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First Annual HerbDay Celebrated Widely with Resounding Success

Herb enthusiasts in cities across the United States, and in a few other countries, exhibited their support of herbal education and appreciation during the first annual HerbDay, a landmark occasion for the international herbal community held October 14, 2006, and in the weeks preceding and following that date. Participating organizations and the public alike have applauded the many HerbDay events, demonstrating the success of the first HerbDay celebration and prompting early planning of the next year’s activities.

One of many bromeliads in the USBG Conservatory Jungle exhibit.

“National days of recognition bring awareness, education, and interest to any event, person, or idea celebrated. By creating HerbDay, we now have an annual opportunity to spotlight herbs in a positive way in our communities and in the media,” said Lynda LeMole, executive director of United Plant Savers (UpS), one of the 5 organizations that initiated and coordinated HerbDay (e-mail, November 8, 2006). The other organizations, which comprised the HerbDay Coalition, were the American Botanical Council (ABC), American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), and American Herbalists Guild (AHG).

Newly remodeled "East Orangerie" classroom at the USBG where speakers presented throughout the national events on HerbDay.

“This was a first effort, and we’re amazed and surprised by how well it did take off,” said Wayne Silverman, PhD, ABC’s chief administrative officer (oral communication, November 6, 2006). “I think that everyone who was involved would characterize it as an unqualified success.”

Carter Draves (left) and Dart Clancy, students of Tai Sophia, staff the herbal demonstration table in the West Gallery of USBG.

HerbDay was celebrated nationally at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) in Washington, DC, on October 13 and 14. The first day featured lectures from internationally-recognized herbal experts James A. Duke, PhD, Aviva Romm, Bevin Clare, and Robin DiPasquale, ND. The second day offered visitors numerous opportunities to learn about herbs through various booths, activities, garden walks, and lectures. Presentations and demonstrations included “Kitchen Herbs: Spice up your Health,” “Herbal Medicine Making,” “Herbs for your Pets,” activities specifically designed for children, and presentations about particular plants, among many others.

The new National Garden (dedicated October 1, 2006) at the USBG. The US Capitol, The USBG West Gallery, and USBG Conservatory are visible in the background.

According to the USBG, nearly 5,000 visitors attended the national HerbDay celebration—the number of attendees usually seen only at USBG’s holiday events. “It was extremely exciting to have people here so engaged with plants in all of their different ways,” said Holly Shimizu, executive director of the USBG (oral communication, November 7, 2006). “The general public was able to talk to herb experts about all different aspects of herbs—health, beauty, food, and on and on . . . It was superb to have this contact between the experts and the visitors. We think it was a huge success, and we look forward to doing it again!”

Star anise (Illicium verum) an Asian plant traditionally used for digestion and rheumatism, and turmeric (Curcuma longa) (on the right), another Asian plant used in Ayurvedic medicine for digestive disorders, with more recent use as an anti-inflammatory, both growing at the USBG on HerbDay.

HerbDay was acknowledged through special events in many other cities and states, as well. In Ohio, 68 volunteers participated in a plant rescue as part of HerbDay, saving approximately 2,000 wild medicinal plants from future destruction at Wayne National Forest, where a state highway bypass is planned to soon cut through the area. Half of the plants were replanted in holding beds at the forest’s headquarters for use in restoration and education projects. The remaining plants were relocated to other parks, botanical sanctuaries, and private properties. Subsequent plant rescues in this area are planned to take place through the spring of 2007 by members of UpS and the organizations Rural Action and Frontier Natural Products Co-op.

Canopy Walk in the Jungle observatory, 50 feet in the air, at the USBG on HerbDay.

Another large HerbDay event, organized by the San Diego Herb Club and that city’s AHG chapter, was held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Multiple booths featured information about herbs and national herbal organizations, and 20 booths enabled local herbalists to share their knowledge and promote their businesses directly with the public. Guided tours of the park’s newly expanded “Trees for Health” garden were also conducted. “Despite the morning rain, HerbDay afternoon was a huge success. In fact, the moist, fresh air seemed appropriate for such an event,” said Cindy Christ, member of San Diego’s AHG chapter and second vice-president of the San Diego Herb Club (e-mail, November 9, 2006). “I estimate approximately 300 folks showed up eager to explore the uses of herbs and to collect information from local businesses and national organizations. It really brought our local herbalists together and showed the public that San Diego has a thriving herbal community. A huge interest in all of the displays, lectures, and demonstrations proved the event to be even more of a success than the initial organizers anticipated. We are already looking forward to next year’s HerbDay, and are anticipating an even bigger event.”

James A. Duke, PhD, gives one of four main HerbDay lectures called The Amazon Farmacy, in the East Orangerie classroom at the USBG.

