Action 1 – Support groups that protect herbs and the environment.
Why are some herbs endangered and what herbs are endangered?
The raw unpleasant truth is that there are a lot of herbs being harvested from wild populations and made into medicine that are scarce in their habitat.
This is not sustainable or ethical.
It also not much talked about.
Just because it’s a herb does not mean that everything is green, eco conscious and sustainable.
Quite frankly your cup of coffee could be more sustainable than some herbs in commerce.
Why they are endangered is due to over collection from the wild as well as habitat destruction. Add to that the lack of scale in cultivation of the herbs themselves as sustainable farm crops.
What herbs are endangered is a bit clearer. The best work done currently is in North America where the United Plant Savers (UPS) group works specifically with native herbs of North America under threat. However, in many other countries the situation is not clear.
Why should we care? – An important range of our herbal Materia Medica comes from North America. Plants like Golden Seal, Black Cohosh, Slippery Elm and Echinacea are herbs that have become very well-known and widely used. They have also been over harvested in the wild.
Who is doing the best work that I know of in this area now?
‘When I moved in It had one fig tree, rampant couch grass and a trampoline – that was it!’ Lisette said when she moved to her house in suburban Canberra.
Mostly I am talking to you about medicinal herbs but every once in a while, a garden I see or read about takes my fancy and reinvigorates my love of gardening and plants so I share it with you.
The transformation into sensorial paradise of this suburban garden didn’t cost thousands of dollars or arrived prepacked from the local nursery or was created by ‘professional landscapers. It’s one Woman and her family with their persistent efforts.
‘I just started with one small area then moved onto another area … ‘Lisette modestly says on how she achieved this.
A variety of evolving techniques over time has been used to change this landscape so profoundly. Here are some of them with my comments.
We live in a current era of uncertainty and deep concerns in many areas. Be it drought, Bushfire, Flood, Coronavirus, Economic uncertainty or Government actions there is a lot going on.
Looking for knowledge that is tried true and trusted is important if you want to learn more about Herbal Medicine. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting as a complete newbie or are a qualified professional; having trusted sources of information and advice is vital.
We all go looking on Google to surf the internet and see what comes up. Mostly its rubbish as searches are ranked on factors other than quality or truthfulness of information. You really need to remember that, just because someone says it on the internet- it ain’t necessarily so as George & Ira Gershwin sang.
I was visiting a friend’s garden in Ainslie ACT where cleavers were growing abundantly. My friend commented on the beauty of the plant, its abundance and vitality. He said to me what about we tincture that?
It was a shining example of how simple herbal medicine at home can be.
The simplicity of the plant growing healthily in the garden.
Cleavers was there – it did not need to be manufactured or transported around the world or need a research grant. It’s just there, waiting to be harvested. You can look upon it as a common weed completely overlooking its unique properties. A lot of what we look on or call ‘weeds’ or common plants have a long history of usage in Herbal medicine.
And apart from visiting friends much of my time at the moment is spent working on collaborative project with my friend Wendy Dumaresq. We are working on a herbal medicine course that is a deep dive into a number of herbs showing people how they can do herbal medicine for themselves in a safe and effective way.
You can hear a FB interview with Wendy with Animal Dreaming publishing. The interview covers a number of topics and also covers this new Herbal medicine course.
A few years ago I had a crack at growing Osha (Ligusticum porteri). Its a well known and also revered medicinal herb in North America among the Indian Nation people and the Native people of Mexico. It is used in their ceremonies and is well known as a Bear Medicine.
I was successful and managed to grow the plant for a couple of years before it went to sleep one Autumn and never woke up again in Spring.
Talked about in the book featured above ‘ Growing At risk medicinal Herbs’. Cultivation of the herb is tricky. It likes the Mountains where it grows, rich soil and plenty of water.
So time to try again, and I recently ordered a couple of packets of seed. They arrived yesterday (all 30 seeds) and I busily made them at home.
First is a two month stay in the fridge to simulate a cold winter, then treatment with Mycogold fungal preparation then into the soil for planting.
