American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) > AHPA Resources > Technical Guidance > Scientific Affairs > Contemporary Herbal Research > Searchable Databases

Herbal Research

Several internet-based databases can be used to access current information on herbs, as well as on dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and others. A sampling of those which may be most useful follows.

PubMed at the National Library of Medicine

PubMed is a free resource, “developed and maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) located at the National Institutes of Health. It provides access to MEDLINE® and to articles in selected life sciences journals not included in MEDLINE.”

Enter the name of just about any herb at this site, home of over 15 million bibliographic citations, and you will have immediate access to information that identified all of the articles that have been published about that herb in over 7,000 journals from around the world. Links to free abstracts are often available, and purchase of entire articles can be negotiated either directly from the publishers or through a local library.

The problem, of course, with so many citations and so many journals, is that the response to a search can be overwhelming. For example, a simple search for the term “ginkgo” performed in April 2007 returned over 1,960 hits. Options exist to refine searches and PubMed provides on-site recommendations to assist its users in producing more focused inquiries. In many instances, however, it may be best to use the HerbMed® database described below, as this service provides much of the same information found at PubMed in an organized presentation.


As is obvious from its name, this site focuses entirely on herbs. It “provides hyperlinked access to the scientific data underlying the use of herbs for health” and is “an impartial, evidence-based information resource for professionals, researchers, and general public.” Herb Med® is the product of the nonprofit Alternative Medicine Foundation, Inc. The basic free site contains information about 54 herbs, including many of those that are most popular and most broadly available. An enhanced fee-based version, HerbMed Pro™, is much more extensive, providing information on 207 herbs as of April 2007.

The primary benefit of the HerbMed® site is its organization. There is no original or even obscure research included in the references cited there, and the website does not attempt to provide summaries or editorialization. Instead, listings file articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and provide direct links to the abstract of that article at PubMed (see above). Each article is categorized into one of several section, so that the user can find all of the references related to, for example, evidence of efficacy, and there find further organization into clinical trials, observational studies and case reports, and traditional use. Other organizational sections include safety; evidence of activity (e.g., animal studies; pharmacodynamics; analytical chemistry; etc.); contemporary formulas and folkloric blends; and other information, such as distribution maps and data on cultivation and ecology.

In summary, there is no information at HerbMed® or HerbMed Pro™ that can not also be found through a well-designed search at PubMed. But at the HerbMed® sites, all of the information you would find at PubMed is already categorized in a useful and logical structure and provides significant time savings for any busy researcher.

IBIDS at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)

The International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS) is a collaborative effort between the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health and USDA’s National Agricultural Library. It was created to fulfill the mandate of the U.S. Congress, which required when it created ODS that that office “collect and compile the results of scientific research relating to dietary supplements.”

IBIDS provides access to over 700,000 bibliographic citations and abstracts, from 1986 to the present, “from four major database sources: biomedical-related articles from MEDLINE, botanical and agricultural science from AGRICOLA, worldwide agricultural literature through AGRIS, and selected nutrition journals from CAB Abstracts and CAB Health.” IBIDS contains literature on over 250 botanicals, including all of the best sellers in the U.S. market. The IBIDS database is updated quarterly.

It is important to be aware that IBIDS is organized as a bibliographic reference and the information provided is limited to names of articles, authors and publication information and, in many cases, an abstract. While links are provided to the journal in which each article is published, there is no direct link to the article, so that a user that needs to locate an actual document will need to conduct further searches from the linked publication.

It is also worthwhile to compare the usefulness of this site to the PubMed and HerbMed® sites described above. Both of these sites provide links directly to each cited article. Because of this, and because of HerbMed’s organization structure (see description), these may therefore be more “user-friendly” than IBIDS for users who need to obtain actual articles. On the other hand, the use of more databases by IBIDS may produce a more complete record of publications, since PubMed and HerbMed access only MEDLINE, and so do not identify articles found through AGRICOLA, AGRIS, or CAB that are not also in MEDLINE.

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