Herbal Spotlight: American Ginseng

ginseng

For nearly 300 years, the small perennial known as American Ginseng has been a healer, magic talisman, and major U.S. botanical export. Hunted to the point of exhausting wild stands, it has become more mystical as it has grown more elusive. Still, fetching hundreds of dollars per pound in the Orient and offering the promise of a long life and sexual vitality, this plant continues to stir desire in those who know it.

The common name “Ginseng” is most accurately applied only to plants in the genus Panax. The most well known Ginsengs are Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Because the name Ginseng carries such authority and reverence in herbal medicine, many other plants have been given common names that contain “Ginseng,” often in association with the name of the country of their origin. Today, it is against U.S. law to market any plant outside of the genus Panax as Ginseng. Ginseng, meaning “man-root” due to its similarity to the human form, as it often possesses branched ‘arms,” “legs” and in some cases a center root reminiscent of a male appendage. The root and the plant are attributed with mystical powers due to the root’s appearance. The plant has been attributed with volition and the ability to hide from unworthy or mean-spirited Ginseng hunters. Interestingly, the Iroquois name for the plant, Garentoguen, also refers to the humanoid shape of the root.

A species native to eastern North America from Quebec to Manitoba and south to northern Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma, American Ginseng has long been an export commodity, sold primarily to China. Due to its immense popularity, it has been severely over-picked, leading to a drastic decline in wild populations. Because of this exploitation, it is listed by United Plant Savers as “At Risk” and exportation of the raw root is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Cultivation in the western hemisphere began in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century and has grown into an important agricultural business. It is commercially cultivated in Canada and the U.S., with heavy cultivation in Wisconsin. Herb Pharm’s American Ginseng liquid extract is prepared from fresh Panax quinquefolius root that has been certified organically grown in the Pacific Northwest.

In Native medicine, various North American Indian tribes used American Ginseng for both physical medicine and magic. It is reported that the Chippewa people used the root internally to treat stomach ailments and prolong the life of a dying person. Both uses are found for Ginseng in Chinese medicine. Creek Indians used it to treat excessive heat conditions and the lungs, uses also seen in Chinese medicine. They also reportedly carried the root to ward off evil spirits; a common cause of disease in many parts of the world.

American Ginseng became a popular and important herb in Chinese medicine starting in the 1700s. Most historical accounts attribute the first movement of American Ginseng eastward to a Jesuit missionary. Father Lafitau, a priest who had served in China and knew Chinese Ginseng from his time spent there, traveled to Canada to live with and convert the Iroquois. There he found a plant resembling Chinese Ginseng and sent samples back to China for evaluation. The samples were well received and a booming trade in American Ginseng soon began.

With China willing to buy all of the roots that could be supplied out of North America, the practice of Ginseng hunting grew wildly. Trappers and hunters, men, women and children all joined in the trade, supplying untold thousands of pounds annually to the Chinese. It is said that barges on the Ohio River were loaded with so much Ginseng root in addition to their normal furs and Goldenseal that they could barely float. Numerous Indian tribes also became involved in providing Ginseng for export, with Sioux-gathered Ginseng earning particular esteem for its quality.

Early botanists considered American Ginseng to be identical to Chinese or Asian Ginseng. Even the renowned botanist William Woodville, in his classic 1792 work Medical Botany, claims that the North American species has been found to “correspond exactly” to the Chinese species. Although hoping for a new source of their traditional Ginseng, Chinese herbalists quickly recognized that while this American root did have qualities in common with its Asian counterpart, it also had unique properties that made it a distinct therapeutic agent.

Rather than the warming, drier energy of Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng is a cooler, moisturizing tonic. While Chinese Ginseng is usually reserved for recuperation and building, American Ginseng can be used in hotter conditions to allay thirst, moisten, and revitalize the body. In Chinese medicine, American Ginseng is used to benefit the vital essence or Qi (pronounced “chee”), generate fluids and nourish Yin or the fluid, feminine and building aspects of our constitution. It is also used during recovery with symptoms such as weakness, thirst and irritability.

