Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Industry Takes the Lead in the Conservation of U.S. Botanicals

Conference Report

Yhe medicinal and aromatic plant industries have a tradition of sharing new research, exploring product development, and clarifying consumer safety issues. However, the perspective of First Peoples usually was not included, nor were conservation data. Adding both to the agenda made the Industrial Leadership for the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants a unique experience for participants. The symposium brought all stakeholders into the discussion and provided a forum for the exchange of multidisciplinary information.

A two-day symposium held February 26 and 27, 2002, Industrial Leadership for the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, brought together Native American elders, conservationists, botanists, scientists, industry members, and government officials to address their shared growing concerns for the future conservation of domestic North American wild botanical resources, as well as the status of foreign botanicals used in the United States. Facilitated by the Plant Conservation Alliance-Medicinal Plant Working Group (PCA-MPWG), a consortium of federal agencies and non-federal cooperators working collectively for native medicinal plant conservation, the symposium was sponsored by industry leaders such as Aveda, American Herbal Products Association, the Steven Foster Group, Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, and the American Botanical Council. The symposium was held in Philadelphia's Sheraton Rittenhouse Hotel, a leading "green" hotel in the United States that combines quality lodging with environmentally responsible business principles such as energy conservation and the use of recycled materials.

With the setting of the Rittenhouse as a daily reminder of the environmental difference committed leadership can make, symposium speakers described some of the steps taken to ensure the sustainability of various plant species: for example, Aveda's work on sandalwood (Santalum album L., Santalaceae), Strategic Sourcing's work with goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L., Ranunculaceae), and Glaxo SmithKlein on black cohosh (Actaea racemosa L., Ranunculaceae, syn. Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.). Distinguished researchers, industry leaders, and First Peoples shared new ways to help balance conservation, business, and cultural concerns associated with medicinal and aromatic plant use.

Gary Paul Nabhan, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, and the symposium keynote speaker, summed up the importance of the two days, saying, "Overcoming differences that distanced us from one another in the past, representatives from many cultures, professions and regions found common ground on how to conserve and use native medicinal plants."

To honor the source of our earliest native plant knowledge and to emphasize that respectful plant use also requires respectful relationships with native peoples, the symposium began with a traditional blessing, led by Canoncito Navajo Spiritual Elder Leon Secatero, who was assisted by other PCA-MPWG Elders' Circle members from six tribes based in the United States. The Elders' Circle is a committee of representatives from the Navajo, Mohawk, Yurok, Catabwa, Cherokee, Kumeyaay, and Accohanock tribes, invited by members of the MPWG to take a strong leadership role in native medicinal plant conservation.

The blessing established the tone and direction for the two days of presentations and discussions. It also signalled the critical role these elders played, both in endorsing the symposium and in guiding program development. "The elders say you must take care of the land and your surroundings to fulfill your sacred path and become part of Mother Earth's beautiful gift," Secatero said in explaining the commitment of native peoples to exploring cooperative efforts with industry and other organizations to help reverse the loss of biodiversity.

As a symposium sponsor, Dominique Conseil, President of Aveda, also expressed why the symposium was important to him as a businessman, "At Aveda, we think there is no responsible alternative to doing business in an environmentally sustainable way. We see the challenge of environmental sustainability as one of protecting biodiversity. Caring for endangered species starts in our own backyard, with the aromatic and medicinal plants we use as an industry."

A Sampling of Presentations

Speakers came from as far away as India and as close as Pennsylvania to share a message of joint cooperation for the benefit of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Akash Chopra, Ph.D., CEO of Biosys Group, Rothamsted, UK, shared examples of successful projects that demonstrate the benefits of traceability (tracking a product back to where its raw materials originated), including eliminating adverse effects on the environment and communities at the same time that they establish a fair price structure and eliminate the causes of product adulteration. Transparency, according to Chopra, allows all stakeholders in the supply chain to engage from a position of mutual understanding, makes all stakeholders responsible for the overall issues, and builds trust as well as the ability to incorporate values into the system that benefit all partners. Chopra ended his presentation with a simple statement: "On behalf of Mother Earth and those who cannot be here to speak for themselves, we have shown that we have a collective responsibility, as stakeholders, in the use and preservation of natural resources, and there should be a fair distribution of the commercial proceeds."

