations for their dedication to making herbal medicine a safe and effective part of so many people’s lives.”

Blumenthal said: “I feel deeply grateful to be one of the teachers who has been invited to speak at the Medicines from the Earth conference numerous times in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. One of the most important aspects of this conference that has continued to impress me, aside from the beautiful forest and the amazing herbal teachers, is the fact that so many people continue to return to the conference year after year. To me, this is an important form of community building.

“It is highly fitting that Linnea and Larry would be involved in botanical medicine education,” added Blumenthal. “A relevant anecdote: Linnea’s mother, an avid organic gardener back in the 1950s, named her daughter after the renowned 18th-century Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (Linnaeus), the father of the botanical binomial nomenclatural system used in all modern scientific literature.”


  1. History & approach. GW Pharmaceuticals website. Available at: . Accessed April 3, 2019.