CLEMSON — Many plants are nature’s medicine and about 150 people gathered at Clemson University recently to learn more about these natural healers.

Niroshan Siva, a Clemson graduate research assistant in Plant and Environmental Sciences, presents a poster on lentils during the 2017 ACMAP Medicinal Plant Conference.

Niroshan Siva (right), a Clemson graduate research assistant in plant and environmental sciences, won first place in the graduate division for his poster on lentils during the 2017 ACMAP Medicinal Plant Conference. (MORE PHOTOS)
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

The American Council for Medicinally Active Plants held its eighth annual conference on the Clemson campus in late June. Clemson professors Jeffrey Adelberg and Anthony Pometto, organized the conference, which attracted scientists and students from leading research and medical universities to learn more about benefits medicinal plants can provide.

“Medicinal plant research is not for the benefit of researchers, but for society as a whole,” Adelberg said. “We live in an age of specialists and dwell in our narrowly-defined bubbles. This conference brought together researchers from widely varied disciplines and gave us an opportunity to share our knowledge. Sharing knowledge freely among peers is a hallmark of a great society.”

Out of Africa

Jim Simon, Rutgers University professor and associate director for sustainable development for the Global Institute for BioExploration, opened the conference with a presentation about his work in Africa where he is studying the plant Griffonia, an excellent source of the herbal supplement 5-HTP. Griffonia is found in the U.S. dietary supplement market for use in weight loss, anxiety, insomnia and more. According to Simon, communities he and his team work with are not well-educated. After earning the villagers’ trust, Simon’s team created posters with information about Griffonia and gave the posters to villagers.

These (posters) are how we do the training,” Simon said. “We give these posters to people to hang on their walls. These posters may be the only pictures they have in their huts or their houses. The information on these posters is scientific written in a language these people can understand.”

Simon currently leads a nutrition-focused project for the Horticulture Innovation Lab focused on improving nutrition with African indigenous vegetables in Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Using natural products from natural sources

Another speaker was David Newman, former director of the Natural Products Section of the National Cancer Institute. Newman grew up in Britain and began his career in science working as a technician in an experimental nutrition center in 1956.

“Natural products in my lexicon are pure compounds that come from natural sources,” Newman said. “Mother Nature makes these products and we have to determine how we can make use of them. Mother Nature is the best chemist.”

Being able to sell drugs created from natural sources requires approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Randy Beavers of OrganiPharm talked about how he worked with Clemson University researchers to get FDA approval for Goldenseal, an herbal supplement used to treat ailments including diarrhea, urinary tract infections and eye infections. Jeremy Tzeng of the Clemson University food science department talked about how Goldenseal extracts are being used for cancer applications.

Students engage

Students attending the conference participated in a poster competition designed to demonstrate their knowledge of the relation between plants and health. Clemson student Niroshan Siva took first place in the graduate division while Erika Pambianchi of North Carolina State University earned second place. Other winners in the poster competition were: undergraduate division, first place, Nolan Barrett of Medical University of South Carolina, and second place, Justin Stempin of the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. In the post-doctoral division, Joshua Kellogg of the University of North Carolina–Greensboro earned first place and Dipayan Sarkar of North Dakota State University placed second.

An Evening with Patrick McMillan

Conference participants also were treated to a reception in the South Carolina Botancial Garden where they learned more about Clemson University’s vast horticultural and botanical collection. Patrick McMillan, Garden director and host of the Emmy Award-winning television show “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan,” hosted the reception.

Patrick McMillan, director of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, talks about the Garden's botanical diversity.

Patrick McMillan, director of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, talks about the Garden’s botanical diversity during a reception held for participants in the 2017 ACMAP Medicinal Plant Conference.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

“This Garden is an oasis of botanical diversity,” McMillan said. “We have 295 acres of natural landscapes, gardens, streams and nature trails here. We have the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, as well as an arboretum, butterfly garden and more. This Garden is home to more than 300 varieties of camellias and we also have an extensive collection of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias and other native plants.

“We like to tell people to visit the Garden and see where nature and culture meet.”

In addition to attending presentations and various other events, conference participants also toured Gaia Herbs in Brevard, North Carolina; the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina; and Mushroom Mountain in Easley.

Phyllis Light from the Appalachian Center for Natural Health presented a workshop on Southern Appalachian Herbal Medicine Preparation.

The conference attracted participants from near and far. Yue-Wei Guo and some of his co-workers from Shanghai, China, flew about 18 hours to attend the conference.

“This has been a very informative conference,” he said. “It is nice to hear about what others are doing and studying in relation to medicinal plants.”

Clemson University officials welcomed conference participants and emphasized Clemson programs associated with medicinal plant research.

“Plant studies and traditional medicinal plant uses have a long and rich history here,” said Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Today, Clemson scientists use clues from a variety of historical cultural traditions to advance scientific knowledge. We are the right place and time for nature, people and science to come together for productive outcomes.”

George Askew, vice president for Public Service and Agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, agreed.

“Clemson University has an extensive background in plant science research,” Askew said. “This includes medicinal plant research. Clemson’s research footprint covers all regions of the state, as well as across the nation and the world.”

The primary purpose of ACMAP is to promote and foster research, development, production and conservation of medicinal, aromatic and other bioactive plants useful to human health. For more information, go to

See Images from the 2017 ACMAP Conference.