Plants at Risk

To be a wise consumer, look for the word cultivated on the bottle

| May/June 1999

•  UpS at-risk herbs
•  UpS plants to watch
•  Herbs to grow now  

We've come to know them and love them. Herbal remedies, which were largely unknown to many Americans less than five years ago, have become mainstays of our medicine cabinets. Echinacea keeps colds away. Goldenseal steps in when you get hit with a full-blown bug. Black cohosh provides women with natural relief from hot flashes.

But there is growing concern that we’ve come to love these plants far too much. Many practitioners of herbal medicine enjoy the increasing popularity of botanical remedies (Americans spend $3.2 billion a year on herbal supplements, by some estimates), yet these practitioners also recognize that the boom could deplete precious medicinal resources.

To that end, members of United Plant Savers (UpS), a nonprofit organization based in East Barre, Vermont, have identified twenty plants that are at risk of survival and another twenty-two that should be closely watched. Included on the at-risk list are well-known herbal medicines such as echinacea, goldenseal, and black cohosh, as well as lesser-known plants such as helonias root and partridge berry. The UpS watch list includes arnica, mayapple, Oregon grape, and yerba mansa.

Based in Rutland, Ohio, The National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs is another nonprofit endeavor and one that works closely with UpS and has a similar list. On it are fourteen herbs that center manager Tim Blakley describes as “critical to cultivate.” Cultivation provides the opportunity to leave wild stands alone, he says, as well as consistently produce high-quality herbs that are pesticide-free. Without cultivation, some herbs may be lost forever.

“Native wild plants simply cannot be sustained and meet the needs of the industry,” says Blakley, but adds that “not using an herb is not a solution. What we have to do is cultivate these herbs to have a sustainable supply. The consumer plays a major role in that.”

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