My friend and colleague Mark Plotkin once asked me, “What is the most widely used botanical medicine?” I immediately answered, “garlic.” It seemed a reasonable answer, and it was on my mind at the time because I was preparing a keynote speech on the history of garlic for the International Garlic Symposium in Japan. “No,” he said, “It’s wine!” We discussed his reasons and agreed that this topic would make an interesting article.
Now, his richly illustrated “Ethnobotany of Wine” cover story explores the origins and history of wine in Transcaucasia, Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean, and beyond. Plotkin is an ethnobotanist and author known mainly for his laudable work with indigenous peoples in the Amazon via his nonprofit Amazon Conservation Team (his new book, The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know, is reviewed on pages 72-74). He also wrote “Notes on the Ethnobotany of Warfare” in HerbalGram issue 101, which includes a section about wine. I’m not certain that wine is actually more widely used as a medicine than garlic, but I definitely prefer it as a beverage.
In my kitchen is a small, hollow gourd, the curved top of which is used as a handle, with a hollow metal tube (bombilla) about six inches long. I purchased this from a roadside vendor on the cross-Andes highway from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina. For centuries, vessels like this have been used to drink yerba maté tea. Yerba maté, which is in the same genus as guayusa and yaupon, has been the primary caffeinated beverage of a large area of South America, particularly Argentina and neighboring countries, where it is consumed more than coffee. No longer limited to South America, beverages from the dried or roasted leaves of this member of the holly family have become increasingly popular in many parts of the world in the past decades. In this issue, regular contributors Josef Brinckmann and Thomas Brendler provide a comprehensive profile on this traditional stimulant.
Political changes, weather conditions, and other factors are known to impact supply, availability, and prices of culinary, medicinal, and aromatic plants sold in international commerce. In 2020, a global pandemic became one of these factors. In this issue, frequent contributor Karen Raterman provides a second article about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the global supply chain for various medicinal plants. Her previous article on this topic was published in issue 126. For this update, Raterman interviewed more than a dozen spokespeople from the herb industry, and they share their companies’ experiences, measures taken, and lessons learned during the pandemic.
Of considerable international interest is that, in December 2020, the Thai government approved andrographis leaf extract for the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms after documenting positive results in preliminary studies, as noted in HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley’s article. Andrographis is known for its beneficial effects in upper respiratory infections, and it will be interesting to see if future research confirms its potential benefits for COVID-19 and whether other countries follow suit.
ABC Special Projects Director Gayle Engels, who has worked at ABC for more than 25 years, reports on the organization’s new website, which has been in development for more than two years, and the progression of the website since 1995. Gayle has been the primary steward of ABC’s efforts to upgrade and enhance its extensive and content-rich site, which has more than 62,500 distinct pages in 11 resource sections of research and educational content.
Also, we honor the lives of two people dedicated to the study and rational use of medicinal plants: our dear friends of many years, Professor Walter Lewis and Bill Keller, who made significant contributions to the ethnobotany and pharmacognosy communities.
Finally, in 2020, ABC and the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) initiated a series of educational webinars on the resource-rich SHP Sustainability & Regenerative Practices Toolkit, ethnobotany, and individual herbs in commerce. SHP Director Ann Armbrecht leads these compelling and inspiring conversations with prominent ethnobotanists, industry representatives, and others. We are deeply grateful that thousands of people in dozens of countries have viewed the webinars, which indicates that ABC and the herbal community are global entities. The webinar series and other ABC accomplishments and activities are described in the year-in-review article in this issue.
– Mark Blumenthal