Stay tuned as I report my progress. Lots of prayers to the Bear Medicine spirit for a wonderful germination of these seeds.
P.S. When I opened the packet a wonderful aroma hit my nostrils. The smell of Osha! which is like a feral rank celery smell. If you have ever grown lovage, that is very close. I took this as a good sign that the seed is fresh and vital.
It called ‘Masting’ and means that that a range of indigenous conifers have decided it’s time to bear seed. last time was five years ago in 2015.
How do they all decide that it’s the right time? An ENT Moot perhaps? (Tolkien readers will understand this reference). Likely it’s a range of subtle environmental triggers that the plants monitor so they can time their fruiting & seeding efforts for the best possible result.
Who said plants are not intelligent, just because they sit there?
In a recent post we covered seed banks and how they are really a Devils bargain in taking plant seeds out of context into a technological fantasy world.
This blog we look at seed collection going on this year on in Tasmania.
Tasmania – have you been there? I remember travelling over on the boat in the 90‘s and seeing the Mountainous cloud shrouded profile of Tasmania appear as we headed to Launceston. It’s certainly a special place.
Busy collecting this seed in a hurry is James Wood – Why?
The hurry comes from the coordinated timing of all of the plants to produce seed and that It happens irregularly. They are also scattered over the alpine landscape in Tasmania so that means a lot of walking!
James Wood a botanist from Kew Gardens in London, works in the seed bank at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens in Hobart. Wood is on a mission to collect seed from these rare Tasmanian conifers.
Yes! Australia has its own conifers and in Tasmanina they are very special – Pencil Pines, King Billy Pines, Huon Pines. Tasmanian is Australia’s Conifer hot spot.
As I said the sense of urgency is from the irregular timing of seed production plus the real threat from global warming that is changing the climate in the alpine areas these plants grow in.
You may remember the fires within the last couple of years where alpine areas normally too wet to burn, dried out enough for this to happen.
Also, when you collect the seed it needs to be from a variety of different plants form different parts of the landscape to capture the genetic diversity. Pencil pines it turns out grow often in clonal groups. This means they are all of one genetic strain likely all grown from only a few parent trees.
“It’s not a bad-sized haul as an insurance policy for the future,” says Wood.
The collection will be stored in the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre and the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank. One day, the seeds may be reintroduced back into the landscape to flourish again which, for Wood, is a comforting thought.
Oh, OOH there those seed banks again – Why does reintroduction into the landscape again be only comforting thought? How about an urgent practicality?
Perhaps they could take a leaf (bad pun) from the book of the Sydney Botanic Garden and how they took action with discovery of the Wollemi Pine. Seed and plants were collected then there was an intense effort to propagate the trees so they could be grown by everyone.
This takes the pressure off the wild species from poachers and includes everyone into the conservation effort.
Wood says “As Tasmania’s habitat changes, many alpine species may become extinct — some have already been lost and may not be able to re-establish themselves naturally……. the increasing aridity and likelihood of fire in these areas is very worrying,” he says.
So, seed collection, propagation and storage plus growing on in the Botanical garden can here serve as a useful buffer. It just does not stop at the seed collection and storage part though.
“It will be nice if we can leave those who come after us with more than just a glimpse of what the world was in the beginning,” Wood says.
We would all agree with that
Based on an article from the ABC news site you can access here.
Touted and promoted as the doomsday vaults that will save us if there is a catastrophic accident, wide spread climate alteration or meteorite strike etc. Created to preserve the worlds plant diversity against extinction.
They house seeds collected wither locally or from around the world as a genetic resource for future times and to prevent plant extinction.
One such storage site is the doomsday vault in Svalbard Norway that recently had to be upgraded due to warmer summers in the artic circle where it is located. Here is its website
The seed is gathered from around the world then deposited in this high technology vault in a remote safe location. Carefully stored recorded and checked for a future time of need. For once we seem to be having proper foresight in our society.
once you ponder a little bit longer, there are serious flaws
At first glance this seems wonderful that this precious material is being preserved however once you ponder a little bit longer there are serious flaws – It has taken me awhile to see beneath the surface attraction to understand it is only part of the solution.
