Step Up with the Sustainable Herbs Program

Discover how this organization is challenging the global herb industry to improve practices – and be a part of the positive change.

| July/August 2019

Photo by Getty Images/pixdeluxe

In today’s world, we’ve lost the link to the supply chain of our purchases. We struggle to track down the full story of the products we see lining store shelves, and we’re all guilty of occasionally forgetting that the bounty in the produce aisle was once part of the soil. This disconnect from the supply chain makes it possible for entire industries to escape accountability regarding social and environmental sustainability.

A desire to mend this disconnect was the inspiration for the Sustainable Herbs Program, an organization that focuses on harmonizing the philosophy of herbal medicine with the realities of large-scale production, to uncover solutions that improve the system for all parties involved. 

Problems with the Conventional Herb Industry

As interest in the medicinal potential of plants has increased in recent decades, market demand has picked up the pace. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the world’s population use plants for medicine, and annual sales in the global botanical industry now total almost $100 billion.

Our collective use of medicinal plant material is taking a toll on the world’s finite supply, and thousands of producers are finding shortcuts in the cultivation process to maximize their profits. Incorrect species identification, unscrupulous collecting habits, and even intentionally blending herbs with lower-grade material to bulk up the supply have always been common within the industry. Even the herbal products that are properly grown, harvested, and preserved can still be compromised during the storage stage, as plant materials are commonly stored, uncovered, in warehouses worldwide, where they’re contaminated by dust, rodents, bits of metal, and cigarette butts. Sometimes, herbs languish in these spaces for months or years before they’re sold, which further degrades their condition.

Photo by Getty Images/Jasmina81

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