ABC awards botanical excellence at 18th annual celebration ceremony

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© GrabillCreative / Getty Images
© GrabillCreative / Getty Images

Related tags American botanical council Herb botanical extracts Herbal dietary supplements Pharmavite Phytomedicine Unmetered Unmetered

Christine Burdick-Bell, FairWild Foundation, and Sabinsa were among the recipients at this year’s ABC Botanical Excellence Awards.

Hosted on March 8, 2023, in Anaheim, California, during the annual Natural Products Expo West, the American Botanical Council’s 18th annual Celebration and Botanical Excellence Awards honored individuals and companies who have made outstanding contributions to the herbal and botanical communities.

2023 ABC Champion Award

Recognizing individuals who have been outstanding supporters of ABC and who have helped the organization promote and achieve its nonprofit research and educational mission, whether through monetary support or contributions of their own time, this year’s award was presented to Christine Burdick-Bell, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Pharmavite, for her support of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program’s (BAPP’s) “Best Practices Standardized Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Disposal/Destruction of Irreparably Defective Articles.”

Burdick-Bell was one of the first leaders from a major dietary supplement company to publicly endorse the BAPP SOP, and, even before the SOP was finalized and announced for industry adoption in October 2022, she pledged that Pharmavite would implement aspects of the SOP and seller-buyer contract language into the company’s quality systems and SOPs.

“Pharmavite has long been a strong supporter of the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program, which is a program of ABC, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research,” said Burdick-Bell. “The program’s excellent work to educate the industry about and uncover ingredient and product adulteration cannot be overstated. I was privileged to play a very small role in furthering the program’s efforts and am deeply honored by this award.”

Levin, the founder of Health Business Strategies and primary consultant on and author of the BAPP SOP, commented: “These BAPP Best Practices are better because of Christine’s contributions, and our entire industry is in her debt. Though she is a general counsel for a leading vitamin and supplement company, she was focused when it came to our work together on the BAPP SOP.

“With the linguistic precision of an experienced lawyer and the eagle eye of an expert peer reviewer, Christine never hesitated to speak her mind and fight for what she thought was best, and what she thought was best was always about protecting the consumer. She continues to epitomize Pharmavite’s first core value: ‘Do the Right Thing.’”

ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal said: “ABC and BAPP are deeply grateful to Christine for her key role in editing and finalizing the BAPP SOP. While we appreciate the time and assistance provided by several attorneys and regulatory experts who served as ad hoc advisors on the legal-regulatory aspects of this vital document, Christine stood out due to the large amount of her valuable time and expertise that she freely dedicated. She has made a significant contribution to the herb and dietary supplement industry.”

The ABC James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award

Recognizing authors whose books contribute significantly to the medicinal plant-related literature, and the fields of botany, taxonomy, ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, phytomedicine, mycology, and other related disciplines.

In the reference/technical category, ABC presented the 2023 Award to Medicinal Herbs in Primary Care: An Evidence-Guided Reference for Healthcare Providers​ (Elsevier, 2022) by Jean M. Bokelmann, MD.

Medicinal Herbs in Primary Care is a guide for conventional health care providers and offers easy-to-access information on the use of herbs in primary care. Bokelmann drew from her experience as an integrative health specialist in family medicine and organized the book in a provider-friendly way, with important information about herbs, their actions, and their contraindications. With tables, monographs, and clinical evidence, as well as a basic primer on herbal medicine, Bokelmann’s practical reference helps conventional primary care providers familiarize themselves with the use of botanicals in medicine to better serve their patients.

In her review in HerbalGram​ issue 137, Tieraona Low Dog, MD, wrote: “Medicinal Herbs in Primary Care is an excellent resource for busy clinicians who feel overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of this topic…. This text is an invaluable reference guide for primary care clinicians, subspecialists, pharmacists, nurses, physician assistants, researchers, naturopathic physicians, and herbalists alike.”

In the consumer/popular category, the award went to Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia​ (University Press of Kentucky, 2022) by Luke Manget, PhD.

