Planting the Future, Saving our Medicinal Plants

With the continued increase in the use of herbal medicine sweeping the nation and globe, the concerns about over harvesting botanical species in the wild are becoming critical. We are fortunate to be living in a former temperate rain forest in the Appalachian Mountains. We have more variety of species of plants that have been used for medicines than any other area in the United States. We don’t notice the destruction of our forests and how it affects the underlying herbs and what it would mean to us if we no longer have these powerful medicinals to rely on. The U.S. Market for herbs has more than doubled since 1985 to a 1.3 billion a year business in 1993 and it has been growing at a rate of 15 percent yearly. Where does the raw material for these products come from? They come from the earth and many are being lost. During my travels last month I attended a local herb conference conducted by a relatively new non profit group called UPS (United Plant Savers) not the shipping company. The entire weekend was about what we as consumers, farmers, herbalist and concerned folks can do to help elevate awareness to the growing concerns about our loss of plants. UPS was the brainstorm of nationally known herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. She with the help of many well known herbalist in this country formed UPS and it has been growing for the last two years. UPS is multifaceted in it approach and has several projects underway. They are:
  • To identify what medicinal plants are at most risk.
  • To identify which nurseries are ethically propagating medicinal plants.
  • To communicate via the media and through conferences with all concerned, from the wild harvesters, to manufacturers of herbal products, to retailers, to consumers about the critical nature of the issues facing our medicinal plant communities.
  • To provide consulting services for those wishing to grow medicinal plants whether commercially or for personal use.
  • To identify and secure botanical sanctuaries, where medicinal plants flourish in their native habitats.
  • To work at the local level to facilitate planting projects with civic organizations, schools, scout troops, gardening clubs, etc.
  • To secure funds for operations by membership drives, corporate grants and conferences.
The past year has been very busy for UPS many of the goals mentioned above have begun to come into place. The first sanctuary has been established right here in south eastern Ohio. Equinox Farms is the first of potentially many sanctuaries that will serve as teaching areas for the use and propagating of plants in their natural habitats. Another project of UPS is the goldenseal project. Goldenseal is fast becoming an endangered species and will at some time in the future become protected like our local ginseng. It is estimate that approximately 60 million roots are being harvested yearly. Goldenseal is one of those plants that can be woods grown or with the use of shade cloth. The goldenseal project educated wild crafters and farmers how to grow it and is even providing seed or roots stock for the price of shipping. Contact UPS at the address at the end of this article if interested. We just have to remember that goldenseal is just one of the over 400 herbs used medicinally. The European market has been working for centuries on the propagation of medicinal herbs and it is a good model for us in the U.S. to follow. Many people are concerned with this issue. So what can you do to help protect American medicinal plants?
  • Join your local native plant society and gather information about your local plant communities.
  • Research local plants that are herbally at risk.
  • Find out where logging and development are planned and rescue plants for replanting and medicine making.
  • Replant your back yard with medicinal plants
  • Contact local groups and give presentations about UPS.
  • Educate your local health food store, herb shop and local practitioners about endangered herbs.
  • Create and manage a botanical preserve
  • If you are involved with herb in your business donate a percentage of your profits to UPS.
  • Stop using at risk plants
  • Support organic farmers by buying organics.
  • Limit your consumption, have less impact and leave more land wild.
  • Above all, assume responsibility and educate yourself.
Paul Strauss the owner of Equinox Farms, who is a organic farmer, herbalist, manufacturer, and land steward offers these following suggestions:
  • Go stick your head in a patch of mint.
  • Plan an herb garden.
  • Consider bee keeping.
  • Take a child into the woods.
  • Make an herbal product and give it away.
  • Spread some manure to improve soil.
  • Find out about endangered plants and ecosystems.
  • Give away seeds.
  • Laugh often and pass it on.
Due to the importance of this issue with our medicinal plants, it is all of our responsibility to become aware of the impact we are having on our earth. Plant medicines have been used for millions of years and are part of our heritage. A few years ago the FDA was trying to prevent you from taking herbal products. They had a hit list of over 30 botanicals that they wanted to restrict. Garlic was one of those herbs. My belief is that if a plant has been used for hundreds or even thousands of years and has been shown to be effective, without side effects and if we know how to use it correctly then we should not be restricted to its use. One way to protect our freedom is to grow that plant in your own yard or garden. Learn how to harvest and prepare your own medicines. Then no one can tell you what you can and can’t do. Anyone interested in UPS (United Plant Savers) contact them at PO Box 420, East Barre, Vt. 05649 Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC
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