American Ginseng was not widely valued in mainstream American botanic medicine during the 1800s and early 1900s, although it was official as a secondary medicine in the U.S. from 1842 through 1882. The eminent Eclectic physician Finley Ellingwood recommended it as a nerve tonic, improving tone of the nerve centers and increasing cerebral capillary circulation. He prescribed it in failure of digestion associated with nervous prostration and general nerve irritation. The cornerstone Eclectic text, King’s American Dispensatory, calls American Ginseng an important remedy in nervous indigestion and mental exhaustion from overwork. Although not as stimulating as Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng does serve as an effective energizer and sexual tonic more suited to use in summer.

American Ginseng is classified as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens help the body to cope with non-specific, chronic stress, the type we commonly associate with modern life. Among these modern stressors are environmental pollution in the form of reduced air, water and food quality, chemical exposure and noise pollution, work and even the mental burden caused by the overabundance of information provided by the media. Chronic stress has a number of negative health effects including exhaustion, depression and impaired immunity. The effects of chronic stress are rather insidious, gradually weakening us at a foundational level, increasing our susceptibility and decreasing our vitality.

As the generic name Panax suggests, many have considered Ginseng to be a panacea or cure-all. While there is no true panacea, Ginseng is an important adaptogen and wonderful tonic that can have a positive impact on a wide range of health problems, serve in maintaining health and increasing vitality. It is a perfect tonic herb for the summer months and can be taken with other adaptogens and tonics or added to cooling drinks to help alleviate thirst and other effects of hot summer days.

Originally Published Summer 2004

Capsules From Herb Pharm?

One of Herb Pharm's original capsule products

Herb Pharm has been committed to providing the highest quality therapeutic herbal products for over 30 years. During that time, many people have come to think of us only as a tincture company. And while tinctures or liquid extracts have been our primary focus, they are not our only focus. After all, any herbalist’s medicine chest contains far more than one single type of preparation.

Each type of botanical preparation in turn has multiple applications and uses. For example, something as simple as a tea can, depending on the herbs and therapeutic need, be consumed orally, used as a gargle, a mouth rinse, an external wash, soak or bath, a compress and more. Access to various product types and applications are a critical aspect of herbal medicine.

We proudly craft a number of other herbal products in addition to oral liquid extracts. These include glycerites (glycerin extracts), olive oil extracts, salve, succi (preserved fresh juices), an essential oil, a liniment, several spirits (tinctures with essential oil added), an herb juice concentrate, a pure tree sap and tinctures designed for topical application in a spray or dropper.  Over the years we have also offered teas, whole and powdered herbs, suppositories and solid herb juice concentrates. All of these intended to provide the herbalist and consumer with a range of therapeutic applications and benefits.

Recently, we have introduced a number of premium vegetarian capsule and softgel products, leading some to question our herbal philosophy. In truth, we have offered two capsules for many years. So, these new capsules are really not a departure from our core, which has been and remains providing the highest quality herbal products available. Our Kava capsule (formerly Pharma Kava) was launched about 10 years ago and our Super Echinacea® was changed from a tablet to its present form as a capsule around the same time. Both products were inspired by the distinctive quality of the extracts used to make them and the desire to provide a non-liquid alternative for those who prefer capsules.

Part of our continued inspiration in expanding our capsule line is the outstanding quality of these dried extracts. Like any other extract, dried extracts can be bad or good, depending on a number of factors. As always, the starting herbs must be impeccable. The extraction and especially the concentration and drying must be performed carefully. Concentration, whether producing a concentrated liquid or solid, is an art.

And one of our most important features is the absence of harsh chemical solvents used in extraction. Unlike many other dried extract manufacturers, Herb Pharm is committed to using only pure, food-grade solvents like purified water and alcohol (ethanol) in our extracts. You can rest assured that we will never use toxic chemical solvents like hexane, acetone, methanol, petroleum ether or ethyl acetate. It makes no sense to take high quality herbs and extract them with toxic solvents that are bad for the environment and leave trace residues in the finished extract.

