Herbs on the Move

Will mainstream interest help or hurt botanicals? The experts offer predictions

| May/June 1999

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Chances are you didn’t know how to pronounce echinacea a couple of years ago. But today, it’s a household word. The purple coneflower—Echinacea spp. to scientists—­accounted for nearly 10 percent of all herbal supplement sales in 1998, according to a Whole Foods magazine survey. And while echinacea was becoming the poster child for herbal medicine, other botanicals were finding the spotlight, too. Ginkgo, St. John’s wort, garlic, saw palmetto, and ginseng, to name only a few, are all part of the herbal medicine boom that’s upon us.

The numbers point to a new life for herbal medicine—a shift from niche market to mainstream, as Steven Foster, Herbs for Health lead adviser, describes it. It’s changing the way doctors, pharmacists, and herbalists work. Additionally, new players are coming to the table, including pharmaceutical giants such as Bayer, Rexall Sundown, and Warner Lambert, as well as super retailers such as Wal-Mart.

But whether this new life constitutes a better life for herbal medicine is a matter of opinion. To understand how newfound fame will impact herbs, we went to the experts—members of the Herbs for Health editorial advisory board.

Prediction 1:

Consumer reporting will take hold.

Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC), a nonprofit educational organization in Austin, Texas, has noted a few trends that provide clues to the possible future of herbal medicine. For one thing, he ­observes, the mainstream press is changing how it approaches herbalism—taking an investigative rather than reactionary tack. And, instead of discovering that the emperor has no clothes, mainstream journalists are learning that herbs work, in many cases.

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