Snapshot: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the World, ed. by Ákos Máthé (Hungary, 1986/87 and 1995/96)

Book cover - Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America

Today’s upsurge in demand for medicinal and aromatic plants, coupled with the already rather limited availability and potential exhaustion of these natural resources, make it necessary to take stock of our resources and our knowledge. The book series 'Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the World' has the mission to offer practical knowledge on cultivated and non-cultivated medicinal and aromatic plants in a global perspective.

Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

Medicinal and aromatic plant (MAP) utilization dates back to the beginnings of mankind. Our forefathers used natural substances they could find in nature to ease and cure their sufferings and illnesses and to heal their wounds. This type of approach has survived in the traditional medicinal (TM) uses until today. Remarkably, nearly 80% of the world population still relies on MAPs in their medications.

The renaissance of MAP use in the high-income countries of the world has brought about a different type of use in the form of herbal medicines (Complementary/Alternative Medicine (CAM)). As a result, MAPs have become “industrial products” with new concepts like phytotherapy and veterinary medicinal uses, aromatherapy, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, and animal welfare uses widening the scope of their utilization. MAPs will also maintain their importance in the search for new, valuable sources of drugs and lead compounds.

Today’s upsurge in demand, coupled with the already rather limited availability and potential exhaustion of these natural resources, make it necessary to take stock of our resources and our knowledge regarding research and development, production, trade and utilization, and especially from the viewpoint of sustainability.

In the era of global climatic change, I chose to initiate a series of volumes expected to make an important contribution to the better knowledge and understanding of MAPs. To date, six volumes have been published: two overview volumes on the field and recent advances, and four volumes focused on specific regions – the Middle East, Africa, South America and North America.

The book series Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the World has, therefore, the mission to offer practical knowledge, in a monographic form, on cultivated and non-cultivated medicinal and aromatic plants with both therapeutic and commercial values, and all this in a global perspective.

Leading scientists in the field of aromatic and medicinal plants from the world over have accepted our invitation to realize this daring vision of the editor and contribute their expertise and research experience in the assembling of knowledge for this book series. The 6 volumes that have already been published are witnesses to the success of this international collaboration.

Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America

The aim of the recently published volume on the MAPs of North America is to introduce the wealth and diversity of MAPs on the North American continent. The contributions acquaint the readers with a broad spectrum of medicinal and aromatic plants, including traditional uses, prospective production and utilization: wherever possible, the reviews will encompass the past, present and future aspects of these commodities.

The topics have been chosen in such a way as to present true American success stories on medicinal plants, e.g.: American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Taxol from Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), etc. To-date, these are considered as classical examples on successful medicinal plant R+D and utilization.

The present USA is also an excellent example to illustrate the wide ranging activities that are needed to produce and use MAPs in a sustainable way and with a special focus on the conservation of their genetic resources.

The North American continent, more specifically the USA, is home to several important initiatives aimed at educating both the public and the herbal and dietary supplement industry about such important issues as ingredient and product adulteration, botanical raw material sourcing and sustainability, regenerative and sustainable agriculture, botany, ethnobotany, ethnobiology, horticulture, pharmacognosy, wild harvesting, and herbal medicine, etc. These are important issues related to the sustainable supply and conservation of good quality botanicals that can be used safely and with efficacy.

Fulbright memories

My first Fulbright experiences date back to the times when the official Fulbright Program (Commission) did not even exist in Hungary.

The story is that in 1986, as an associate professor for plant physiology, I felt an urge to get acquainted with genetic fingerprinting, a biochemical method widely used by researchers in the USA, but not in Hungary. Consequently, I decided to apply to a scholarship announced by the National Council for Scholarships (Országos Ösztöndíj Tanács). In those times, the chances for obtaining a scholarship to the USA seemed rather limited. As there was nothing to lose, I had chosen the better paying option of the two types of unspecified scholarships, and a date that coincided with the 17th International Horticultural Congress, held in California. To my greatest surprise, following a relatively long period of silence, I received a message saying that as a successful applicant I had been granted a Fulbright scholarship for 6 months.

But what was a Fulbright scholarship and how to arrange for my visit, when as an applicant, prior to the decision, I had been strictly banned from establishing contacts with possible prospective American counterparts? Remarkably, enough soon afterwards, and still in time before the much desired congress, I received a letter from Dr. Lin Wu, Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of the Davis indicating that he would be willing to act as my host and introduce me to the methods of genetic fingerprinting in turf grass species. This letter of invitation had speeded up the sequence of events.

On the 5th of August 1986, I arrived in New York where I boarded a plane to Washington D.C., to register with the Council for International Exchange of Students (CIES). The registration had turned out to be something like a birthday party, since members of the office headed by the late Ms Georgene Loewecki, coordinator for the Hungarian scholars, were most kind to welcome me with a delicious birthday cake.

So, this is how it all started: My Fulbright Experience. My experience that has been decisive not only from the viewpoint of becoming a member of a great international “Family” (the Fulbright Family), but also for my subsequent professional career. Since participating in the 17th Horticultural Congress and subsequently through my study visits at UC Davis (Davis), UMASS (Amherst), the Purdue University (West Lafayette) and finally, the USDA Hort. Science Institute (Beltsville), I had plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with several top ranking scientists of our horticultural profession, among them the late Professor of Botany, Jim Duke, to whom I have decided to dedicate the volume on the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America.

Regarding the Fulbright experiences, it should be mentioned that due to our broadening Hungarian professional collaborations with American universities, in 1995, I decided to share my knowledge on medicinal and aromatic plant production and research with American students. This time, with an already “vast” Fulbright background, on invitation of Prof. Lyle Craker, I lectured at the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, UMASS, Amherst on the biology and production of medicinal and aromatic plants. Another most successful and enjoyable visit and an excellent chance to get acquainted and to study the North American traditions and system of medicinal and aromatic plant production and utilization. These are experiences that I am glad to share with my students – among others – at the Széchenyi István University, Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science, Mosonmagyaróvár, the University of Horticulture and Food Industry, Budapest.

As a member of the large Fulbright family it was quite natural for me to play an active part and be one of the founding members of our Alumni Association. Later on, for nearly 15 years, I was honored to serve the Fulbright community in the capacity of the president of the Hungarian Fulbright Association. This meant another wonderful period in building alumni potential with interesting programs and experiences, including the organization of two successful international conferences (Spirit of Global Understanding, in 1996 and FULBRIGHT - CHALLENGES AND RESPONSES, in 2002) conmemorating the anniversaries of the Fulbright Program and the Hungarian Alumni Association, respectively.

I am grateful to the Fulbright program for giving me the chance to taste two aspects of the Fulbright scholars’ experience (i.e. learning and teaching). Presently, by collecting the slightly different type of experience in the capacity of an alumni activist, I feel the urge to assist present and prospective Fulbright grantees to best achieve their goals.
As member of the large Family of Fulbright alumni, I strive to be able to contribute to the realization of Senator Fulbright’s desire for international understanding.

There seem to be nearly endless approaches for a person to express his/her gratitude/devotion towards events in life that would turn out to be decisive for a professional career. In this case, I would like to dedicate the volume on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America to my Fulbright experience and friends who have encouraged and contributed to realizing this daring project, the volume on the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America. I am convinced that the knowledge and experience of the authors compiled here, has resulted in a useful, as well as interesting volume worthy of serving this intention.

Professor Ákos Máthé has 40 years' experience of teaching and research in plant ecophysiology and agricultural botany. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, Széchenyi István University in Hungary. He is the series editor of the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the World series, and has edited the most recent volume: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America.

Professor Máthé was a two-time Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Davis (1986/87) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1995/96).

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