Still Herbal After All These Years

Meet Herbal Ed Smith: A globetrotting herbalist with a passion for plants that heal.

| March/April 2006

  • Ed in an echinacea field at Herb Pharm’s 85-acre certified organic farm in Williams, Oregon.
  • Ed with Herb Pharm co-owner Sara Katz in 1979, the year they established the company in their kitchen.
  • Ed visits indigenous herbalists in a kava garden in the Vanuatu Islands in 2004.
  • Ed inspects freshly harvested turmeric root in Costa Rica.
  • Ed in an echinacea field at Herb Pharm’s 85-acre certified organic farm in Williams, Oregon.
  • An Herb Pharm employee carries a large bundle of fresh echinacea.

When you’ve visited or lived in more than 60 countries around the world, started a multimillion-dollar herb company in your kitchen, and been considered one of the nation’s foremost herb experts for more than 30 years, some might think your excitement over medicinal plants could fade. But not so for Ed Smith, or Herbal Ed, the cofounder and co-owner of Herb Pharm in Williams, Oregon. Smith says the miracles of herbal healing still can send shivers down his spine.

Past to Present: The “Pharm Farm” and “Plant Plant”

Herb Pharm is located in the rural town of Williams, in southern Oregon. The Pharm’s 85-acre certified organic herb operation is the bustling birthplace of Herb Pharm’s more than 250 herbal extracts and herbal health-care products. The Pharm cultivates about 60 percent of the herbs used to produce those extracts, and the rest are sustainably wildcrafted or purchased from other organic herb farms throughout the world.

Of the products Herb Pharm creates, about 180 are single herb extracts and about 60 are blended compounds of several extracts. Of those, Smith says that echinacea is by far the bestseller. “We sell more echinacea in North American health-food and herb stores than any other company,” Smith says. “We were the first nationwide company in the United States to sell organically grown echinacea. We enthusiastically promoted echinacea by educating people about its traditional uses, as well as the compelling scientific research coming out of Germany,” he says.

Back when Herb Pharm first started in 1979, there wasn’t a lot of available information on herbs, Smith says. “There weren’t any herb magazines, and there were very few herb books, holistic health clinics or naturopathic doctors,” he says. He and cofounder Sara Katz had to learn a lot about growing and using herbs as they went along. “I started teaching herb classes, and I ultimately wound up creating my company because of my experiences in South America and the herb markets there. Most of the herbs there were fresh picked, and the quality was so superior to most of the herbs I saw in American stores. At first, I was just trying to provide really good quality herbs for myself and those in my clinical herb practice,” Smith says.

The company began in Smith’s and Katz’s kitchen and garage. The two moved to southern Oregon from Portland in 1979 with only $300 to their names. Smith found an old pharmacist’s complete library at a used book store, and bought it for $200 of his $300. That’s when he began studying old pharmacy texts like the U.S. Pharmacopoeias, various pharmacy formularies and Remington’s Practice of Pharmacy, all of which had been used by pharmaceutical companies to produce pharmaceutical herbal extracts in the 1800s and early 1900s.

“After moving to Williams, we’d work during the day in our herb garden and would go up into the mountains with our wildflower guides to identify and collect various medicinal herbs,” Smith says. “At night, I’d study the old pharmacy books and, with them, Sara and I started making a few extracts from the herbs we had harvested.”

Felipe Bustos
11/29/2017 4:42:27 PM

Thank you for the story. You never know when you will find your calling.

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