Bruce Stein, Vice President of NatureServe, Rosslyn, Virginia, provided an environmental context with which to begin to evaluate the sustainable use of native U.S. plants. According to Stein, the United States has approximately 16,000 native vascular plants -- about 7 percent of the world's total -- 4,000 of which are found nowhere else. The United States does share many plants at the level of family and genus with Asia, including American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L., Araliaceae) and mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L., Berberidaceae). NatureServe assesses the status of many plants, based on selected criteria: number of populations, abundance of range, trends, threats, intrinsic fragility. The NatureServe database <> provides a source of authoritative conservation information on more than 50,000 plants, animals and ecosystems in the United States and Canada. Stein concluded by offering several recommendations: 1) improve monitoring of both trade volumes and field population conditions; 2) monitor data that are comparable across sites and species; 3) look at broader impacts on ecosystems; and 4) engage the professional botanical community and mobilize volunteers.

Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), defined issues of sustainability for the global marketplace, with particular emphasis on U.S. native species. Based on knowledge of the trade in these species, he offered tools that could be considered to help ensure sustainability: proper harvesting practices; industry consumption data; cultivation; substitutes; national and international regulations; and botanical data. He ended on a hopeful note, citing a remark made in 1903 by Henry Kraemer, editor of the American Journal of Pharmacy and the preeminent pharmacognosist of his day: "We believe that Americans will be as successful in the conservation of their forests and wild plants and animals as they have been original, fearless and fortunate in the discovery of her treasures and the development of her resources."

Trish Flaster, President and CEO of Botanical Liaisons of Boulder, Colorado, addressed quality control in a context different from how it is usually presented. In her words, quality control spans the entire process -- from soil to soul, from seed to consumer. Documentation of the process at each stage is critical because the chain of custody of plant material is huge given the size of the market. Also, if quality control does not include native knowledge, even support for native languages, which are being lost at alarming rates, then knowledge of the plants is diminished as is biodiversity. Flaster emphasized the importance of talking to the people in the field, "They have a knowledge base of how to collect, when to collect, where to collect. Do not separate the people and the plants. With the respect for the people you then have the respect for the Earth, and when we can keep respect for the Earth and its many gifts, then we are able to pass them forward to the generations to come."

Leon Secatero, Spiritual Leader of the Canoncito Navajo of New Mexico and Tis Mal Crow, Hitichiti Cherokee elder from Tennessee, spoke extensively on the Native American perspective concerning the state of American wild herbs. "In my language," said Tis Mal Crow, "we have 45 words for snow, 65 words for rain, but no words for extinct. It is a foreign word. But now this word has an impact on me. When I was young I thought there would be no end to the plants I worked with, but now I know that this word is a real thing."

Ann Koontz, Director of EnterpriseWorks, of Washington D.C., discussed balancing environmental, social, and business issues in the aromatic plants and essential oils arena. She stressed the need to balance a variety of factors: 1) the growing demand for aromatic products worldwide; 2) the fact that the people closest to the resource are often poor, with few resources to manage sustainable harvesting; 3) absence of knowledge concerning sustainable yields and harvesting practices for many species; and 4) the continued loss of many aromatic plants found in biodiversity-rich areas due to over-harvesting and other threats. Koontz provided examples from Nepal of successfully balancing these factors by: 1) looking at all the players, their functions, and technologies and their role in a sector's markets, paired with threat analysis to understand the range of resource degradation; 2) using economic benefits as the entry point to working with producers while balancing environmental and social equity issues; and 3) promoting linkages with multiple players to increase producer benefits.

