Will your herbs be here next year?

by Monica Wilde. 5 April 2013

The rise in popularity of herbalism again in the 1990s and 2000s has added pressure to wild populations of medicinal species. Many are becoming over-collected.

Few people have any idea that the Arnica Montana in their Arnica Cream may one day be extinct in the same way their grandchildren will not be eating fish and chips for supper, with fish stocks heading for extinction. 

A lot of people imagine that all herbs are farmed, however farming is not commercially viable for many herbs. Many will not grow in nice straight lines like yellow sunflowers or pink echinacea in farmers fields: they will only grow under a certain tree with their favourite mycorrhizal fungi or will only reproduce once every seven years! 

There are some very dedicated herb farmers we use in the UK who are not just interested in short-term, quick return crops. Dedicated organic / biodynamic farmers like Paul Chennery in Rutland and Paul Richards in Herefordshire. Here at Napiers, we have started to cultivate a reserve of ‘wild habitats’ at Gowanbank to also preserve, collect and ethically harvest many of the species we use in the future.

It is species in the wild that are at risk.

Sustainability is vital

However, many of the herbs we take for granted are endangered species of plants in the wild. Many herb suppliers demand that pickers follow a sustainable code which loosely says not to pick all but to leave some to repopulate the area. But in the wild they’ll never know the next group who picks all the rest!

So it is really important that your supplier really knows what is happening in their supply chain and only uses ethical sources. For example, wild harvesting from managed private estates is fine where the ‘wild land’ is owned and managed to provide a balance and preserve the plant populations. This is really a type of 'wild farming'. But using herbs picked without controls from the wild is totally irresponsible. 

Managing tree harvests

It is also important to ensure that herbs harvested from trees are taken in a sustainable way. Trees are the lungs of the earth. If bark is stripped from all around a tree (ring-barked) it will die. Also trees should never be cut down just for their bark. Trees in managed orchards, woodlands and forests can be used when bark is collected only from pruning branches, fallen trees and where there is a viable replanting scheme.

You can find information from United Plant Savers (UPS) in the States, also the CITES lists for different countries, for some countries these are called the Red List and the Blue List. In addition to that, are specialist conservation reports. Some of the herb and wild flower species most at risk in the wild are listed below. 

Endangered in the UK

Chamomile, Wild (Chamaemelum nobile)
Chickweed, Scottish (Cerastium fontanum subsp. scoticum) - not to be confused with the Chickweed (Stellaria media) used in Napiers creams.
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Eyebrights (Euphrasia spp.) (endemic) - officinalis seems to be OK still.
Juniper, Wild (Juniperus communis)
Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. ochroleuca)
Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
Pheasant's Eye (Adonis annua)
Wild Asparagus (Asparagus prostratus)
Wild Caraway (Carum carvi)

IUCN Red List Category citations

Extinct, EX 
Extinct in the Wild, EW
Critically Endangered, CR
Endangered, EN
Vulnerable, VU
Near Threatened, NT
Least Concern, LC
Data Deficient, DD
Not Evaluated, NE

Norwegian Red list

Arnica, Wolf's Bane (Arnica montana) - LC.
However, critically endangered in Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia and Luxembourg; endangered in Belarus and the Netherlands; vulnerable in Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania; and near threatened in Denmark and Norway. Most medicinal Arnica (around 300 tonnes of flowers per year) is harvested in the Balkans, Spain and Switzerland. 

CITES List 

Cape Aloes (Aloe ferox) - Appendix II 
False Hellebore (Adonis vernalis) - Appendix II
Ginseng, American (Panax quinquefolius) - only cultivated allowed, Appendix II
Ginseng, Russian (Panax ginseng) - from Russia, only wild populations left, Appendix II
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) - Appendix II - must be farmed
Guaiacum spp. - Appendix II
Hoodia spp. - Appendix II
Snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentina) - Appendix II

United Plant Savers

United Plant Savers "At Risk” List contains the following herbs:

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) - source from commercial growers only. 
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) - source from commercial growers only.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) - source from commercial growers only.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) 
 - Echinacea purpurea is commercially grown now.
Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
False unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum) - source from commercial growers only.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) - source from commercial growers only.
Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp.)
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)
Osha (Ligusticum porteri, L. spp.) - Can often be substituted with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and elecampane (Inula helenium).
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii)
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) - Ensure collector uses only twig not trunk bark. Can sometimes be substituted with marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).
Sundew (Drosera spp.)
Trillium (Trillium spp.)
True unicorn (Aletris farinosa)
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)

United Plant Savers “Concerned” List contains the following herbs:

Arnica (Arnica spp.) - Species used montana, source from commercial growers only.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Cascara Sagrada (Frangula purshiana) (Rhamnus)
Chaparro (Casatela emoryi)
Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla)
Gentian (Gentiana spp.) - Species used lutea, source from commercial growers only.
Goldthread (Coptis spp.)
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) (Hawaii only) - also banned in UK     
Lobelia (Lobelia spp.) - Species used inflata, source from commercial growers only. Schedule III herb.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pendatum)
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) - Species used in herbal medicine is aquifolium, source from commercial growers only.
Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)
Pink Root (Spigelia marilandica)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Spikenard (Aralia racemosa, A. californica)
Stone Root (Collinsonia canadensis)
Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea)
Turkey Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) - source from commercial growers only.
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)

Also of concern but not on UpS lists:

Calamus (Acorus calamus) - farmers are preferred source
Agnus castus (Vitex agnus castus) - farmers are preferred source
Scullcap, Large-flowered skullcap (Scutellaria montana)

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