ABC, meanwhile, also encouraged visitors to attend HerbDay lectures and demonstrations at its headquarters in Austin, TX. ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal delivered a lecture on clinical research on popular herbs in the United States and its coverage in the mainstream media. Other lecturers included Ayurvedic practitioner Charlotte Jernigan and William Morris, president of the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin. Volunteers provided demonstrations on tea-making, aromatherapy, and the production of herbal tinctures, while local herbalists led tours through the different herbal gardens of ABC’s Case Mill Homestead.

HerbDay was further acknowledged and promoted through thousands of retail stores across the country. Several popular natural product retail chain stores, including Vitamin Cottage and Vitamin Shoppe, held events and publicized HerbDay in each of their many locations. The extensive GNC chain promoted HerbDay throughout the entire month of October through special signs and displays in its many stores, by distributing free samples of herbal formulas to consumers, and by including the HerbDay logo in the company’s advertisements and catalogs and on its products. “We viewed HerbDay as an opportunity for consumers to learn the facts about herbs and their benefits in being incorporated and enjoyed in daily life, whether for their aesthetic beauty, flavoring in cooking, or health benefits,” said Kim Kitko, GNC’s senior brand director (oral communication, November 9, 2006). “Store associates from many of GNC’s locations across the country have expressed their pride in being a sponsor of the first-ever HerbDay, and increased traffic and sales in the herbal category demonstrates that many consumers have a renewed interest in herbal remedies.”

GNC, Nature’s Resource, and Vitamin World all served as official corporate sponsors, providing financial support to the HerbDay Coalition to offset the organizations’ direct expenses. The Coalition was further aided through the efforts and support of 6 HerbDay partners: Bastyr University, the Herb Society of America, the International Herb Association, the Natural Products Association, the Tai Sophia Institute, and USBG. Likewise, 6 publications/publishers made a concerted effort to raise awareness of HerbDay as media sponsors: Health Supplement Retailer, Health Smart Today, New Hope Natural Media, Taste for Life, Vitamin Retailer, and Whole Foods Magazine. New Hope Natural Media, for instance, promoted HerbDay through ads, articles, or blurbs in various issues of its publications Delicious Living and Natural Foods Merchandiser prior to the event, and the publication Taste for Life even published a special “Herbs for Life” 24-page pullout in its October issue, in addition to an overprint in honor of HerbDay.

Several HerbDay Coalition members stressed the value of this new annual event, both for the herbal community and the public at large. “Celebrating HerbDay will help to rebuild a cultural knowledge about plants and plant medicines that was lost because of the almost exclusive dependence on modern foods and drugs,” said Roy Upton, executive director of AHP (e-mail, November 7, 2006). “Plants, in all their forms—as food, textiles, and medicines—have always been integral to human existence. Modern humans have divorced themselves from this reality and it is important, both for the preservation of plant and human species, that we as a species consciously acknowledge our absolute dependence on plants as gifts to humanity.”

ABC’s Silverman, meanwhile, remarked that HerbDay could potentially generate a shift in the mainstream media. “We’ve had to contend with quite a bit of negative media, misunderstandings about herbs, and misinterpretation and misreporting of clinical studies. By expanding and making HerbDay a permanent fixture, we will diminish some of the misunderstandings, increase some of the positive views of herbs and supplements, and hopefully reduce the knee-jerk reactions that often seem to take place in the media,” he said.

Members of the HerbDay Coalition anticipate that future HerbDays will feature even greater participation and larger events, both across the United States and internationally. UpS’s LeMole expressed her desire to see increased participation among schools, as HerbDay could be a particularly valuable learning event for children. Members of the Coalition are already encouraging the herbal community to begin planning their events for the second annual HerbDay, scheduled for Saturday, October 13, 2007. Future HerbDays will be celebrated on the second Saturday in October and the weeks leading up to and following that date.

The Herb Society of America (HSA), founded in 1933, will also become more involved in future celebrations. According to HSA President Anne Abbott, the HSA board has already approved continued official participation in HerbDay for 2007, with many local HSA chapters already starting to plan their events (e-mail, November 15, 2006).

The overwhelmingly positive responses to HerbDay from those involved certainly bode well for future engagements. “HerbDay is a chance to see herbs as what they are: a beautiful, positive part of all our lives,” said Bevin Clare, faculty member of the Tai Sophia Institute (e-mail, November 9, 2006). “It is a time for the public to celebrate the origins of their own cultural traditions around herbs, no matter where they are from, and as awareness around this event continues, we will offer an outlet for the many cultures in this country to come together to celebrate something fun, important, and integral to our society.”