When Herbs Become Commodities

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the commodification of herbs and the disconnect we have to nature. Elderberry is one of many herbs that has gained popularity in recent years, and when herbs become popular, they become overharvested, misused, and under appreciated - in short, a recipe for disaster.

In a recent post, I mentioned that I saw complaints about the rise in dried Elderberry prices during this past flu season. When demand goes up and supply runs low, prices will rise. People cleared store shelves of dried Elderberries and Elderberry preparations when the flu struck. They bought what they needed (sometimes more than they needed) and then complained when prices skyrocketed due to high demand and dwindling supply. Everywhere I turned, people were selling Elderberry syrup made from a recipe they found on Pinterest. It was the season’s hottest commodity, the key to winter wellness, and dried berries were soon more than $25 a pound or sold out.

There is a limited supply of Elderberries, and every other herb. There is only so much one can harvest before it becomes selfish and unethical, detrimental to other forms of life. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t consider the environmental impact they have and will recklessly harvest a plant until populations are threatened or endangered in order to meet consumer demand and make money.

As an Herbalist who harvests and prepares her own wildcrafted Elderberries, I know how much time and work is put into this process. I have a connection to the land I harvest on, I work directly with these plants and tend to them. I am grateful for every harvest I have. I enjoy the hours it takes to ethically harvest these berries and prepare them for future use. I gather enough to see myself and son through to the next harvest, and enough to offer in small batches in my Apothecary. I always harvest with respect and gratitude, mindful of the other creatures who require them for sustenance, and I leave plenty behind.

When we lose connection to nature, we fail to respect and appreciate the limited gifts of the earth. We commodify that which is trending, and the land suffers for it - we all suffer for it. This season, and every season, pause and reflect on your needs before consuming. Consider how you can foster a connection to the earth and be an active participator in your food and medicine supply. Grow your own food and herbs, start a community garden, trade with your neighbors, or partner up with local herbalists to learn how you can be a better steward of the land.


When we have a strong connection to nature, we have a greater appreciation for each season and their limited offerings, and can prevent misuse, overharvesting, and the commodification of plants to the benefit of all.