Ginseng Diggers chronicles the history of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), from its introduction to European colonists by the Cherokee to its current market status. Manget weaves together storytelling and scholarly research and traces the impacts of the trade of ginseng and other forest commodities, both botanical and animal (e.g., fur), on Native American tribes and European settlers in the Appalachian region. Manget’s book also details the gradual commodification of previously common land and the transition from plant-based medicines to modern pharmaceuticals.

According to Edward J. Fletcher’s review in HerbalGram​ issue 137: “Herbalists, researchers, students of history, and those who are simply interested in ‘sang’ will find numerous nuggets of historical gold that Manget includes throughout this very readable and educational book.”

The ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award

Recognizing those who make significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other scientific disciplines related to medicinal plants, this year’s recipient was Michael Heinrich, PhD, a professor of ethnopharmacology and pharmacognosy at the University College London (UCL) School of Pharmacy.

“ABC is grateful for the dynamic scholarly contributions that Professor Heinrich has made to the global knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants,” said Blumenthal. “His scope of vision and activity is quite varied. Among many of his publications, we particularly appreciate his research on authenticity and adulteration of popular botanical food supplements and traditional herbal medicines sold in the EU and beyond.”

“It is wonderful to see my changing team’s and my contributions acknowledged, and it also is another call to consider where the field of medicinal plant/botanicals research needs to move to in the next years and decades,” said Heinrich. “Biocultural diversity and sustainable sourcing remain central elements. The new challenge is how can this field of research be developed addressing the impact of climate change. We need to develop new methods using approaches also from other fields to lay the foundations for new collaborative and transdisciplinary answers to these challenges. So, as every award, it is a call for action.”

Over the course of his career, Heinrich has contributed to more than 450 scientific publications, including journal articles, reference texts, reports, and more.

“One of the strengths of Professor Heinrich is that he challenges established thinking by asking difficult but important questions,” said ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD. “His interest in the various facets of medicinal plant research has led to the breath of topics covered in his publications, making him one of the most prominent scientists in the field. My heartfelt congratulations for this well-deserved award.”

The ABC Varro E. Tyler Commercial Investment in Phytomedicinal Research Award

This award recognizes a botanical ingredient, dietary supplement, and/or phytomedicinal products company that makes a strong investment in human clinical research to support the authenticity, safety, and efficacy of its ingredients or products.

This year’s award was presented to the Sabinsa Corporation.

“All of us at Sabinsa consider being chosen to receive the ABC Varro E. Tyler Excellence in Phytomedicinal Research Award a great honor,” said Kalyanam Nagabhushanam, PhD, the president of research and development at Sabinsa. “This is a meaningful tribute to Sabinsa’s 35-year history of using modern scientific research methods to expand upon traditional Ayurvedic knowledge into the health benefits of botanicals. We realize that along with this honor comes the responsibility to maintain that position by continued fruitful research into phytomedicines.”

Sabinsa was founded in New Jersey in 1988 by Dr. Muhammed Majeed. The company’s mission is “to provide evidence-based natural products for human functional nutrition and well-being,” according to its website. As part of its commitment to research-based products, Sabinsa employs more than 120 full-time scientists working in India and the United States.

“Sabinsa firmly believes that immutable customer confidence in a nutritional product can be only secured on a long-term basis by demonstrating safety, quality, and scientific support,” Nagabhushanam said. “Sabinsa continuously invests in new research on all its products to ensure a pre-eminent position in the market.”

“ABC salutes Dr. Majeed and his associates for their strong commitment to scientific and clinical research on their various botanical ingredients,” said ABC’s Mark Blumenthal. “This is the first time that ABC has chosen a recipient of the Tyler award from India. There is a significant level of modern botanical research occurring in India as is certainly warranted since this country has a long history of empirical use of herbs and medicinal plants in the extensive tradition of Ayurveda and other traditional systems of medicine. In the Tyler award committee’s opinion, Sabinsa deserves recognition for its extensive commitment and contributions to botanical science.”