Herb Pharm capsules also contain the minimum quantity and highest quality of other ingredients necessary for encapsulation. In many cases, this means no excipients are added. When an ingredient such as maltodextrin is needed it is always from a non-GMO source.

Probably the most frequently asked question we get about capsules is, which is better, capsules or liquid? That depends on your preference. Liquids can be dosed at varying levels and are more quickly absorbed. You can taste the herbs; something that many herbalists believe contributes to their overall medicinal virtue. And liquids are the simplest types of extracts, a fact that many people appreciate. On the other hand, some people really do not like tasting herbs and fail to take liquids because of this. Where compliance with regular dosing is an issue, capsules may be your best option. Some consumers also find capsules easier to use, especially at work or when traveling. And in come cases consumers are looking for assurance that a known active is present at a recommended level, is the case with herbs like Milk Thistle or Ginkgo. So really, the choice is yours. Either way, you can be confident in the quality of Herb Pharm.

Ethical Choices in Herb Business

HerbPharm_employeesEthical choices face every person on a daily basis. While interpretations of what this means vary from person to person, there are basic values such as honesty, kindness, fairness, and integrity that cross cultural boundaries. As long-time owners of a national herbal extract business in a small Oregon town, we have a special opportunity to live our ethics both through business practices and by providing right livelihood for many local families.

From day one Herb Pharm has walked the ethical path in business choices quite naturally because we have always chosen quality before profit. It has always seemed quite logical to us that, while certain practices may not be profitable on paper, being ethical reaps many important deferred benefits. For example, by offering our employees a comprehensive health plan and a clean, safe and fun working environment, we benefit by having people stay with us for a long time. People work cooperatively and with good spirit, which translates into better efficiency, fewer mistakes, and pride in maintaining the integrity of our products.

In the early days when herb growers and wildcrafters didn’t know how much to charge for the herbs they were selling, they were often surprised when we insisted on paying more than they asked for. We understood the true value of having herbs whose source was completely trustworthy, and that by paying them a fair price we were encouraging them to stay in business for the coming years: a win/win situation.

After 30 years such values have woven themselves deeply into the fiber of our company. We have been fortunate to attract talented people who come to Herb Pharm because of the quality of the products and the positive work environment; people who subsequently impart diligence and care into the manufacture of our products, the creation of our marketing and educational literature, and to the way we serve our customers, suppliers and co-workers. When business is conducted with ethical choices being the guiding light, then choices are easy to make, understand, and gain acceptance.

For a specific example, let’s look at herb quality. For over 30 years Herb Pharm has set and held the standard for uncompromising quality of the herbs that go into our products. Besides our willingness to pay a premium for the highest quality herbs, we also make a point of personally knowing the people who sell their herbs to us. We make sure that they are harvesting their wild herbs in a sustainable fashion – what we call Custom Widcrafted™.

The second way we ensure the quality of our herbs is by growing them ourselves. Our 85-acre certified organic farm in Williams supplies us with approximately 50% of our raw herb needs.

The reaping of ethical choices is further reflected in the manufacturing process. Not only do we fastidiously follow the required GMP’s, but ever since the beginning we have kept meticulous records of every batch of extract, even in the early days when we were concocting them in our home kitchen.

Our labeling is another expression of standards and ethics. Every label gives full and truthful disclosure about the contents within, beyond the requirements of FDA. Furthermore, every label has a number which relates to a specific batch of extracts – we can tell from your bottle exactly when the herbal extract was made and how it was made.

