Mass Market Herbalism (Before You Buy)
If you haven’t noticed, the Herbal Industry is booming. There is an interesting dynamic that is happening, as herbal medicine filters back into the mainstream. It is in part, a healing, back-to-the-land reawakening and part capitalistic opportunity.
On the one hand, herbalists and medicine makers are finally gaining the immense respect and recognition they deserve, but on the other hand, there are complications to providing herbal based products to the mass market.
As large companies step in to provide the next big superfood or exotic and rare herbal supplements, it often devalues the magic between plant and the plant knower, herbalist, gardener, or gatherer. Creating businesses that rely on natural resources can be greatly problematic when there is little or no connection with the land itself.
This lack of connection can lead to unsustainable harvesting practices, possibly taking advantage of local populations that rely on unique medicinal botanicals throughout the world, and ultimately, what tends to be an inferior or sometimes all together ineffective product.
The intricate relationship between the medicine maker and the plant (and fungi) kingdom cannot be replicated. There are some incredible herbal companies out there, big and small, that are dedicated to creating high quality products and also protecting the land and the plants they use.
But so many products out there comes down to simply being just that...a product. A package, a bottle, a capsule, etc. filled with refined substances denatured of its vitality and nutrients, depleted from oxidation and time. These often inert substances are then sold to unsuspecting customers who turn around and say “This doesn’t work,” and continue the widespread modern belief that natural methods and herbal remedies are not effective.
Again, there are such amazing herbal companies that are widely available (and sustainable!) if people take the time to look.
There are herbal medicine makers that have a deep
energetic, physical, and emotional connection with the plants, they grow and/or harvest. Knowing the cycles of the plant help the medicine maker know when the plant part is at peak potency. They create a reciprocal relationship that is in alignment with the natural cycles, and learn how to give back to the Earth.
They harvest and cut the plants with respect and knowledge of how certain plants respond to us taking their leaves, stems, blossoms, roots, barks & berries. It should be a give and take relationship, and those that only take should not be supported. It will not be possible to fulfill the needs herbal the herbal mass market unless each consumer is aware of the impact of their purchase.
Just like many of us want to know the farmers of our food, for all kinds of reasons, we should take the time to find out where our medicine comes from. Know your farmer, know your herbalist, know your medicine maker. Where you choose to get your medicine is so important, especially as more and more consumers turn to herbal healing methods.
Many popular herbal plants have been greatly over harvested when their popularity demands a good price. Many of our wild, herbal plant populations just can’t support this mass market consumption. We have to protect them more than ever!
Grow your own, whenever you can, and when purchasing herbal products do a little digging before handing your money over to companies that may not have high quality or sustainability standards.
Here are a few things to think about before buying herbal products.
Who made this product?
Is it a local medicine maker, or a company with a reliable reputation? Do they have information on their website about their quality standards or production practices? Sometimes intuition can tell you a lot when you start looking into a company. Many herbalists are inspiring people that make high quality products that they use for themselves friends, and family.
How was this plant grown?
Is it a wild plant? If so, where in the world does it grow? How far did it have to travel to get to me? Was it harvested in alignment to the natural cycles of the plant and with respect to the local communities? If it was farmed, how was it grown? Was the soil nourished? Are there pesticides or other possible contamination? Did the farmer use sustainable and organic growing practices? Is it local? How was it harvested and processed?
Does this product contain any At-Risk plants?
Check out https://unitedplantsavers.org/species-at-risk-list/ to make sure this product doesn’t contain wild harvested plants on this list. Support any growers who are able to farm and make medicine with these plants, or try to grow them yourself! This reduces the pressure on wild stands. If these plants are wild harvested, and you know the medicine maker or wildcrafter, inquire about their harvesting practices.
What is the cost of this product?
