Grow Your Own
The best way to find high quality, sustainably sourced herbal medicine is to grow and prepare your own. After several years following herbs through the supply chain, that’s my main conclusion. Growing your own solves problems of heightened FDA regulation, issues relating to adulteration, sustainability, social equity, and quality control. Not only do you know what you are getting when you grow your own, you know what you aren’t getting: pesticides drifting over in the wind, heavy metals lingering in the soil, high microbe counts from poor drying practices, poorly paid collectors, inattentive processors. There is some really good herbal medicine out there (more on that below), there is a lot of really bad stuff out there as well. If you grow your own, you know for sure what you have.
How to grow your own
Unlike vegetables, herbs don’t require much soil and many, as weeds, thrive on our lack of attention. So it isn’t that hard to get started. But it does sometimes help to have guidance.
I’m thrilled to announce that the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine has just launched their Online Herbal Immersion Course! This course covers growing, harvesting and preparing herbal remedies and is a fantastic place to begin or to continue your exploration. I’ve mentioned Juliet’s programs here before – because I believe in them so strongly. This course is an investment. But if you are serious about learning, it is one of the best opportunities out there to learn – plus it is on sale until April 16th.
By growing and harvesting your own medicinal plants, you’ll also quickly learn what it takes to produce high quality herbal medicine. Knowing first-hand how much work is involved may be the most powerful way to begin raising awareness about why high quality, responsibly sourced herbal medicines cost more. More on that in the future.
What Else Can I Do?
There are other ways to help. Be willing to pay more for herbs grown domestically. There is a growing awareness of the need to source more herbs in the US. Cost is a huge obstacle to farmers getting into herb growing. Consumers need to be willing to pay more – and growers need to be able to be efficient to keep costs down as much as possible. The upcoming Medicinal Herb Growing Conference will be exploring these issues in more detail. I’m honored to be a speaker at this conference and will continue to share updates about the outcomes.
Finally, be willing to pay more for herbs sourced responsibly from overseas. How do you know a company’s claims about sustainability and fairness are real? There are some ways to tell. What certifications do they use? There are lots – organic, fair for life, fair trade, fair wild, the list goes on. Even these sometimes feel like more marketing than anything else, but the rigorous ones involve ongoing recertification by bodies that are certified and trained to check and re-check. Farmers and producers have to jump through a lot of hoops to pass. Which means people are paying attention down the line.
Ben Heron from Pukka Herbs describes some of what is involved in these visits in this interview. When he visits field sites in India, he isn’t just dropping in for a quick tour around the fields and facilities. He is taking the time to forecast 3 years down the line Pukka’s needs for each crop and the farmer’s capacity. He trouble shoots challenges with post harvest handling and changing weather patterns. He meets with current suppliers and potential new suppliers.
So another way to know if a company’s claims about responsible sourcing are real is to ask questions. How many people work in sourcing for the company? How often do they visit sites? What do they do when they are there? Exploring these issues in greater detail will be the heart of the Sustainable Herbs Project site. So stay tuned for more!
And in the meantime, if you’d like a free community screening license and the opportunity to immerse yourself in herb growing and medicine making, take a look at this fantastic online herbal immersion course. The sale ends and the course begins on April 16th so sign up soon!