Herbal Spotlight: Cayenne

Capsicum annuum is a taxonomic classification that describes over 200 cultivated varieties of peppers in the Nightshade family including the venerable Cayenne or ‘chili pepper’. Cultivated Cayenne originated in South America around 2000 BC and was introduced to Europe in 1514 by Columbus. It’s popularity and culinary use quickly spread across Europe and eventually to India and China. Cayenne contains a unique palette of nutritional and medicinal phytochemicals including capsaicins (which impart the ‘hot’ flavor), carotenoids (giving characteristic colors to the fruits), volatile compounds (giving characteristic aromas), flavonoids, and vitamins (chiefly, vitamin C).

Traditionally Cayenne is best known as a food and as a spice. However, medicinal use is evidenced in numerous historical texts; it has been applied externally as an analgesic and internally to promote digestion and circulation. Capsaicins stimulate mammalian pain receptors giving the perception of heat and pain. However, birds are entirely unaffected. Thus, it is thought that the synthesis of capsaicins may reflect a Capsicum evolutionary ‘strategy’ to disperse seeds utilizing the digestive-tract of seed-eating birds as a vehicle.

Originally Published in June 2007

The Language of Our Work

What is a botanical?
A botanical is a product that exclusively contains ingredients from plants, algae or fungi valued for its medicinal or therapeutic properties, flavor, and/or scent. “Medicinal herbs” are thus a subset of botanicals. Products made from botanicals that are used to maintain or improve health may be interchangeably called herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines. In contrast to most conventional pharmaceutical drugs comprised of one single chemical, botanicals contain complex mixtures of naturally-occurring chemicals.

In naming botanicals, botanists use a Latin name made up of the genus and species of the plant. Under this system the botanical black cohosh is known as Actaea racemosa L., where Actea is the genus, racemosa is the species, and “L” stands for Linneaus, who first described the type of plant specimen.

Are botanicals dietary supplements?
Congress defined “dietary supplements” in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which became law in 1994. According to that definition, a dietary supplement is a product (other than tobacco) that:

  • Is intended to supplement the diet
  • Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; and other substances) or their constituents
  • Is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid
  • Is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.

What is Pharmacognosy?
Derived from the Greek pharmakon meaning “drug” and gnosis meaning “knowledge”. Pharmacognosy is the study of natural products (i.e., plant, animal, or mineral in nature) used as drugs or for the preparation of drugs. Much of the work performed by our chemists will be in pharmacognosy.

Phytochemicals, what are they?
Phytochemicals are chemical compounds or chemical constituents formed in the plant’s normal metabolic processes. The chemicals are often referred to as “secondary metabolites” of which there are several classes including alkaloids, anthraquinones, coumarins, fats, flavonoids, glycosides, gums, iridoids, mucilages, phenols, phytoestrogens, tannins, terpenes, and terpenoids, to mention a few. Herb Pharm’s “full spectrum” extracts contain many phytochemicals.

Originally Published in November 2006

Herb Pharm Receives Business Honors

BR&E Award
Herb Pharm was pleased to be among the honorees recently at the Eighth Annual Grants Pass & Josephine County Economic Development Forum. The Business Retention and Expansion program is a joint effort of the City of Grants Pass and the Grants Pass & Josephine County Chamber of Commerce. The BR&E committee takes this opportunity each year to honor several businesses in the county who are making significant contributions to “Building the Future” of our community.

This year Herb Pharm was the proud recipient of the “Against All Odds” Award. This award is given to businesses that have overcome major obstacles to remain an important contributing part of our local economy. As Charlie Mitchell, the Economic Development Coordinator for Grants Pass explained it, “Simply keeping a viable and growing business in a location as remote as Williams is a major accomplishment, but Herb Pharm has done so much more by staying relevant in a very competitive market.”

Other award winners at this year’s event were:
Marzi Sinks – The Small Business Growth Award
Duro-Last Roofing – The Large Business Growth Award
Taylor Sausage – The Oregon Dreamer Award
Gates Home Furnishings – The Heritage Award
Roger Harding – The Business Champion Award

Socially Responsible Business Award
On Oct. 8th, 2006 Herb Pharm was awarded the Socially Responsible Business Award at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, Maryland. A group of representatives from several natural products trade groups and other natural products organizations, including the National Natural Foods Association, each year chooses three companies in the industry to recognize for having business practices that go beyond focus on profit, businesses who have what is referred to as a double or triple bottom line (referring to focus on social and environmental priorities).

The judges examine companys’ practices regarding business ethics, accountability, the environment, employee benefits, employment practices, product value and quality, commitment to integrity, community involvement, and a host of other value laden topics. Sara and Ed accepted the award at the 12th annual Socially Responsible Business Awards breakfast. “We are extremely honored to be recognized in this way. There are many companies in the natural products industry creating good products and doing great things in the world. To be recognized in this way is a humbling honor and speaks to all of the amazing people who have contributed to Herb Pharm’s success and evolution over the years.”

Originally Published in November 2006

Planting the Future – Saving the Salmon

Marble creek is a seasonal creek that drains upland areas of Williams Creek and empties into the West Fork of Williams Creek, which is a coho and steelhead bearing creek. Marble creek runs through the center of Herb Pharm’s Farm between the display garden and bass pond. Over the years, channel scour and lateral erosion have removed soil around trees and scrubs that line this creek, and the culverts have become frequently overcome by high flows leading to flooding of adjacent fields.