Uwe Koetter, Ph.D., Director of New Products Research for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare in Parsippany, New Jersey, introduced his company's work with G. Harnischfeger, Schaper & Brummer, in the cultivation of black cohosh. GlaxoSmithKline contracts for cultivation to achieve improved quality and consistency of plants. Its goals also include sustainability, purity, and reliability.

David Hircock, herbalist consultant to Aveda based in New York, New York, used sandalwood as an example of Aveda's commitment to sustainability. Hircock posed the question: "How do we investigate sustainability, and what happens when we find a potential problem?" In the case of sandalwood, Aveda sourced its raw materials from India, until it began to suspect sandalwood was being poached. Knowing how old a sandalwood tree must be to produce oil, the company began to require suppliers to submit documents proving that Indian sandalwood oil was supplied from legal Indian government sources. When suppliers failed to demonstrate progress, Aveda took steps to ensure a sustainable and traceable supply of the oil. Research suggested that poachers who illegally cut down sandalwood trees also poached Asian elephants as another source of income and were involved in various human rights violations. Rather than continuing to source materials from the wild, Aveda sought alternatives. As an interim measure, it used sandalwood from Australia, because that country has strict laws of sustainability controlled by the Sandalwood Act and Wildlife Conservation Act, among other legislation. However, Aveda also seeks to continue to support sandalwood in India by purchasing from plantations and forest collectors with reliable traceability and sustainability programs.

Other speakers included: Steven Foster, noted American native plant expert; Peggy Olwell, PCA chair; Julie Lyke, former PCA-MPWG chair; Ed Fletcher, cultivation manager for Strategic Sourcing, Inc.; Danna J. Leaman, Ph.D., IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group chair; Charlotte Gyllenhaal, University of Chicago; Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance Executive Director; Monique Simmonds, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England; Barry Dimson, President and CEO of Sheraton Rittenhouse Square; Michelle Penna, Director for Business Development for EcoEnterprises Fund; Bruce Mannheim, attorney with Bennett, Turner & Coleman; Kelly McConnell, NatureServe; Diane Don Carlos, United Plant Savers; Jennifer Morris, Manager of Enterprise Development and Support at Conservation International; Pierre Franchomme, Aromatic Sourcing; and Freddie Ann Hoffman, Pfizer, Inc.


Industrial Leadership in the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants was a remarkable event in which people who seldom have the occasion to interact found that they share the same goals. At the end of the symposium, approximately 125 people representing more than 60 organizations reached consensus on the following:

1.      We endorse the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), and the Plant Conservation Alliance-Medicinal Plants Working Group (PCA-MPWG) and its Mission.

2.      We acknowledge that we are all stakeholders in the preservation of plants.

3.      We recognize that we need guidance from our indigenous elders.

4.      We intend to develop a more formal structure for industry participation in PCA and PCA-MPWG.

5.      We will hold another Industrial Leadership meeting in about one year to assess our progress toward formalizing a structure.

In addition, the group agreed to move forward with an Industry Committee, chaired by AHPA's Michael McGuffin. The committee seeks participants to help carry out its agenda. Further, the following action were identified:

1. Native American spokespeople continuing to send the message that the plants are sacred.

2.      video distribution of this event to interested herb schools and other organizations.

3.      existing standards for sustainable harvest promided to the MPWG (Partners: Rainforest Alliance and Center for Sustainable Environments).

4.      survey of tonnage of wild medicinal plants produced/harvested in 2001 (Partners: AHPA, USFWS).

5.      CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) implementation for native medicinal plants (Partners: AHPA, USFWS).

The goal now is to follow up on the intention to meet again next year. By 2003, the second meeting of Industrial Leadership in the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants will report on progress to advance knowledge of the sustainability of these important plants.

David Hircock is an environmental watchdog and herbalist for the Aveda cosmetics company. British born, he holds degrees in pharmacy and herbal medicine.