FairWild Foundation Receives 2023 ABC Steven Foster Botanical Conservation and Sustainability Award

The ABC Steven Foster Award was created in 2022 and recognizes excellence in conservation and sustainability efforts related to medicinal and aromatic plants. It is named in honor of botanist, author, and photographer Steven Foster (1957–2022) and commemorates his many years of professional interest, writing, and advocacy work in this field.

This year, the award was presented to the FairWild Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit organization that, since 2008, has promoted the sustainable, traceable, and ethical trade of wild plant ingredients and products.

The FairWild Standard is a rigorous, voluntary standard for the sustainable wild collection of medicinal and aromatic plants, gums and resins, fruits, nuts and seeds, and mushrooms. It applies a whole-ecosystem approach and includes relevant criteria for environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Deborah Vorhies, CEO of the FairWild Foundation, stated: “[Steven Foster’s] reputation and legacy of knowledge and dedication live on, and to receive this prize in his name is an honor and an inspiration. At FairWild, we share Steven’s passion for botanicals. Like him, we believe that protecting wild plants and ensuring their future are also about respecting, honoring, and being fair to those who live alongside and collect those plants.

“At a higher level,” Vorhies added, “we know that humanity faces urgent and bigger problems, and we believe that a positive relationship between humanity and plants (through sustainable and respectful harvesting) provides a model of mutual nurturing, which can help us address these problems. FairWild is proud to be able to play a role in helping us be better stewards of planet Earth through our standard and certification process, ensuring a sustainable future for landscapes across the globe and for the more than 5,000 collectors who are paid, respected, and ensured decent working conditions through the FairWild Standard.”

Ann Armbrecht, PhD, director of SHP, commented: “We applaud the FairWild Foundation’s work to consistently bring attention not only to the wild plants in international trade, but also to the wild harvesters whose livelihoods depend in part on continued access to markets for these wild-harvested plants.”

Josef Brinckmann, president of ABC’s Board of Trustees and former member of the FairWild Foundation’s Board of Trustees, endorsed the foundation for the award. “The foundation’s efforts to expand the global reach of its standard are critical, because demand for wild medicinal plants is increasing while areas of biodiversity (where the plants naturally occur) are rapidly decreasing.

“This innovative standard recognizes the links between biodiversity conservation, the value of traditional ecological knowledge, fair compensation for sustainable resource management, rural livelihoods, and the ethical and social responsibilities of finished product brands that need access to wild plants for their products. The FairWild Foundation deserves recognition, and any brands that use wild plants should consider supporting the foundation in any way they can.”

ABC Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award

Mimi Hernandez, RH (AHG), the executive director of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), received the ABC Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award, which honors individuals who have played a significant role in creating a sense of community among herbalists, botanical researchers, members of the herb and natural products communities and industries, and others who work in the various areas of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Hernandez is an herbalist and ethnobotanist with a master’s degree in herbalism from the Tai Sophia Institute (now the Maryland University of Integrative Health). Mentored by the ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD (1929–2017), as well as acclaimed herbalists including Kevin Spelman, PhD, James Snow, DCN, RH, and Simon Mills, FCPP, FNIMH, Hernandez also draws on the tradition of curanderismo, the holistic system of Latin American folk herbalism, and her Colombian and Mexican heritage.

“I am grateful to be recognized by the American Botanical Council as a recipient of the Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award,” said Hernandez, who has been the executive director of AHG since 2013. “When I was first informed of this honor, I had to let it sink in. It baffled me because I am just one individual, a thread in the vast fabric of the herbal community. As the concept of ‘community’ implies more than one person, a network of living beings, I humbly share this award on behalf of the many communities I find myself woven into.”

ABC’s Blumenthal said: “Mimi is a quintessential community builder. She has an innate sense of respect for and connection with all people on the plants-for-people path. The humility with which she accepted this recognition speaks to her sense of seeing herself as simply being a servant to her botanical education and activist calling. She is most deserving of ABC’s recognition for her energetic and positive role in the American herbal community.”

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