HERBAL ONLY ORGANIC

It goes without saying that medicinal herbs for sale should be cultivated organically – or, even better, biodynamically. It is better for the environment, for the plants and for you. A healing plant that contains pesticide residue is a contradiction in terms and should not be used.

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Similarly, if you decide to grow herbs yourself you should do so in a completely organic way. (See post 24 for information on growing your own.) At this point it is worth mentioning that by growing herbs in your garden or allotment you will be greatly encouraging local wildlife. Wild herbs often flower in a less showy way than garden cultivars but are loved by bees and butterflies, while the seeds are popular with birds. Like wild flowers, herbs attract natural predators and discourage pests. As well as your health benefiting from using herbs, your garden will be healthier for growing them

COLLECTING FROM THE WILD

Many herbs are collected from the wild worldwide. This practice, often called wild harvesting, is not indifferent to the environment. In many countries the wild native flora is under threat owing to its disappearing natural habitat. Therefore any collecting from the wild is best done in a regulated, sustainable way by professional, contracted collectors who know how, what and when to collect in order to have the minimal impact on the environment. At present there is very little of this kind of control in most of the world, although there are many initiatives in individual countries to protect medicinal plants from over-harvesting.

Collecting herbs from the wild used to be a common way of obtaining herbs in the UK. However, nowadays there are a number of ecological issues associated with such harvesting. As elsewhere in the world, many herbs in the UK have become scarce as a result of loss of habitat or over-harvesting. Some herbs grow in proximity to intensely farmed crops and will be accidentally sprayed with chemicals; some grow near busy roads and will accumulate the air pollutants there. Scarcity of herbs in the wild has a wide impact on ecosystems, especially on insects and birds.

So, should you collect from the wild at all? In my view, no. It is best to grow your own or to buy ready-dried or processed herbs from an ethical supplier. Unless you are absolutely sure that a particular plant is so abundant that what you take will make little difference, please do not collect from the wild. Wild habitats have become so fragile that even collecting seemingly common plants such as elderflower or nettle may be harmful to the local environment.

I suggest that you ask your local Wildlife Trust about the plants you wish to collect. If you are given the green light by them, collect a small amount, just for your own use, and do not destroy whole plants. Make sure you have identified the plant correctly: there is no room for mistakes as some poisonous plants can look similar to non-poisonous ones. For example, a common mistake is to confuse comfrey leaves with alkanet or foxglove, or take alkanet for borage.

HERBAL ONLY ORGANIC

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