Let’s look a bit deeper
The seed bank for the future sounds great – but if you look harder it another grandiose complicated technological solution to an ecological problem. As if we didn’t have enough ‘technology’ saving us already.
Where are the ecosystems that this plant lives in?
We have saved the seed but what about the actual living mature plant?
What about the ecological and cultural context of the plant?
As if we didn’t have enough ‘technology’ saving us already.
The seed lives on in its high-tech vault – largely devoid of its social & ecological & environmental history and context.
Separated from the soil where it germinates, the animals it feeds or who fertilise it, the fungi that colonise its roots and allow it to connect into the ecosystem, the people who cultivate it if it’s a food crop. The cultural stories it features in.
Yes, every seed has a file with photos, text describing where it came from but you can’t pretend that this is anywhere near the reality of its existence.
‘you can’t pretend that this is anywhere near the reality of its existence’
It shows an application of technology that separates us from reality, when what is needed is re connection with the plant world, the ecosystems that support us now and have done so for millennia. There is no relatedness.
‘An abstraction from the ecological world we live in – a high technology fantasy’
It’s a Devils bargain – we believe we are getting something marvellous when out of sight a sacred feminine part of our self and our culture has been betrayed and sacrificed. The plant lives on as a dormant embryo dependent on high technology life support.
A Devils bargain or Faustian bargain is where a person or society trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for a worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches.
For the seed its life as a living entity is now an abstract reality. It’s been reduced to a data entry in a computer and lives in a container at sub zero temperatures.
Thankfully there are organisation that have taken a different route – at lower cost, more relatedness and of benefit to all.
Here is contrasting example with vegetable seeds.
The Diggers Club Australia have taken on the mantle in Australia of gathering, preserving and distributing a wide range of heritage vegetable seeds.
Diggers source seeds, growing them at their support facility then send out to members. The seeds are connected with people and put into the ground to live and provide food.
Having a heritage lettuce variety that sits in a container at minus whatever degrees Celsius in a cavern in northern Norway is not much use to anyone.
Zoos are in a similar position if they are not captive breeding and providing a buffer to the wild populations. Plants and animals need to function in their original environments and for this to have value and be respected.
It’s a Devils bargain – we believe we are getting something marvellous when out of sight a sacred feminine part of ourselves and our culture has been betrayed and sacrificed.
Don’t buy it!
To read deeper into the psychology of a Devils bargain try reading Robert Johnson – The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden: Understanding the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology. It’s a short but profound book and helps explain our times.
Tinderry Mountain Herbs places a tithe on all income earned of 10%. This money is spent on various enterprises that help plants and the earths ecosystem.
TMH supports Bush Heritage Australia an organisation that manages large areas of key Australian habitat. They remove all feral species and reintroduce the original animal species. They consistently find that once foxes and cats are removed the native animals establish themselves, breed and get right on with their business. The Native plants get right on with their business as well. Everything in context and environment.
You hear mostly the doom and gloom stories about the Amazon, here is one that has lots of hope.
As Paul Hawken says………
If you look just at the scientific facts you despair, if you look at the people you will have hope.
A doctor and infectious disease specialist Eugenio Scannavino Netto set up the Experimental Active Forest Centre (CEFA) at an Amazon reserve in 2016 to work on solutions for re-foresting cleared and burned land plus regenerating abandoned stock pasture.
Its amazon agroforestry.
Dr. Scannavino Netto says
“The culture here is slash and burn, and we’re trying to change that,”
He has set up the experimental centre, plus a Health and Happiness NGO and then organised a sustainable agriculture gathering.
Dr. Netto sees the actions of clearing forests increase the risk of viruses jumping animal species and then to humans. DR Netto criticises the modern agriculture practice of monoculture (growing only one crop) and the usage of chemicals (pesticide herbicides antibiotics)
This destabilises the environment and all the inbuilt balances between species bacteria, viruses’, animals, plants.
