A Brief History of the GA

On April 8, 1953, a small group of scientists interested in medicinal plant research founded in Camberg/Taunus (Germany) the GA, now Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Products Research. 

The first president, Ernst Meyer, M.D., announced the name of the new Society as “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzen-Forschung und -Therapie”. The purpose of the new Society was to foster and promote scientific work related to medicinal plants, including research, production, cultivation, breeding, and therapy. The first issue of Planta Medica, the official journal of the new Society, was subtitled: “Zeitschrift für Arzneipflanzenanwendung und Arzneipflanzenforschung” (Journal for Medicinal Plant Utilization and Research). It was intended to provide a publication outlet for scientific articles dealing with all aspects of drug plants. 

During the early years, under the presidency of Dr. Meyer (a physician specialized in phytotherapy), the therapeutic aspect of medicinal plants was the Society’s principal thrust. However, although the annual meetings were held in conjunction with the “Deutscher Therapiekongress”, participation by medical practitioners never became extensive because therapeutic aspects were not sufficiently emphasized in the various contributions at the meetings. Consequently, the emphasis shifted to more pharmacognostical/phytochemical focus. It was decided, therefore, to drop the second part of the Society’s name. In 1959, the appellation became “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzenforschung”, one that clearly reflected the Society’s interests for the decade to follow.

Even early in its existence, the Society enjoyed acceptance by the greater scientific community. After five years, the number of members had increased from 54 in 1953 to 223 members in 1958. During that period, membership was restricted to German citizens, although colleagues in other countries showed significant interest in the Society and its activities. Those persons were accepted as corresponding members only, but they participated in the meetings and made many important contributions.

By 1969, the Society had developed into an international one, and the word “Deutsche” was eliminated from its name. Since 1970, the name of the Society has been “Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzenforschung” (GA). An English translation, the “Society for Medicinal Plant Research”, was then established. With this official decision, the original aim of the founders to bring together all individuals and groups interested in medicinal plant research was consummated. The international development of the society was only a matter of course, and  English became the official congress language in 1978. As a result, the society now has members  from all over the world and has achieved international recognition as one of the leading scientific organisations in the area of natural products.

The  scientific expertise of GA is requested in science and health policy and on European and international level, GA is regularly asked for statements on issues concerning quality, safety and efficacy of herbal medicinal products, and GA members are involved in the field of Good Agricultural Practice and sustainable use of medicinal plants.

Board members of the society are scientists in academia and industry who devote much of their time to the business and the development of the Society. As a result the number of GA members has been growing steadily over the years. Currently, the he society has more than 1300 active members from 80 countries.

The annual conferences of GA are the main events of society. Up to now  a total  64 Annual Congresses have been held, of which 35 took place in Germany, 24 in other European countries, one in Canada, and 4 in the United States. Every 4 years these congresses are organized as joint meetings with other important sister societies in the field of natural product research, currently with the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP), l’Association Francaise pour l’Enseignement et la Recherche en Pharmacognosie (AFERP), the Phytochemical Society of Europe (PSE), the Italian Phytochemical Society (SIF), and the Japanese Society of Pharmacognosy (JSP).

In order to enable the participation of many young scientists at the annual congresses, travel grants are awarded for excellent contributions. During the congress outstanding posters or oral communications are rewarded with monetary poster awards.

The topics of the annual congresses encompass all areas of medicinal plant and natural product research and pharmacognosy/pharmaceutical biology such as analytics, standardization of herbal drugs, phytochemistry, chemotaxonomy, plant cultivation and breeding, biotechnology and gene technology, biochemistry and pharmacology of secondary metabolites, as well as phytotherapy. All these subjects are covered during the programs of the annual GA Congresses. Besides the annual congresses, GA  organizes or supports smaller symposia and workshops on specific topics related to natural product research.

