As you peruse drugstore shelves, you may notice the skyrocketing popularity of medicinal herbs. What you can't see, however, is the number of plants harvested from the wild--called wildcrafting--necessary to make these herbal products. In this country, more than 150 species of wild plants are harvested and exported to world markets for medicinal purposes. As you might imagine, this puts tremendous pressure on native-plant communities, endangering some remaining wild stands. Although some nations have promoted farm cultivation of medicinal plants, in the United States, most are still harvested in the wild. A good example is goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Botanists estimate more than 6 million wild plants are dug each year. It's no wonder goldenseal is listed as endangered throughout its native range (Vermont to Alabama and west to Michigan).
To increase public awareness of the threat to native medicinal plants, concerned herbalists and herb growers formed a nonprofit organization called United Plant Savers (UpS). UpS has created an "at risk" list of threatened wild medicinal plants and is establishing botanical sanctuaries around the country. This program includes a 650-acre sanctuary in Ohio, which is used as a testing ground for propagation and reintroduction of medicinal plants to the wild. UpS also promotes the sustainable planting and harvesting of these plants and qualifies nurseries that are ethically propagating them.
To become a member of UpS, write to United Plant Savers, P.O. Box 420, East Barre, VT 05649. Members receive a quarterly newsletter, seed, rootstock, planting information, and notification of annual conferences on medicinal plants.
Article published on June 23, 2008.