Wrangling an“Herban” Legend

| January/February 2007

  • The nickname stuck for the Texan herb enthusiast.

  • Mark Blumenthal has edited several herbal reference books and is the editor and publisher of the journal HerbalGram.
  • A 1985 photograph (at left) of Blumenthal posing with a ginseng soda is a takeoff of the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy.”

More than 25 years after being dubbed the “Herbal Cowboy,” American Botanical Council Executive Director Mark Blumenthal is still slingin’ the information on herbs far and wide.

Mark Blumenthal may play a bigger role in your life than you realize: If you subscribe to the quarterly journal HerbalGram, he informs you about the latest herbal news; he’s a good part of the reason you’re reading these pages right now; and he might just be why you know about herbal medicine at all.

Modern-Day Pioneering

One of the world’s most-quoted herbal authorities, Blumenthal is the founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC) in Austin, Texas. He created and is editor and publisher of the ABC’s HerbalGram and is the editor of the bimonthly literature review service HerbClip. Blumenthal was senior editor of The Complete German Commission E Monographs—Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines (1998), Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs (2000) and The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs (2003).

Not only is he one of the original disseminators of herbal information in this country, making appearances at dozens of conferences, conventions and other events each year, but he’s a really nice guy!

Though he doesn’t like to use the word “pride,” he will admit that some of his accomplishments stand out in his mind. He began HerbalGram in 1977 as a newsletter called Herb News; it evolved into HerbalGram six years later. HerbalGram was a real pioneer—the first publication in the United States to systematically report on the growing body of herbal literature and scientific research. “I envisioned a Scientific American of herbs, a magazine that deals not just with scientific issues but also covers a lot of industry issues and conservation issues,” Blumenthal says. “HerbalGram probably has some of the widest coverage of any herbal publication, and I think we’ve done it in a way that’s engaging because it’s colorful and editorial.”

Blumenthal became even more involved in the burgeoning herbal medicine field by starting the ABC in 1988 as a nonprofit research and educational organization. Born and raised in Texas, the “herban cowboy” (Blumenthal’s e-mail alias has long been “HerbCowboy”) says the one thing in his career that gives him the most satisfaction is that three of the most venerated elders in the herbal community—James Duke, Norman Farnsworth and Varro Tyler—helped him start the ABC and were on the board of trustees and offered guidance. “ To me, if I were to take pride in something, it’s that three of the leading experts and elders of the herbal community in the United States from a science point of view all helped found and guide the early years. I find that very rewarding and empowering,” he says.

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