This winter, in partnership with Williams Creek Watershed Council, a long term plan was developed to reduce erosion, establish new and enhance existing riparians areas and to develop potential seasonal habitat for riparian wildlife. Chuck Dahl downed most of the the dead or damaged trees on the farm, and Mark Disharoon worked with Chas Rogers and Dan (The Backhoe Man) Beausoleil to move them into position along the streambed, where they were placed to slow the water and keep the channel from reaching high velocity. Boulders and existing trees were used an anchor points to keep wood debris in place. Plantings of grasses and literally hundreds of trees – Cedars, Pines, Linden, Wild Cherry, Hawthorn, Viburnum, and Elder along the banks and nearby will enhance erosion control, give a potential for shade and take advantage of sediment deposition in and around the established log structures. Yet months into the project, the nature of these waterways is already dramatically improved, with pools and meandering waters, where last year there were indeterminate muddy bogs.

While saving the salmon and the integrity of Marble and Williams Creeks, we have also been stepping up our efforts to save at-risk plants and “plant the future” by adding to our fields five-hundred Bloodroot and five-hundred Blue Cohosh plants, one-hundred Ginkgo and one-hundred Vitex trees, and adding to our crop list Andrographis, Culver’s Root, Gentian, Goldenrod, Grindelia, Lomatium, Osha, Pulsatilla, Schizandra, and Sheep Sorrel. We are also planning on cultivating False Unicorn later this year.

On this note, our Goldenseal and Black Cohosh plantings, and a stand of wild Lomatium show, that the diverse soils and climates of this farm, as well as the tender loving care they receive from our pharmers, provide us with a unique opportunity to cultivate plants from many regions.

Originally Published in May 2007

Notes from the Hibernating Pharm

Now that the last flower has been picked – a Calendula in case you wonder – and the fields are left to the plant spirits, the microorganisms, the quiet, slow growth of cover crops, the latent “weed” seeds that promise happy hula hoeing in the early spring, and the buzz of phytochemicals in the overwintering herb crops, it’s hard not to sit back and reminisce about what was a truly glorious year.

The fields and gardens, under the tender loving care of a crew “worth their weight in gold(enseal)”, are healthier, more beautiful and more productive than ever! Our herbal relationships with other farmers and growers has flourished, as we began to sell herbal materials to Pacific Botanicals (Artemisia annua, dried Calendula, fresh Feverfew and dry Wormwood), donate Black Cohosh seed to United Plant Savers and establish deeper ties with others who hope to bring such crops as Osha into cultivation in order to protect the planet’s endangered healing plants. And, in 2008, in addition to adding a new “Poppy” field and new experimental beds behind the display garden, we will bring on six new crops: Black Elderberry, Holy Basil (Tulsi), which is actually three plants: Ocimum sanctum – Rama and Krishna and Ocimum gratissimum – Vana, Milk Thistle, Partridge Berry, Rhubarb and Schizandra. We will also be experimenting with Echinacea angustifolia and continuing to learn how to establish lasting stands of Osha, Lomatium, Gentian, Pulsatilla, Bloodroot, False Unicorn, Blue and Black Cohosh and Goldenseal.

Our Herbaculture Program continues to flourish as well. This year brought some of the hardest working, most dedicated, herb obsessed (this is a good thing!), and fun interns ever. They gave us three incredible new t-shirt designs, adopted Crucial Unit (a beige and buff female feline), made tons of powerful medicine… and herbal beers :), really consolidated the alumni intern connection in Williams (there are over a dozen who live and work here now), and they inspired us to create a new full-color brochure to send to herb schools as well as to conferences to give us a new eye-catching presence.

2008 is already in the oven. We have six interns for the Spring Session already “on board” and exciting new classes on the Calendar. The first session starts on April 7th. If you are interested in learning more about the herbs you work with…and live among…we hope you will take advantage of this perpetual learning opportunity.

Originally Published in February 2008

A Walk on the Pharm Farm

Last week, as the Pharm crew was walking between on-going projects in the lower creek fields and the greenhouses, our path took us through a rocky oak-shaded ravine and right into a community of native Lomatium plants. Surprise! Suddenly surrounded by the waist-high, seeded, flower umbels of an endangered medicinal plant was a humbling experience to say the least! Already with anticipation, we saw ourselves returning to this place, in spring, with hopes of finding baby Lomatiums taking a root alongside their elders.

This adventure reminded us of Herb Pharm’s ongoing commitment as a designated United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary. A non-profit organization, United Plant Savers’ mission is clear, to conserve habitat and restore native medicinal plants while creating an abundant sustainable supply of medicinal plants for future generations.

As a leader in the field of herbal medicine, Herb Pharm feels it is our responsibility to educate, cultivate and protect medicinal plants whenever possible. Right now, here on the Pharm, seeded flats of Goldenseal, Osha and Lomatium patiently wait as the Pharm crew researches and creates ideal habitats for them. Each has its own distinct requirements to thrive. Some of our current endangered medicinal cultivations include Butterfly Weed, Lobelia, and Echinacea. Divisions planted this fall have doubled our in-ground populations of Black Cohosh, Stoneroot and Goldenseal. In 2007 we look to add Bloodroot, Blue Cohosh and Gentian as cultivated crops to our fields.

Already we see into the future, a great opportunity exists for Herb Pharm to continue to educate and create awareness about the importance of protecting our medicinal plants to ensure a continued supply for generations to come. We hope you join us in this endeavor!

To learn more United Plant Savers and how you can become involved, please visit their website at www.unitedplantsavers.org.

Originally Published in November 2006