The American Botanical Council (ABC) has partnered with the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) as part of ABC’s ongoing commitment to conservation education. The SHP website is being developed as a new educational resource for the international herb and medicinal plant communities.
SHP was founded in 2015 as the Sustainable Herbs Project by Ann Armbrecht, PhD, an anthropologist and author who became interested in herbal healing after conducting research in Nepal for her doctorate. Along with her husband, Terrence Youk, Armbrecht produced the award-winning documentary “Numen: The Nature of Plants,” which celebrates the healing power of plants and traditional Western herbalism. While producing “Numen,” Armbrecht perceived a disconnect between the growth of the herbal supplement industry in the United States and the belief that natural medicine can heal both people and the Earth. After a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $65,000 (surpassing the original goal of $54,000), she launched the Sustainable Herbs Project, a multimedia website that follows medicinal plants through the supply chain from farm to shelf.
Armbrecht said: “It is difficult to see the impacts of producing most of the products on which we depend. I created the Sustainable Herbs Project to tell the stories of the people and places behind the herbal remedies on the shelf in order to see those impacts. My goal in sharing these stories is to launch a consumer movement supporting high-quality herbal remedies, sustainable and ethical sourcing, and greater transparency” (email, October 31, 2018).
The increased interest in and awareness of sustainable sourcing is intended to benefit parties involved in every step along the supply chain, from growers to businesses to consumers.
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal said: “ABC is profoundly grateful to Dr. Ann Armbrecht for her initiative to create and foster the initial ‘Sustainable Herbs Project’ website. We also appreciate that she chose to partner with ABC. Our new partnership intends to energize and take the renamed ‘Sustainable Herbs Program’ to a new level of educational and inspirational engagement with the global medicinal plant community.”
Armbrecht and ABC are sharing the responsibilities of developing new educational content and maintaining the program’s website. ABC also has taken on responsibilities related to development, fundraising, and marketing.
“ABC brings a depth of experience and expertise to our exploration of these issues,” Armbrecht said, “and this partnership will allow us to reach a larger and more diverse audience than was possible on our own. The first time I heard about [herbal medicine sustainability] was at a workshop called ‘Sustainable Herbalism’ taught by longtime ABC Board of Trustees member Steven Foster. That workshop planted the seed that eventually led me to create the Sustainable Herbs Project, and it is an honor to now have the opportunity to work with Steven Foster and others at ABC.”
SHP’s website is a valuable resource for consumers, herbalists, manufacturers, and others in the herbal healing community. The many videos are particularly compelling. Ranging from one to 15 minutes long, these short videos offer an in-depth look at the multifaceted issues that face the herb industry and touch on quality and sustainability, raw material processing, quality control and testing, and the wild-harvest of medicinal plants. Armbrecht interviewed international experts and professionals from many different companies, including Josef Brinckmann of Traditional Medicinals and Sebastian Pole of the United Kingdom-based Pukka Herbs, about the challenges and rewards of fostering economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
According to Foster, who is also an author and photographer, the partnership comes at a crucial point for the herbal medicine industry’s growth and development. “The SHP, with stewardship enhanced and strengthened by partnering with ABC, creates the opportunity to develop more awareness and action around the simple question: ‘Where do herbs come from?’” he said (email, October 30, 2018). “During this critical time of imperiled biodiversity, the SHP website and its rich multimedia content will help create more mindfulness on botanical sustainability issues from the collector to the consumer.”
Disseminating information on vitally important issues such as conservation, regenerative agriculture, and sustainability for the herb industry is a natural extension of ABC’s existing educational mission. In 2018, ABC expanded the scope of its conservation education efforts and reported on goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae) conservation issues in eastern North America, Indian kino (Pterocarpus marsupium, Fabaceae) tree reforestation in India, the state of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi, Malpighiaceae) wild-harvesting and cultivation in the Peruvian Amazon, and the growing popularity of B Corporation third-party certification among major companies in the herb industry.
Blumenthal sees the partnership as an exciting new opportunity for ABC as it observes its 30th anniversary. “As an educational nonprofit organization, ABC has a long history of interest in and coverage of important topics related to medicinal and aromatic plant (MAP) conservation and sustainability,” he said. “We have published numerous articles dealing with such subjects in ABC’s peer-reviewed publications, one of the most salient being our 2009 cover story in HerbalGram issue 81 on the effects of climate change on the future of MAPs around the globe — an underreported topic in herbal medicine and botany publications at the time.
“In addition to focusing on supply chain sustainability, SHP will also provide herb businesses access to resources to become more sustainable in their warehousing, processing, and administrative operations,” Blumenthal continued. “This is part of our ‘education and inspiration’ goal. We want to inspire and stimulate more awareness of sustainable activities in the herb industry at all levels of operation.”
At a time of increasing herbal supplement sales, discerning consumers demand more from their products, including social empowerment efforts, organic and sustainable harvesting, regenerative farming practices, and supply chain transparency. Younger generations of consumers in particular are responding positively to companies they perceive as responsible, trustworthy, and environmentally conscious. Companies are taking notice of this trend and engaging in marketing strategies that emphasize their commitment to better business practices for the people and the planet.
Blumenthal added: “We’re inviting people from all over the herb community to collaborate with us. SHP is designed to invite and promote responsible information on herb sustainability from many sectors of the herb and medicinal plant communities in all parts of the globe.”
As of October 31, 2018, there were 17 Inaugural Underwriters that represent leading stakeholders in the herbal supplement industry. These underwriters include botanical ingredient suppliers, branded product manufacturers, and a leading dietary supplement trade association. ABC and SHP are grateful to these companies for their generous and timely support:
Ingredient suppliers: Applied Food Sciences, Euromed, Indena, RFI, Valensa, and Verdure Sciences
Herbal product manufacturers: doTerra, EuroPharma/Terry Naturally, FoodState/MegaFood, Gaia Herbs, HumanN, Nature’s Way, New Chapter, NOW Foods, Standard Process, and Thorne
Industry organization: United Natural Products Alliance
More information on the Sustainable Herbs Program can be found at www.sustainableherbsprogram.com.