It is probably not possible to stay abreast of all of the information that continues to be published about herbs in peer-reviewed scientific journals. There are any number of such publications, with areas of specialization that extend from a plant’s basic botany and nomenclature to research on its chemical make-up and cultivation, and then into human uses, whether by the indigenous people where a plant is first found, or in a clinical setting with an emphasis on evaluating safety and efficacy. Although even the list that follows would require extensive hours to review, AHPA believes that each of the following journals can provide valuable scientific information about herbs.
The American Journal of Botany publishes significant, novel research of interest to a wide audience of plant scientists in all areas of plant biology (structure, function, development, diversity, genetics, evolution, reproduction, systematics), all levels of organization (molecular to ecosystem), and all plant groups and allied organisms (cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, and lichens). This internationally recognized journal of the Botanical Society of America is accepting refereed research papers on all aspects of plant biology and has published monthly since 1914.
Economic Botany is the official organ of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB), which was “established in 1959 to foster and encourage scientific research, education, and related activities on the past, present, and future uses of plants, and the relationship between plants and people, and to make the results of such research available to the scientific community and the general public through meetings and publications.” If you want to read any single journal on economic botany then this is the one, worth the price (incredibly reasonable as far a journals go, and sold below cost to students) for the book reviews alone. It’s a journal (and a society) with lots of heart.
Always about people and plants at its core this quarterly journal “includes all or parts of many established disciplines such as: agronomy, anthropology, archaeology, chemistry, economics, ethnobotany, ethnology, forestry, genetic resources, geography, geology, horticulture, medicine, microbiology, nutrition, pharmacognosy, and pharmacology, in addition to the established botanical disciplines.” Annual dues in 2007 to the SEB are $65 and include a journal (quarterly) subscription.
Initially a free non-peer reviewed industry publication that was founded in 1929 by the Italian botanical extract company Indena SpA, Fitoterapia has grown into a respectable quality botanical science journal that began co-publishing with Elsevier in 1999. Expanded from 6 to 8 issues a year in 2001 it no longer (since the early ‘80s) features a different botanical illustration on each cover but does publish “original research in chemistry, pharmacology and use of medicinal plants and their derivatives.” The cost of a subscription is not as heart stopping compared to many other scientific/technical journals, but it is a long way from free.
More than any other single publication, and for over two decades, HerbalGram has communicated current botanical issues to the widest possible audience in a strikingly attractive manner. Included with the cost of a membership to the American Botanical Council (ABC), HerbalGram reads like a popular magazine in that it has ‘departments’ and pretty pictures but with high-quality content as the norm. Each issue of HerbalGram is a keeper. Its appeal is universal (“the public, researchers, educators, healthcare professionals, industry, and media”) in successfully carrying out the mission of “education using science-based and traditional information to promote the responsible use of herbal medicine.”
This bimonthly publication “includes observational and analytical reports on treatments outside the realm of allopathic medicine which are gaining interest and warranting research to assess their therapeutic value.” An excellent communication tool among practitioners and for others with an interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), its utility as scientific tool is limited as it doesn’t usually offer critical evaluations of the CAM treatments it reports on. The official journal of the Society for Acupuncture Research, it “includes current concepts in clinical care, including case reports that will be valuable for health care professionals and scientists who are seeking to evaluate and integrate these therapies into patient care protocols and research strategies.”
Analytical methods of analysis are most useful to the most people when they have been performance-tested against defined criteria. Such ‘official methods’ can be trusted to deliver reliable results on the materials for which they have been validated. AOAC International is the organization that manages Official Methods of Analysis testing (“Multi-laboratory validation for nonproprietary and commercial proprietary methods where the highest degree of confidence in performance is required to generate credible, defensible, and reproducible results”), and the Journal of AOAC International “ publishes fully refereed contributed papers in the fields of chemical and biological analysis: on original research on new techniques and applications, collaborative studies, authentic data of composition, studies leading to method development, meeting symposia, newly adopted AOAC approved methods and invited reviews.”
This journal is essential to any individual, company or organization directly involved in chemical analysis of botanical and other dietary supplement ingredients.
As the official journal of the International Society of Ethnopharmacology, the Journal of Ethnopharmacology publishes research on “people's use of plants, fungi, animals, microorganisms and minerals.” Acknowledging the value of early empirical knowledge about the uses of natural substances and the need to preserve this knowledge and the local rights of indigenous people, this journal emphasizes research in the “documentation of indigenous medical knowledge, scientific study of indigenous medicines in order to contribute in the long-run to improved health care in the regions of study, as well as search for pharmacologically unique principles from existing indigenous remedies.” The Journal of Ethnopharmacology therefore publishes “original articles concerned with the observation and experimental investigation of the biological activities of plant and animal substances used in the traditional medicine of past and present cultures.”
