“Just to clarify, I’m not leaving,” Blumenthal told NutraIngredients-USA. “I’ll still be around as someone who can provide institutional memory.”
Blumenthal noted that ABC has grown tremendously since he founded the nonprofit platform in 1988. The original purpose was to provide greater support for the newsletter he was already publishing under the aegis of ABC’s progenitor, the Herb Research Foundation.
“It was a newsletter we created on a typewriter and pasted it up with glue sticks,” Blumenthal said.
Talking herbs out of realm of folklore
At the time he started his mission, the term ‘herb’ had almost a strictly culinary meaning for most Americans and many citizens in other parts of the world. And ‘botanical’ was a just name on a public garden that had pretty plants inside.
Most of the research that was being done to Western standards was coming out of Europe and was not widely disseminated. Plants when considered from a nutritional, health promotion sense, were just something your mother insisted you eat before you could have your ice cream.
If herbal remedies were thought of at all, they were generally put into the realm of legend, a dark age that modern medical science had rescued us from. Garlic garlands against vampires. Only the odd pharmacognosist was aware that many ‘modern’ medicines had first been isolated from plants.
“I decided what this community needed was a depository of all research that could help enhance the credibility of herbal medicine. Back then it was all thought of as folklore and it was very little known that there was any science at all,” Blumenthal said.
Serious medium for serious message
ABC was created a more secure funding mechanism to realize Blumenthal’s ambitions. As Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan once famously observed, the medium is the message, and Blumenthal wanted to present serious information in a format that readers would accept as authoritative. The garden club newsletter milieu wasn’t going to cut it.
“I wanted to create a Scientific American-style publication about herbs,” Blumenthal said.
And thus today’s high-print-quality HerbalGram periodical was born. But the mission has grown well beyond that, Blumenthal said, with policy initiatives and publications associated with the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (a joint effort with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi), the Sustainable Herbs Program managed by Ann Armbrecht, PhD, and others.
“If you ask has ABC grown beyond my earliest wildest imagination, the answer is yes,” Blumenthal said. “Between full-time staff and contractors, there are now about 54 or 55 people working for ABC.”
The call for a new Executive Director to take the day-to-day reins of the organization was sent out as a member advisory. Blumenthal said he and ABC’s board wanted to first see if someone from within the community that the organization already serves might step forward. The wish-list of qualifications might be difficult to come by in the general realm of business professionals.
“The preference would be someone who understands pharmacognosy and science. At the same time we want someone who has management experience and has an entrepreneurial bent. We know it’s not always easy to get everything you want,” Blumenthal said.
Transition plan has been considered for some time
The transition is something the organization has been considering for a while, he said. It might have taken place already if it hadn’t been for the advent of the global pandemic. Blumenthal said it was decided that concentrating on how to keep the organization intact while still providing for the health and safety of employees took precedence over long term transition planning.
Under the command structure ABC is contemplating, any new helmsman would have to contend with having a white bearded admiral hovering at his or her elbow, one given to Hawaiian shirt uniforms. Might that be a daunting prospect? Blumenthal said he’s sensitive to the danger.
“I’m well aware of the dynamics of someone coming in to work in a ‘founders syndrome’ type of organization. I’m willing to be confronted. I will be there in a support role and I will be empowering that new person,” Blumenthal said.