Wild-crafting Herbs: the Ugly Truth!

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We first arrived on our farm in the middle of Winter, 2014. Our Buick was packed tightly with two adults, two Chihuahuas, a St. Bernard, enough essentials to last a few days until the moving van arrived, and high hopes. It was 1:30 in the morning Christmas Day when we pulled into the driveway after a stressful 12 hour drive, and we were exhausted.

That day, after a shower and several cups of strong coffee, I was able to walk the property that I would be calling home. This would be Whimsical Moon Herb Farm. I had played my dream through my head and my heart many times over the past few years and I had finally arrived. The ground was frozen with a skim of crusty snow and the hard-wood trees surrounding the property were bare. Acres of last season’s corn and soybean stubble surrounded the farm and the sky was a sharp clear blue.

I walked our back wood-lot looking for the tree that was circled with a rusty metal band. I was checking for signs of the ginseng patch that my partner’s Mamaw Edith had cultivated when she once lived here. As a practicing herbalist and a gardener, I was ecstatic when I learned about this treasure right in our back yard.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed when spring passed into the warm heat of summer and I still did not find the ginseng. The old rhubarb patch was growing like crazy, and hundreds of Edith’s favorite poppies were in full flouncy  bloom, but it was with dismay that I learned from a neighbor down the road that the ginseng had been over-harvested by past tenants. There would be no ginseng this year.

Sadly, you will most likely not find wild ginseng for harvesting. As many of our native medicinal herbs became popular in the late 1990’s, there was a great demand by the herbal industry and also the pharmaceutical companies to gather, manufacture, and market their herbal products. These popular native herbs, like ginseng, goldenseal, Echinacea, black cohosh, and bloodroot are habitat specific and they have a limited range. Wild-crafters looking for a profit harvested them without concern, as they were only hoping to fulfill the market demand. They did not worry about next year’s crop. Many people using herbal medicine had no idea that demand was outpacing Mother Nature’s supply.

As we are now faced with the possible extinction of many  of our native medicinal plants, it is extremely important for us to be aware of and understand where our herbal products are sourced. We need to let go of the notion that our planet will not be depleted and that all resources are endlessly renewable.

I believe in the healing aspects of herbs and have used them for many years. I raised my children on herbs and still mail them care packages of herbal tinctures and salves to keep them healthy. I admit, I am guilty of once being an unaware consumer of herbal products when I first learned of their benefits.

Now, I am just a small herb farmer growing herbs, vegetables, and flowers to supply my local farmer’s market and to craft small-batch herbal soaps and healing products. I am a tiny part of a huge infrastructure that has been growing these past many years. An infrastructure that is working to create sustainable and renewable resources for our planet. We have many options to choose from to purchase our herbal products, and we have resources at hand to educate ourselves concerning how these products were sourced.

I challenge each of us to educate ourselves about the products we choose to consume and the impact these purchases have on our planet. The planet we leave our children.

This spring, I will plant a new ginseng patch in the back wood-lot. It will not be ready to harvest for another five to seven years. I tell my daughter that we are planting for the future.

My favorite resource for purchasing sustainably harvested herbs:

www.mountainroseherbs.com

Inspiration and resources came from: Planting The Future. Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, edited by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch. 2000, Healing Arts Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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