Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Part of being an herbalist to me is being in touch and intertwined with the environment and all living organisms.  In order to do this I feel that it is important to know the plants that you are harvesting and to be aware of the impact it has on the environment they grow in.

It is estimated that 12 percent of plants world-wide and 29 percent of plants in the United States are so rare that they could become extinct (1).  That is a huge number in the scheme of things.  What a travesty it would be to no longer have the presence of such beneficial plants as Ginseng, Goldenseal, Black cohosh and even Echinacea.  With a growing number of people becoming interested in using natural alternatives the notion that these plants could disappear is not that absurd.

However, if we as herbalist, both skilled and un-skilled, make a conscious effort to protect these plants by practicing ethical harvesting we can help to ensure that these plants will be around for generations to come.  Some things that you can do when harvesting are: (2)

  • Positively identify plants before harvesting and make sure that they are not on the endangered species list or the watch list of potentially endangered species.
  • Never harvest more plants that you can use yourself. 
  • Be aware of the environmental impact you create when you do go into certain areas to harvest.
  • Familiarize yourself with the growth habits of plants.  If a plant takes twenty years to mature it can be extremely detrimental to the species to harvest in the wild.
  • Research proper harvesting methods for each plant.
  • Keep a journal which identifies the plant, area of harvest, state or condition of the plant and number of plants available and number of plants taken.  This can be crucial information on how your harvesting practices are affecting the area when you return to harvest at a future date.
  • Never take so many plants as to leave a visible disturbance in the area.
  • Always work slowly and deliberately when harvesting as to not disturb plants in the surrounding area.
  • Always keep in mind what harvesting that plant will do to the other living organisms who depend on that plant for food and shelter.

Other things that you can do to help protect our plants in the wild are:

  • Support organizations which help to protect endangered plants such as native plant societies and the United Plant Savers.
  • Grow some of your own medicinal herbs
  • Teach others about ethical harvesting practices
  • And once again, only harvest what you need or can use.


(1)  Gladstar, R. (2000), Planting the future – Saving our medicinal herbs, Healing Arts Press, Rochester Vermont

(2)  Tilford, G.L., (1998), From Earth to herbalist, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana.

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For those of you who celebrate Christmas it is likely that you got a bunch of “Stuff” for Christmas or you got some “Stuff”.  What about all of the “Stuff” that you got during the year.  We have become a nation of huge “Stuff” getters and users and disposers of “Stuff”.  We have become the “Disposable” generation.  Disposable diapers, paper plates, product packaging, etc.  All of this “Stuff” we use to make our lives easier, which we then turn around and dump it in landfills.  We work longer and harder to buy more “Stuff” which we then turn around and throw it away so that we can buy more “Stuff”.  It’s a vicious, vicious cycle.

  Do we really need all of this “Stuff”?  Where does all of this “Stuff” go when we no longer “need” or want it?  If you are someone who is interested in learning how to become more sustainable, someone who wants to help protect our natural resources you definitely need to watch this short film about “Stuff”.  You will never think of “Stuff” the same way again.

The Story of Stuff

Here are just a few ways you can reduce your consumption of “Stuff”:

  • Recycle and reuse – think of new ways to use old items
  • Avoid paper plates and plastic utensils.  Eat off of real dishes and use real utensils
  • Don’t use disposable diapers…try cloth
  • Buy used –  When you do need to buy something check out thrift stores and garage sells.  Not only are you recycling, but you will probably find what you need for a lot less money.
  • Every time you buy something ask yourself, “do I really need this or do I just want this”? 
  • Shop local which helps to reduce fossils fuels which are consumed when transporting goods.
  • Grow a garden.  Even if you live in an apartment you can still grow quite a number of vegetables and herbs in containers.
  • Buy a refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water.  Not only are they safer for your health, but it will also save you money and cut down on trash.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
  • Support companys that are sustainable and fair trade.

If you think about it recycling not only saves you money, but it also helps the environment.  The less “Stuff” you have to buy, the less money you spend, and the fewer hours you’ll have to work leaving you more time to spend with family and friends.  It’s a win, win situation.

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Blue Camp 005This past week my family and I headed from North Florida where we live to camp in central Alabama. The area is absolutely beautiful and we have made this trip our traditional Thanksgiving adventure. Last year I had discovered a patch of wild roses and had hoped to pick some rosehips to bring home with me. However, much to my dismay the area had been contaminated. The owner on the land is “Round-up” happy. He is on a quest to pretty much destroy most of the wild weeds on his property. This man is the sweetest and most kind hearted man you would want to meet, but he just doesn’t understand that he is poisoning his surroundings. So alas…no rosehips from there anymore. I did, however, discover some Sassafras on a piece of uncontaminated property. The area was about to be cleared so I ask the owner if we could harvest the Sassafras before it got destroyed and he obliged. If you’ve never chewed a leaf off of a Sassafras tree you must. The leaf turns into a jelly like substance. My 7 year old thought it was gross, but he really enjoyed the harvest. He is such a great little apprentice. He is learning so much about health and living naturally. So while we are on the subject of Sassafras I thought I would tell you a little about the wonderful plant.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Energetics: Spicy, warm

Organ/Meridian affected: lung and kidney

Properties: Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative, anodyne, vasodialator and carminative.

Parts Used: Root bark

Long before it was combined with other herbs and used in patented medicines Sassafras was used in the folk tradition as a spring tonic. As a blood purifier and thinner the root of the plant was used in the early spring as a tonic to be taken after a long winter of eating heavy foods with little physical activity. The leaves can be used as thickener for foods such as gumbo. Sassafras has been used historically to treat high blood pressure, rheumatism, gout and arthritis. Another use for the root is to make root beer.

Simple Root Beer Recipe:

Make an herbal decoction of the root (fresh or dry root) by simmering it for 20 minutes or more depending on how strong you want the flavor. Strain the tea and add a natural sweetener and seltzer or sparkling water for the fizz.

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Today we are heading off to Alabama to do some hunting. I will be hunting herbs with my trusty soon to be 7 year old herbal apprentice while my husband hunts the big game. Part of being an herbalist to me is about using and appreciating the resources around me. A friend offered up some picking of his turnips this past weekend so we headed out and picked enough for us to can and to share some with friends and neighbors. I spent most of the day Saturday working on canning greens and deer meat. Talk about a lesson in social studies. Canning those foods gave me an appreciation of how hard our forefathers and mothers worked. By the time the day was done I was completely exhausted. However, you can’t get that kind of satisfaction from a grocery store. I know of a wonderful batch of wild roses in an area in Alabama that we are visiting. I hope to bring back some rosehips to savor and preserve. Wild harvesting either foods or herbs makes me extremely thankful and also makes me realize the need to protect our environment. Sustainability, preservation, environmentalism….those are also what being an herbalist means to me.

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