|Ann Armbrecht is the director of the Sustainable Herbs Program and deserves to be a household name among herb enthusiasts. Her new book, The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry came out this year and I am enthralled. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
I first saw Ann at a screening of her film “Nunen” at an herb conference. Since I studied anthropology and ethnobotany in college, I was immediately interested in how she has used her degrees in the same fields. She has travelled the world searching for the source of many of the herbs found in your favorite products. She met the most amazing people and saw the good and the bad parts of the industry. But best of all, it is not just a gloom and doom nothing you can do about it situation… You can go into this with your eyes wide open, and choose to do business with the companies that reflect your values.
As I read along with Ann's thorough exploration of the medicinal herb industry, I am reminded exactly why I needed to start my humble herb farm!
Back in the 90's I worked for a farm to table restaurant, where mushroom hunters would hand deliver the day's harvest right before dinner service - talk about fresh! The chef would want to know who picked them - I overheard one such conversation where the answer was simply "The Hippy Guy," to which the chef replied "YES! He knows his stuff.”
With the same trust, I was, at the time, content to trust the co-op to make good decisions for me. I was a “label reader”, looking for an organic label, or even a wildcraft label (those mushroom hunters left a lasting impression).
You want to know that the people who provide the ingredients for your tinctures, or for your fresh mushroom soup, know their stuff.
The difference now is that those little brown bottles of medicinal herbs now represent a multi-billion dollar industry, where the supply chain isn't always as easy to identify as "The Hippy Guy." In The Business of Botanicals. Ann lays out the case for being accountable as a consumer and holding the herbal manufacturers accountable to sustaining the industry that they helped create.
I had many of these concepts of accountability in mind when I started growing medicinal herb plants in 2002 with the idea of “local medicine” to go along with the local food movement. I had been using herbs for years but again, trusting the people who were making the decisions for me.
I started with Arnica, which is over-harvested in wild, so I really wanted to establish a patch that I knew I could count on. From there I added other plants, not hard to find organically grown or from a great company, but on my farm free from imprints of tractor tires or other damage from sloppy machine harvesting.
I have kept my farm as close to wild as I can, sometimes cutting away grass to find the herb I want to harvest, and keeping a close connection to nature. How many Eagle, Osprey, Ravens and Hummingbirds are admired as I harvest each flower I cannot say; but I will let you know that I thank each plant that I harvest from, and that gratitude extends from the farm to the products- to you!
Thank you so much for supporting our farm, and I encourage you to read Ann’s book and to go to The Sustainable Herbs Project to learn what you can do to contribute to the health of our industry.