The Journal of Natural Products, a joint publication of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) “is edited specifically for natural product chemists, biochemists, pharmacologists, taxonomists, and ecologists.” It is one of the top medicinal chemistry journals reporting “natural product research relating to the chemistry and/or biochemistry of naturally occurring compounds or the biology of living systems from which they are obtained.” Highly technical, the articles it contains “will describe secondary metabolites of micro-organisms, including antibiotics and mycotoxins; physiologically active compounds from higher plants and animals; biochemical studies, including biosynthesis and microbiological transformations; fermentation and plant tissue culture; the isolation, structure elucidation, and chemical synthesis of novel compounds from nature; and the pharmacology of compounds of natural origin.” It is available at reduced rates for ASP and ACS members.
Formerly the International Journal of Pharmacognosy, this publication is more about the study of naturally occurring bioactive materials (pharmacognosy) than the study of drugs, as might be suggested in its present title of Pharmaceutical Biology. Content-wise it covers similar topics to those found in other natural products/ medicinal chemistry journals such as the isolation, identification, and activity of materials from nature that have medicinal properties. The pharmacology of medicinal plants and their extracts from countries around the world are often presented as are studies on materials from particular regions. The biological tests employed are usually in vitro or animal studies. Publication rose from 6 issues a year to 8, plus a supplement, in 2002; now it seeks to publish 10 issues annually. Cleary international in scope and expressly reporting on pharmacognosy, it’s hard to imagine why the title was ever changed.
Phytochemical Analysis is exactly what the title suggests, “devoted to the publication of original articles on the utilization of analytical methodology in the plant sciences. The spectrum of coverage is broad, encompassing methods and techniques relevant to the extraction, separation, purification, identification and qualification of substances in plant biochemistry, plant cellular and molecular biology, plant biotechnology, the food sciences, agriculture and horticulture.” Completely geared toward the analysis of plants, plant-derived extracts and plant products “(including those which have been partially or completely refined for use in the food, agrochemical, pharmaceutical and related industries)” it includes “forms of physical, chemical, biochemical, spectroscopic, radiometric, electrometric and chromatographic investigations of plant products (monomeric species as well as polymeric molecules such as nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates),” and has been publishing bimonthly since 1990.
Published since 1961, Phytochemistry began twice monthly publication in 1997. An official Journal of the Phytochemistry Society of Europe and the Phytochemistry Society of North America, Phytochemistry “is the international journal of pure and applied plant chemistry, plant biochemistry and molecular biology” and is divided into sections that include Review articles, Protein Biochemistry, Molecular Genetics and Genomics, Metabolism, Chemotaxonomy, Bioactive Products, and Chemistry. By scientists and for scientists, it is probably safe to say that Phytochemistry is THE international journal of pure and applied plant chemistry … and that its coverage is generally on the molecular level.
For those interested in the practical aspects of plant medicines, Phytomedicine is a standout. Filling an underpopulated niche, Phytomedicine “publishes research results on phytotherapy (clinical trials), phytopharmacology, pharmacognosy, standardization and phytotoxicology, obtained with plant extracts as well as isolated compounds from these extracts and phytopharmaceuticals.” It is divided into sections that include Clinical Studies, Case Reports, Screening Studies, Analysis and Standardization of Plant Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals, and Reviews. The papers it publishes are said to be “useful to drug regulatory authorities in deciding whether to approve certain phytomedicines or not.” First published in 1994, volume 12 in 2005 was delivered as 10 issues, up from 8 the year before. Compared to many other scientific journals, it is available at a reasonable price, especially considering the welcome value of what it delivers.
Phytotherapy Research is an excellent technical journal presenting “original medical plant research, including biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, toxicology, pathology, and the clinical applications of herbs and natural products to both human and animal medicine.” Somehow it feels less practical than Phytomedicine with a more academic presentation that is more often pharmacologic (studies of medicinal activity) than clinical, but a review of article titles doesn’t bear this sense out. “Phytotherapy Research publishes full-length original research papers, short communications, reviews and letters on medicinal plant research. Clinical papers, on the applications of herbs and natural products to both human and animal medicine, may vary from case histories to full clinical trials.” Initiated in 1987 it began 12 issues a year in 2004. Individual subscriptions are not inexpensive.
Planta Medica, Natural Products and Medicinal Plant Research “is one of the leading international journals in the field of medicinal plants and natural products with original research papers, letters, rapid communications, reviews, minireviews and perspectives from researchers worldwide.” It is the official organ of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research, the German medicinal plant society also known as the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzenforschung (GA). The GA hosts an annual meeting that is generally considered to be the most relevant to the medicinal plant industry. This is not surprising as many of the society members are either with academia and working on medicinal plants, or from the European (mostly German) phytopharmaceutical industry. Its coverage is divided between Pharmacological and Clinical Studies, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Physiology, in vitro Biotechnology, Natural Products Chemistry, and Analytical methods. First published in 1953, it began to be issued 12 times a year in 2002. Reduced subscription rates are available to GA members.
In addition to the above journals that specialize in research on herbs, related articles are occasionally published in such mainstream medical journals as the Journal of the American Medical Association (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/currentissue), and the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.nejm.org/). Consideration should be given to the source of research found in these mainstream publications. These medical journals tend to publish research that finds herbs to be ineffective or dangerous and much of the research has been questioned for being badly designed.