The Source of Your Herbs (And Why It Matters)

If your food is your medicine and medicine your food…what do you want to put into your body?

Trade routes for herbs and spices have been crisscrossing the surface of the earth for millennia, but in these days of easy procurement, few folks bother to scrutinize the map to learn about the origins of their herbs. Scientific investigations are beginning to look at the sources of our herbal medicine, with some troubling results.

Concerns about cultivation in relation to safety are increasingly coming into public consciousness. Systematic research, such as the 2008 coverage by the Journal of the American Medical Association of arsenic, lead, and mercury in some herbal Ayurvedic blends, has increased and similar studies are beginning to highlight the consequences of blissful ignorance.

High levels of toxins in traditional Chinese medicines were exposed by the Science World Report while Greenpeace investigated pesticide residues in imported herbs.

It is not just importations that are raising questions about herb and vegetable safety; the 2011 report in the Chicago Tribune on the USDA’s discovery of over 30 types of unapproved residual pesticides on fresh cilantro was a wake-up call.

How can you be sure that the health-promoting herbs you are putting into your body are truly healthy?

  • Ask questions about how and where your herbs were grown.
  • Be aware of the current dialogues about sustainability and “organic” terminology.
  • Support local growers who choose sustainable practices.

The next time you reach for your chamomile or your thyme, pause for a moment to consider the herb’s origins and the impact on both your body and the body of the earth. Try growing your favorite herb from organic seeds in a pot at home. And ask your local herb providers if they know where their product comes from and how it was produced.

Herbiary labels all of its herbs with their source of origin and whether they are certified organic or wild-harvested.

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kim shipman

kim shipman said:

Which is better: certified organic or wild harvested?

Andrew Celwyn

Andrew Celwyn said:

Hi Kim! While not meaning to dodge your question, I’m going to have to go with neither.
Certified Organic is a specific designation that tells you it meets X criteria. Unfortunately, that criteria has been watered down a bit and products can be Certified Organic in the United States if they have 95% or more organic ingredients. Also, they have reduced the time period which a field has to be free of contaminants from seven years to five years to only three years. None of this makes me feel better about the organic certification. However, that being said, many of the certified organic products are excellent and are above the US standards.
As for wild harvested, I’m usually pretty happy with wild harvested products if I feel comfortable with the source. Wild harvested often comes from places where the soil both hasn’t been contaminated and the soil hasn’t been depleted by over cultivation. There are different energetics to herbs that are growing in the wild than those that are cultivated. Then again, someone “wild harvesting” herbs in Philadelphia on a brownfield that hasn’t had the soil tested might not be something I’m willing to risk. Also, I’d like to know that the wild harvested has been done ethically and responsibly so as not to disrupt the ecosystem it has been taken from.
With that in mind, we do our best to source our products from people we know. For example, Deb Soule at Avena Botanicals grows her herbs organically and biodynamically. While she hasn’t paid to have her soil tested and isn’t certified organic, I’ll take her products hands down over any others out there because I know her quality is fantastic. Bulk herbs we try to get from trusted sources like Mountain Rose and Pacific Botanicals. We would love to get some locally, but it is tough to find someone who both grows and dries their own herbs. If you know of anyone, please send him or her our way!
Thanks for your question, I hope this helps.

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