Where do these herbs come from? It's a question many ask when choosing a product or buying bulk herbs. With the growing interest in herbalism and making one's own plant preparations, people often dive in without really considering the ethical, environmental, and health impacts herb sourcing has. What kind of environment did your herbs grow in? What was in their soil, their water, or what was sprayed on them? Who harvested them, processed them? Were they fairly compensated for their efforts? These are the questions we should ask ourselves.
Ideally, you should harvest and process as many of your own herbs as you can. By growing, harvesting, and processing your own herbs, you know exactly what conditions those herbs grew in, and what they were exposed to. You know if they had good soil, clean water, organic feed, and if they were exposed to any pesticides or contaminants. You can be sure they were ethically grown, harvested, and processed, that their was no human or land exploitation.
When wildcrafting herbs, it is important to know your terrain. Are the plants exposed to chemicals, or near tainted water sources? Is the soil contaminated with heavy metals or other poisons? Or, are the plants growing on land far from pesticide drifts, agricultural runoff, and on relatively undisturbed land? Plants absorb heavy metals and other chemicals just as they do nutrients, so it is important to know you are harvesting healthy plants. Also, consider the environmental impact wildcrafting has. Are you mindful of plant populations and other creatures? Have you left enough for the insects and animals, and for the plants to thrive? Did you harvest from an endangered species, or aid in its growth? By asking yourself these questions, you can help ensure that you don't have a negative impact on the earth, and you can harvest wild plants with peace of mind.
If you can't grow your own plants, or ethically wildcraft them, try locally sourcing them from herb farms, greenhouses, herbalists, or friends who harvest their own herbs. Ask them questions about their practices, and purchase or trade with those you feel comfortable with. If you can't find local growers, try to find small-scale herb farms in other locations, or buy from reputable businesses. The more you distance yourself from the source of your plants, the more questions arise about their origins.
When obtaining plants from distant and large-scale farms and businesses, consider the social and environmental factors. Many companies obtain their herbs from foreign countries, and often exploit the land and people there. Look for companies that practice sustainable, organic farming methods, and who nurture the land instead of destroying it. Check to see whether these companies fairly compensate those who grow, harvest, and process these plants, that these farmers are treated with dignity, respect, given fair wages, and that they don't violate labor laws.
Herbalism is about cultivating a relationship with plants, people, and the earth. It is important we nurture those relationships, for our own health, and that of our planet. It's a lot to consider, but only by asking ourselves these questions and searching for the answers can we be sure our herbs - and our conscience - are clean