Dr Netto says
Covid-19 has been a warning. “Either we change,” he said in a recent phone interview, “or we will die in the next pandemic. And it will be fast.”
Dr. Netto’s forest research centre grows up to 40,000 trees to distribute with local communities for planting.
The main tree propagated is the Cumaru tree, a native Amazonian tree whose seeds are used in cosmetics. Then there is Pau-brasil for wood, Urucum plants that has seeds used for body paint and lipstick colour plus Pau-rosa used in perfume.
All these are replanted out with a range of other supporting plants plus mulch for protection and support.
Dr. Netto’s own NGO the Health and Happiness Project works on community projects with health and education services. Its known by its Portuguese initial PSA.
Taking it even further Dr Netto then organised a sustainable agriculture event where a range of farmers talked about their techniques.
Agroforestry techniques like this were used by indigenous communities before Spanish and Portuguese explorers arrived – Ernst Götsch, 72, a Swiss farmer at the PSA sustainable agriculture event
Good news is out there, you just have to look harder. Don’t expect to find it on the nightly TV news that’s all.
Here is the Link to the Guardian article by Dom Phillips
Tinderry Mountain Herbs(TMH) places a tithe on all income earned of 10%. This money is spent on various enterprises that help plants and the earths ecosystem.
TMH supports the Amazon Conservation Team an organisation that supports Amazonian native peoples on their own lands keeping their wisdom traditions alive in the context of the forest with its plants and animals.
Lomatium or desert parsley or Indian balsam is an official ‘at risk’ medicinal herb.
Used in the herbal trade for respiratory infections to control them before they turn in to complications. However few people know of this plant – probably just as well for reasons you will see later in this blog.
If you do use it – you do not need much – its a potent herb and taking excess will give you a rash just to teach you a lesson. Have it dispensed by your herbalist who knows how to offset this.
Its a plant that can live for more than a century in the wild. Rich Cech says of lomatium
“there is no such thing as sustainable harvest of wild Lomatium. The plant is not renewable within our lifetime”
That means it is scare to rare or endangered in its wild habitat and needs to be cultivated for future harvests. From earlier posts you would have read about my persistent and patient growing of this plant. Its certainly slow however I have found that more regular potting up and a larger pot have helped speed things up a lot.
Alas this season I was unable to gather any seeds. Hoping for flowers this coming late winter and I will be on the ball for those seeds to harvest.
Hopefully my humble efforts will show the way or provide encouragement so that we can cultivate this herb rather than harvest from the the wild.
The garden seduces me,” says Ron Finley, who is known around the world as the “gangsta gardener”. “I’ll get out there at 9am and next thing I know it’s 7pm … gardening takes your mind off things. Everybody should have a garden to cultivate.”
Ron is gardening in South Central Los Angles an area that does not sound like a gardening hot Spot to me. You would be more acquainted with the Gangsta Rap music from there rather than the zucchini harvest.
He calls his area a food prison with very few productive gardens, yet there is a great climate for growing food plants. This is a serious enterprise and Ron says ‘This is no damn hobby’
He calls his area a food prison
It all started when he wanted to access food that had not been sprayed by chemicals and started off by gardening the land between his house and the street. In typical petty bureaucratic form, the local council officials told him you could not do that. No gardening on the footpath!! The typical response to anything outside their narrow world.
No gardening on the footpath said the local council
He worked to get the law changed and was successful. He also starred in a 2015 documentary about community gardens in South Central Los Angeles. After ten years he has many gardens around Los Angles in vacant land.
He worked to get the law changed and was successful.
He even has his own master class on You Tube – I just saw the ad for it!
So, let’s just summarise – This is a black guy in South Central Los Angles who changes the Local Government laws, grows lots of food, spreads the word and starts lots of other gardens plus a film and a Ted Talk.
Talk about Flower Power! – What your excuse? I will leave you with one of his sayings
“Let’s all become gangsta gardeners … If you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta”