Herbalism and sustainable harvesting

rusty_blackhaw(6a)November 8, 2008

With the increased popularity of herbal medicines, overharvesting (due to unsustainable wild plant collecting for supplement companies as well as by individuals) is threatening a number of species with extinction. United Plant Savers' list of at-risk plants:

American Ginseng - Panax quinquefolius

Black Cohosh - Actaea racemosa (Cimicifuga)

Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis

Blue Cohosh - Caulophyllum thalictroides

Echinacea - Echinacea spp.

Eyebright - Euphrasia spp.

False Unicorn Root - Chamaelirium luteum

Goldenseal - Hydrastis canadensis

LadyÂs Slipper Orchid - Cypripedium spp.

Lomatium - Lomatium dissectum

Osha - Ligusticum porteri, L. spp.

Peyote - Lophophora williamsii

Slippery Elm - Ulmus rubra

Sundew - Drosera spp.

Trillium, Beth Root -Trillium spp.

True Unicorn - Aletris farinosa

Venus Fly Trap - Dionaea muscipula

Virginina Snakeroot - Aristolochia serpentaria

Wild Yam - Dioscorea villosa, D. spp.

In addition to UPS, here's another group working to increase awareness of the problem and get supplement companies to reveal whether their herbs are harvested in a responsible and sustainable way.

In addition to working with these groups and letting supplement companies know of our concerns, we also need to use herbs wisely and consider whether there are alternatives to threatened plants that are unlikely to be effective in treating a particular condition (such as goldenseal, sometimes added to echinacea products but of dubious benefit as an immune stimulant).

Here is a link that might be useful: Sustainable shopping

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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

The book Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs Ed. by Rosemary Gladstar is a great resource for learning more about the plants on United Plant Savers's "at-risk" and "to-watch" lists. What may be of special interest to the readers of this forum are the herbal substitutes suggested for these vanishing plants. It's a great book - be sure to look for it!


    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 9:44AM
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oakleif(z6 AR)

Thanks fatamorgana, I'll see if i can find it thru my library. I've got several of these plants growing on my land and i protect them.
I have to give big credit to the Plant Savers org too they do great work.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 5:56AM
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oakleif(z6 AR)

I want to add that Native Americans were great plant conservatores. It was the white man who came along with money signs in their brains that totally destroyed everything. We may finally be waking up. I hope so.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2008 at 4:31AM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

The first plant to ever go extinct in recorded history was taken out by the egyptians, it was some herb and I think it was used as a n aphrodisiac or birth control or something like that. If you look at large animals of north america the white man was actually responsible for far far fewer extinctions than the early Native Americans (wholly mamoths, Rhinos, American Horses, Some six types of Bison, lots and lots really...) It makes sense that if the Native americans had plant management techniques that after a few thousand years the plants that did well with those techniques would still be around while those that did not would have died off, The Native Americans burned the prairies for instance more often than occurred naturally which really helped the grasses, but whose to say that there wasn't some herb 4,000 years ago that was driven to extinction from a combination of over harvesting and more frequent grass fires? There is a type of wild onion in california, the Miokaw tribe used to pull them up by putting a pointed stick in the ground and prying them out, which broke off the side corms and lead to more plants, since they have stopped the plants have declined in number pretty alarmingly, but we have no way of knowing if they drove one or more species to extinction by prying them out of the ground to eat them, this onion was specially adapted to that behavior, not all wild onions necessarily were. If we maintained our current practices for a few thousand years eventually we would hit equilibrium, then aliens from space visiting us would remark about how well me manage our environment.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2008 at 6:08AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I do not think that greed, short-sightedness, or even conservation efforts are the sole domain of any particular race or culture. There are examples in of these in any people.

But we can learn from the good and the bad others have done and change our own actions. I keep the "seven generations" concept, which is attributed to the Iroquois' Great Law of Peace, in mind whenever I harvest any herb or plant. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, here it is: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." With regards to herbs, it is a way of stewardship and sustainable harvesting.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2008 at 10:14AM
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oakleif(z6 AR)

Actually bren, You are wrong again as usual. Your theory of animal extinction is outdated. climate change and disease is the favorable theory now.Except for the buffalo of course which the europeans deliberately killed to make native americans starve out. How come an old woman like me has to keep a kid like you updated on science theory?
The silliest thing i ever heard. The native americans burned their homes to get food. They were'nt dumb bren.
Thanks for inserting a ray of sanity into this mess,fatamorgana.You are right of course. I respect the iroquos thinking. They put into practice what they preached. Yes there is both good and bad in all groups of people but on occasion you come across a couple of rotten apples. Does one throw out the rotten ones to save the barrel full? And there is some good in Western medicine mainly antibiotics. At this time and place western medicine needs to be completely overhauled to be useful to mankind.Herbs has always been and still is a vital link to medicine. One should compliment the other.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2008 at 10:47PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

No I am not outdated, I have a very good idea of how this all happened, I know a good deal about adaptation and extinction. The same kind of wave of extinction of large animals accompanied the arrival of humans in Europe, and Asia, and Siberia, and Australia and New Zealand and Madagascar and the islands of south East Asia.

The Bison (buffalo is too easy to confuse with the cape and water buffalo) were actually killed off for hides, the extermination of them did not occur until the development of a new process for industrial leather production, if extermination of the native american food source were the goal one would expect it to follow the exterination of the native americans rather than some completely unrelated trend, and to be bankrolled by people who had something to gain from the extermination of the native americans rather than the exact same individual people who were completely invested in the completely unrelated trend of leather manufacture. You need to look at the evidence, watching a special on history channel does not mean that you are up to date. Corelation does not mean causation, but its a whole lot safer to bet that the two things that happen right one after another are more closely related than the things that are almost completely unrelated in space and time.

I never said that they burned their homes, I said they burned the prairies, a prairie is a type of grass land, not a structure for dwelling. Controlled burns are actually a game management technique practiced historically in Australia and Africa as well. Its actually a very smart thing to do, the bison actually respond to the smoke and come to eat the tender new shoots of grass and the Native Americans would then kill and eat the bison.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 12:42AM
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Our gardens have been certified a United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary. We grow many of the herbs on the UpS endangered and at-risk lists. We have over 300 different herbs on our property and always look to add more.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 6:40AM
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