Herbal Sustainability

August 2022

It is alarming to read how places where herbs have been traditionally wild crafted from (that is not grown as a crop but grown in the wild) have been stripped of their native herbs by people harvesting these herbs to sell.

There is a growing awareness of the harm that is being done to the environment by Western demand for medicinal herbs and spices. This is what Mountain Rose Herbs wrote recently in a blog post "At Mountain Rose Herbs, we have been in a years-long process of shifting our procurement policies away from wildharvested herbs in favor of cultivated ones whenever possible. This policy was necessitated by the increasing impact of overharvesting on some of the most popular herbs and spices around the world." You can read the whole blog post here https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/ethical-issues-in-the-herb-industry-wildharvesting-vs.-cultivation.

There are further issues with the ways in which herbs are grown, harvested and processed. In many places around the world, this is not regulated and can lead to some disturbing practises. Bags of herbs that are sitting open on the road side next to stinking rubbish piles. "organic" herbs such as brahmi grown in polluted Indian waterways. Herbs that are "mis-identified" or simply mixed in with other herbs by mistake. The end result being that many of the herbal products that you may be buying may not be the best quality or even the herb that you thought you were using.  I have even heard about a NZ importer of herbs finding plastic, cigarette butts and other rubbish in the herbs that they had imported. 

The Sustainable Herbs Foundation is an amazing resource for learning more about this and for advocating for change. Here is a quote from their website" 

"The herbs we ingest to be well are inextricably connected to the processes that produce them. This is true for all herbs. It is especially true for herbs we take for our health."

I think that we all need to be conscious of the impacts that our buying decisions have. Buying locally grown is a really good start. Be aware of the consequences of our actions (if we harvest all the elderflowers then we won't have elderberries). Do we really need to buy the latest fad ingredient that comes from the mountains in Peru?

Here is an Action Plan from the Sustainable Herbs Foundation

  • Pay more. Inexpensive products do a huge disservice to the entire supply chain. Cheap products not only are not likely to work. Lower prices put pressure on companies who are trying to do it right, but still have to compete in the marketplace.
  • Buy certified organically (wild harvested or cultivated) and processed herbs.
  • Buy fair trade certified (Fair Wild, Fair Trade, Fair for Life) whenever possible. Encourage companies to invest in these certifications so more Fair Trade certified medicinal plants are available.
  • Pay more for herbs grown locally by small farmers with whom you can have a relationship.
  • Perhaps the most important thing you can do is grow an herb in a pot in your window so you understand what is involved. Learn how to use the plant as a tea or to prepare a tincture or salve.
  • Better yet, grow two plants.