Endangered Herbs!

I am excited about the increasing popularity of herbs. But, I am also a bit concerned – that popularity translates into a serious impact on the environment when popular herbs are overharvested. In North America, commercial wildcrafting {picking herbs in the wild} goes back to the days of trappers who sold ginseng along with their furs. Today, it is illegal in many states to wildcraft ginseng without permission, but wildcrafting laws are rarely enforced. Unfortunately, wild ginseng’s survival is now threatened.

Traditionally, the backwoods wildcrafters considered different species, and sometimes totally different plants, equally beneficial. As a result, several different herbs may be picked together without regard to the overharvesting of a few threatened species. Some species of echinacea and lady slipper are now so rare that they are on the endangered species list.

Tree barks are often harvested by stripping off all the bark on a particular tree, which kills the tree. I have even heard of oak bark being harvested by bulldozing the trees. There are techniques that involve selective harvesting {slippery elm is harvested this way}, but these methods are more time-consuming and, therefore, less profitable.

A partial solution to this herb crisis is for you to buy rare herbs only if they have been cultivated instead of wildcrafted. You can also use alternative herbs. For example, I have mentioned Oregon grape and barberry throughout this website, because in most cases, their similar chemistry makes them an acceptable alternative to goldenseal. I have not even suggested using lady slipper, which has been heavily collected since the nineteenth century and is not cultivated commercially because its actions are so similar to those of the common herb valerian.

If you are truly motivated to use herbs medicinally, the best thing for you to do is to get out your spade and turn a small plot of your yard into a herb garden. This will provide the best assurance that your herbs are of the very highest quality.


United Plant Savers; Endangered Species List