Quality of herbal products is incredibly important, and although price is not always an indicator, it is worth paying attention to. If a bottle at the supermarket is half the price of a similar product made by a local herbalist who grows and harvests her own herbs, is the first one such a great deal? It might be. But it also might be old, low quality and created with little intention and awareness to the plant’s healing potential. (Often, supplements are not even what they say they are on the bottle!)
How much money can you save by growing your own herbs?
Is there thought, love, and intention going into this product?
Is it well made? Does it serve a healing purpose? Was there a deeper connection made with the plants in this product? Is there a reciprocal relationship between the farmer or medicine maker with the land and the plants? Was it harvested at the time of most potency? How does it make you feel when holding, looking at, or consuming this product?
Why am I using this product?
Do I really need this? Do I really understand how this will support my health? Is there a long list of herbs that I don’t recognize? Are there any known adverse reactions? Is there a better source for this herb or a more effective way to take it? How much of it do I really need?
Are you an Herbalist?
If you are a medicine maker or wanting to be, it is beyond important that you source your herbs from a sustainable farmer or wildcrafter.
Most herbalists have good intentions, but the awareness and education is not always there. Especially if you are wild harvesting plants, it is so important to take a good, long, hard, look at your harvesting and production practices. Here are a few things to think about
Are there medicinal plants you could be growing yourself, to use in your products?
What can you grow where you live? It’s ok if you aren’t much of a gardener, many herbal plants are resilient and abundant! Keep trying and you will find such satisfaction in growing your own medicine! You can grow your own herbs! This is a more sustainable answer for many common plants in the herbal market.
Are you using or wildcrafting any at risk plants? Check out https://unitedplantsavers.org/species-at-risk-list/ to make sure you are not a threat to wild species that are already at risk. Are there any at risk medicinal plants that would grow in your climate? Grow them! Teach about them! Connect with these important plants, and share with your local community why they are so important.
Who’s land are you harvesting from?
What indigenous people or traditional communities may depend on local plants? Are you in alignment with these communities? Is your product worth taking these plants from these people? (The answer is no.)
Are there other local herbalists, people, or wildlife who depend on these wild stands?
Who else is harvesting these plants? Are there herbalists, teachers, foragers, herbal education programs that share these areas with their students, or depend on them for their own medicine making? Animals and wild creatures may depend on these plants for their survival! Learn about them!
Are you harvesting in a sustainable manner? (This can go for garden herbs as well)
Even plants that aren’t at risk should be harvested in ways that do not deplete or destroy the plant’s ability to reproduce or to sustain healthy growth. Many perennial garden herbs can be harvested over and over with healthy harvesting practices. Although many herbs are incredibly tough, improper harvesting practices can leave the plant susceptible to pests and disease, or outright kill a plant that might have lived for many years.
Is it ethical for me to harvest this plant for a product?
Are you a small company, but hoping to grow bigger? Is there enough of this plant to sustain business growth? Should I take a plant from the wild so that I can make a profit? (This is a tough question!) Do I know enough about the ecology around me to know if it will impact other life forms (plants, animals, fungi, etc.) in a negative way?
Are there local herb farmers I can support?
If you are purchasing, rather than growing or wild harvesting ask yourself…Is there a local herb grower or company I can support? What about in other areas of my state or in the neighboring states?
The cost for locally grown will likely be higher, but the freshness and quality can make your product stand out. Locally grown anything is a great selling point as well.
Support small farms, support organic and regenerative agriculture! Some farmers may even be convinced to grow medicinal herbs, if they knew you would buy them. Creating these relationships can make your product and business more appealing and have more potential for growth.
What other herbal supply companies will my business support?
If locally grown is not an option for the specific herbs you need, check into the companies you are ordering from. Check into where the herbs are sourced from. Their quality standards, if they have any purity testing, or if they know the farmers they are sourcing them from. Is it a good and fair relationship?
These are all very complex issues with many sides and perspectives. There is often no right answer to these questions (although a few are crystal clear), but if you are creating a business that depends on the Earth, you need to give back in some way! Educate yourself, and find ways to give, not just take, from the land.