We use certified organic alcohol in the manufacture of our products; we recycle all glass, paper, plastic, cardboard, etc. in our comprehensive recycling program. Our farm is not only certified organic by Oregon Tilth, but is also certified by Salmon Safe, an organization that recognizes farms whose practices assure that waterways remain healthy habitat for native fish. Herb Pharm has been a major supporter and board member of United Plant Savers ever since its inception in 1994. Similarly we have held an active seat on the board of the American Herb Products Association, a key organization that works tirelessly to assure appropriate regulatory and business environment for herb products. We hold board seats on the Williams Watershed Council and Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, and are proud to support local schools, Girls & Boys Club, and other goodwill community endeavors. We participate in the Pacific Powers Blue Sky Program whereby we pay a premium bill that goes towards the development of renewable power sources. Each year we donate a percentage of our net earnings to charitable organizations.

Our approach to medicinal herb extracts, like our business and social service practices, is straightforward and consistent. We sleep well at night knowing that the whole plant extracts that we nurture from seed to shelf are, at every step along the way, the best and most wholesome that we can create.

Originally Published Summer 2006

Home-Made Ginger Ale

ginger-aleIngredients:

  • 1 dropperful of Herb Pharm’s Ginger liquid herbal extract
  • 4 ounces of unflavored, carbonated water
  • For 24, 4-oz. servings use one full, 1-ounce bottle of Ginger liquid extract in 3 quarts of carbonated water

Sweeten to taste with your favorite sweetener.
Stir well before serving.

Herbal Breath Tonic: 100% Certified Organic Herbs

breathtonicsIf you were going to ingest something several times a day, every single day, for years, wouldn’t you be concerned about its quality and the purity of its ingredients? People take great care to choose organic foods and drink clean water, but until now, they have opted for breath fresheners that are anything but organic.

Those days of having to choose between chemically-derived breath gum or breath drops made from conventionally-grown essential oils are over. Herb Pharm’s Breath Tonic™ has arrived, the first herbal breath freshener on the retail market made with all certified organically grown herbs. For those of us that prefer all our herbs and herbal medicines to be organic, this is great news!

Why A Broad-Spectrum Breath Freshening Extract?
Broad-spectrum extracts are important for breath freshening for the same reasons full-spectrum extracts are important for the successful support of daily health: they capture all of the individual, medicinal compounds of plants in order to deliver optimal benefits.

Most herbal breath fresheners are made mostly, if not entirely, of only the essential oils of aromatic plants. Essential oils are very valuable and beneficial, but they represent only one aspect of a plant’s medicinal benefits. They do not include the flavones, tannins, mucilage, gums, antioxidants and more. All of these compounds have significant therapeutic actions on the mouth and gum tissues. When you add up all of these various compounds contributed by the Cinnamon, Ginger, Peppermint and Clove as found in Peppermint and Spearmint Breath Tonic™, the result is a broad spectrum of healthy herbs.

Spray vs. Drop?
Many breath fresheners are not only pure essential oils, but also only come in a squeeze bottle where the user puts a drop of the product directly on the tongue. This not only causes a burning sensation but also does not deliver the product to the entire mouth.

With the Breath Tonic™ single-dose, pump-spray, delivery system you point the spray where you want it. For best breath-freshening results, spray the product towards the back of the tongue, then work up some saliva, mix it up in your mouth, and swish it all over your gums.

Oral Health Program
For a natural and effective, daily oral health program, use Herb Pharm’s Oral Health Tonic™ as a mouthwash with water two to four times per day, and Breath Tonic™ as needed or desired, several times per day. Many of us at Herb Pharm that have been using Breath Tonic™ for a while now have noticed happier gums while enjoying fresher breath!

Originally Published Spring 2007

These Are Not Your Ordinary Encapsulated Herbs

capsules

While we believe that there are inherent advantages to the liquid herbal dosage form, solid dosage forms such as capsules and softgels can also be effective herb delivery options if properly made. With this in mind, Herb Pharm is pleased to announce three new encapsulated herb products created with the same meticulous attention to detail we give to all of our products. And as with all of our products, our capsules and softgels are 100% vegetarian and vegan.