To address specific topics GA established over the years some permanent committees which usually held workshops during the annual congresses:

  • Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Natural Compounds
  • Breeding and Cultivation of Medicinal Plants
  • Manufacturing and Quality Control of Herbal Medicinal Products
  • Regulatory Affairs on Herbal Medicinal Products
  • Young Researchers Workshop

Planta Medica has been  the official scientific journal of the society from the beginning, and has meanwhile become one of the leading international journals in the field of natural products research.  biological sources including plants,  marine organisms, fungi and bacteria. The following areas of medicinal plants and natural product research are covered:

  • Biological and Pharmacological Activities
  • Natural Product Chemistry & Analytical Studies
  • Pharmacokinetic Investigations
  • Formulation and Delivery Systems of Natural Products

Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Egon Stahl, inventor of thin-layer chromatography and eminent member of GA, donated on the occasion of his 60th birthday,  the Egon-Stahl-Awards of GA, in order to recognize and promote young scientists working in the field of Pharmacognosy (Pharmaceutical Biology) and Analytical Phytochemistry. The bronze medal is given to young scientists for outstanding theses, and the silver medal to scientists up to 40 years of age for outstanding scientific work during the years following their graduation.

The Egon Stahl-Award in Gold is the highest scientific honour of the GA. It acknowledges the outstanding scientific lifetime achievements of scientists in the field of Pharmaceutical Biology (Pharmacognosy, Chemistry of Natural Products).

In 2003 GA celebrated its 50th anniversary. For this reason, a book on the history of the society was published:

Society for Medicinal Plant Research – Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzenforschung: 50 Years 1953 – 2003 A Jubilee Edition, edited by Ewald Sprecher and Wolfgang Caesar, WVG Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH Stuttgart, 2003 (ISBN 3-8047-2028-5)

In 2005, the workshop for young researchers was established as part of the annual congresses of GA. The workshop offers  our young members (undergraduates, PhD students, young post docs) a unique opportunity to  to present and discuss their research in a free and relaxed atmosphere. Special emphasis is laid on the problem-solving discussion between all participants.

To meet modern developments in the field and to widen the focus of the society, the name was changed in 2008 to GA – Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research / GA – Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzen- und Naturstoff-Forschung (e.V.).

In recent years, additional research awards have been established in cooperation with industrial partners:

The Dr. Willmar Schwabe Award, sponsored by Dr. Willmar-Schwabe GmbH, Karlsruhe (Germany), acknowledges outstanding pharmacological and/or clinical research in the field of medicinal plants and natural products.

The Bionorica Phytoneering Award, sponsored by Bionorica AG, Neumarkt (Germany) acknowledges outstanding research in the field of development and application of phytopharmaceutical products.

Both awards are endowed with 10,000 Euro and are awarded biannually in an alternating mode.

Finally, in 2010 the Dr. Willmar Schwabe Research Scholarship for Young Scientists was established. It is intended to support young scientists, especially from developing countries, during a research attachment of approx. 6 months with a leading research group.

In 2015 GA decided on a major reorganization. The three permanent committees on Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Natural Compounds, Breeding and Cultivation of Medicinal Plants, Manufacturing and Quality Control of Herbal Medicinal Products were discontinued, and several Working Groups with specific tasks were established, namely the working group on Congresses/Workshops (chaired by the President), the Awards working group (chaired by a Vice-President), the working group African Research Network, the working group on European Affairs,  the working group on Communication, and the Young Researchers working group.

In 2014 a sister journal of Planta Medica, Planta Medica Letters, started as an international, English language open access research journal. It changed name in 2016 to become Planta Medica International Open. The focus of the journal is broader than that of Planta Medica, as it welcomes submissions from virtually all natural product-related areas.

Considering that means of scientific communications changes, GA established in 2016 scientific webinars. The webinars are an effective means for providing our global members with lectures and seminars on important scientific topics. Webinars can be followed either during the live sessions, or later via the members area of the GA website. Also, the GA website has been configured for access via smartphone and similar devices.

What are important reasons to become a member of GA?

  • Interaction with a worldwide network of scientists sharing similar interests,
  • Annual Congresses, and Joint Meetings of Societies, which are all considered as major events in the field of natural product research,
  • Workshops and seminars, in part in cooperation with interested partner societies,
  • GA website with with numerous useful information and links,
  • Webinars that are accessible in the member’s area of the GA website,
  • GA-Newsletter as a source for news that are relevant for our members,
  • The scientific awards of GA,
  • Financial support for young scientists (travel grants), and a Young Researcher Workshop  at the annual congresses,
  • Access to the abstract book of the Annual Congresses in the members’ area of our homepage,
  • The opportunity to subscribe PLANTA MEDICA at reduced rates, in “print” and “online only” versions.

November, 2020