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The Herbalists' United Plant Savers.
United Plant Savers (UpS) has taken on a giant responsibility. Its on-going and ultimate goal is to coordinate widespread efforts to preserve native medicinal plant populations which are suffering from loss of habitat and over harvest. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, director Dr. Richard Liebmann, and a team of concerned herbalists and conservation-minded plant enthusiasts are asking the cooperation of all segments of the herbal industry, including practitioners, organic growers, wildcrafters, herb brokers and herbal manufacturers, to strive to protect native populations of the plants which serve their livelihood.

The identification of plants which are presently in decline due to expanding popularity and shrinking habitat and range has taken the form of a list called the "UpS at Risk List," which is available in draft form from UpS, and is open to public comment. American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, L., Araliaceae), Echinacea - all species, Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, L., Ranunculaceae), and Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa, L., Dioscoreaceae) are some of the primary herbs listed. It must be stressed from the beginning that UpS is not calling for a moratorium on the use of these herbs, rather initiating programs, both practical and educational, which are designed to preserve these important wild medicinal plants.

At the core of this effort is the support of organic cultivation of "at risk" herbs. Using domestically grown herbs serves to lessen dependence on wild-harvested plants and it is a direct means of preserving them. For instance, without widespread organic cultivation of Echinacea purpurea, wild stands of E. angustifolia would be even more stressed than they already are. Cultivated plants become a source of seeds and cuttings for further propagation and eventual re-introduction of plants into the wild. UpS is asking for the assistance of wildcrafters to provide information about native habitats, to observe the way plants reproduce in the wild and to collect seeds for domestic cultivation. On an industry-wide basis, as wild-harvested herbs become more difficult to find, herb quality goes down while price increases. Cultivation thus becomes more profitable, and with appropriate techniques the quality of organically grown herbs can meet and exceed the wild standard. Growing medicina l herbs is a swelling profit area for individuals wanting to find a way to make a living with herbs.

In the interest of rejuvenating wild populations, UpS has initiated work on developing a 650-acre botanical sanctuary in southeast Ohio, which will serve as a testing-ground for studies in propagating and re-introducing medicinal plants to the wild. UpS holds on-going "Planting the Future" conferences which serve to bring together individuals who are interested in ethical wildcrafting and in growing wild medicinal herbs. The conferences provide an apprenticeship into the reasons and means for stewarding medicinal plant resources.

Members of UpS receive a newsletter and membership packet which give more detailed information about its programs. Tax-deductible contributions will directly support preservation of the herbs which are the livelihood of all herbalists and potential healers of all humanity. To become a member, please write United Plant Savers, PO Box 420, E. Barre, VT 05649.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Richard A. Cech