This is a special issue on the impacts of climate change — what many are now referring to as the “climate crisis” — on medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). Like many concerned citizens, including scientists, policy makers, and others, we are alarmed by the evidence of increasingly overwhelming changes in the Earth’s climate, much of which is attributable to human activity. These changes include, but are not limited to, increasing temperatures, the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, and much more. We are now facing an existential threat to not only plants and animals, but much, or perhaps almost all, of the biosphere itself.
This is not the first time we have addressed these concerns. In 2009, in HerbalGram issue 81, we published a cover article by then-Managing Editor Courtney Cavaliere on the impact of climate change on medicinal plants. To our knowledge, that was the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed article on this subject. Now, 10 years later, HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley, Associate Editor Hannah Bauman, and Managing Editor Tyler Smith have written an in-depth update that highlights new evidence of the impacts of a changing climate on MAPs. Significant effects on plants, including phenological changes, shifting ranges, and reduced populations, have been documented in regions around the world, from the Arctic and alpine areas to tropical forests and islands. This extensive article is one of the key features in this thematic issue.
In fact, we have dedicated almost the entire issue to this theme, including matters of conservation, sustainability, and regeneration. We have reduced or eliminated some of our usual departments in order to make more room for our coverage of these important topics.
This issue’s other feature article deals with the theme of wild North American medicinal forest plants. Holly Chittum, MS, an expert on this subject, and co-authors Eric Burkhart, PhD, John Munsell, PhD, and Steven Kruger, PhD, provide an in-depth view of the benefits and challenges related to forest-grown medicinal botanicals. North American forest herbs have been a part of global trade since the 17th century, and their increased popularity in recent years has led to sustainability concerns. Responsible forest farming may help ensure a sustainable supply of these botanicals.
In November 2018, we announced that ABC had partnered with Ann Armbrecht, PhD, to form the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP), a new educational initiative under ABC’s aegis. Ann, who has a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard, created the Sustainable Herbs Project before joining with ABC. (For various reasons, we believed that “Program” was a more apt name for this new venture.) In the ensuing year, Ann, along with ABC trustee and acclaimed medicinal plant author and photographer Steven Foster, members of the ABC staff, and others, helped produce new videos and articles for the SHP website, newsletter, and blog.
SHP’s mission deals not only with ecological issues related to the climate crisis and the need for medicinal plant conservation and sustainable/regenerative practices, but also the lives and welfare of the people involved in all aspects of botanical value networks (supply chains), including harvesting, cultivation, processing, and production of medicinal plants and their value-added finished products. SHP is deeply anthropocentric, with the hope that increased industry and consumer attention to these issues will result in enhanced revenues and quality of life for people in the value network.
Part of the input for SHP comes from a group of 17 highly experienced individuals who form what we are calling the SHP Advisory Group. This issue presents brief biographies of the inaugural members, each of whom has considerable expertise in sourcing, conservation, and/or sustainability of medicinal plants. A tip of the hat as well to the SHP Inaugural Underwriters: herb industry members that were the first to provide financial resources to allow ABC to take on and steward SHP and its compelling agenda.
One of the initial members of the SHP Advisory Group is our good friend and collaborator Josef Brinckmann, also a longtime member of the ABC Advisory Board, who has written a guest editorial titled “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” after folksinger Pete Seeger’s classic song, on the climate crisis and its relevance to MAPs and our lives in general. We are profoundly grateful to Josef for his many contributions to this issue, also including the herb profile on guayusa that he and collaborator Thomas Brendler provided.