Goldenseal root, Milk Thistle seed and Saw Palmetto berries – three of our newer encapsulated herb products – join our two existing herb capsule products, Kava root and Super Echinacea®. All of our encapsulated herbs share important characteristics that anyone seeking an herb product should consider.

The first is our exclusive use of sustainably cultivated and sustainably wildcrafted herbs. Purity and environmental responsibility are at the heart of our philosophy and work, and our encapsulated herbs are no exception. Herb Pharm only uses plants that are certified organically grown, tested free of pesticides and herbicides, or sustainably wildcrafted in their native habitat to ensure conservation of wild plants for future generations.

Next is our close attention to proper harvest timing. It’s often said that timing is everything and this certainly applies to medicinal herbs where precise harvest timing and proper selection of plant part(s) are so vital to producing herbs that are abundant in pharmacologically active constituents with optimal therapeutic efficacy.

Lastly, we never use toxic, environmentally harmful chemical solvents to make our extracts. There’s no point in selecting the purest herbal materials if in the end we pollute our extracts with harmful chemical solvents. Therefore, we only use natural, food and pharmaceutical-grade alcohol and distilled water. We never use toxic chemical solvents like hexane, acetone, methanol, petroleum ether or ethyl acetate.

In putting our philosophies to work, the result is a purity-assured, authentic line of encapsulated herbs that you can choose with confidence and peace of mind.

Our Saw Palmetto vegetarian softgel is made from the dark (deep purple to black) berries of Serenoa repens palms. We use pharmaceutical-grade alcohol to extract optimal levels of both fatty acids and phytosterols. We have found that alcohol extraction provides a broader range of Saw Palmetto’s active compounds than supercritical extraction. Saw Palmetto is primarily known for supporting prostate gland health and also provides general reproductive support for men and women. And unlike some other extract on the market, Herb Pharm’s Saw Palmetto is never extracted with hexane. Each vegetarian softgel contains 160mg of fatty acids.

Milk Thistle is a popular herbal remedy for healthy liver maintenance. Our Milk Thistle capsules are made from the dark, mature seeds of Silybum marianum plants. Our broad-spectrum extract is achieved only through physical rather than chemical defatting and extraction with pharmaceutical-grade alcohol. We never use common defatting and solvent chemicals like petroleum ether and ethyl acetate. Our Milk Thistle is guaranteed to provide 140 mg of silymarin in each vegetarian capsule.

Wild populations of Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) have been on the decline for many years, which is why we only use sustainably cultivated plants to make our Goldenseal vegetarian capsules. We use only the root (rhizome and rootlet) without any leaf and all of our Goldenseal is certified organically grown. We grind the rhizomes and rootlets of shade-dried, autumn-harvested plants and encapsulate without further processing.

Rounding out our capsule line are Kava and Super Echinacea® vegetarian capsules. These products are made to promote relaxation and reduce stress, and to support healthy function of the immune system, respectively. Our Kava root comes from chemical-free gardens in the Vanuatu Islands of the South Pacific, considered the best Kava growing region in the world. We use only the underground parts of Kava, commonly called the root but technically consisting of rhizome and root, and we never use any stem or leaf. Our Echinacea is grown on our own certified organic farm in southern Oregon. To fully capture the immuno-modulating compounds in Echinacea, we blend extracts of the root, leaf, flower and seeds.

So if you’re an experienced herb user who prefers capsules, or you’re a new herbal user looking for a place to start, we highly suggest trying our encapsulated herbs. If the herb you seek is not one we encapsulate, then we hope you will reference this article and choose a brand that speaks to the important characteristics that embody a quality herbal supplement.

Originally Published Summer 2011

Stress Manager™

rhodiola

Some say that life is a response to stress. While that may seem callous, it is safe to say that our responses to normal stress help keep us alive. Stress resulting in a fight or flight response is part of our adaptive process, keeping us out of immediate danger and is typically short-lived and our recovery from it rapid. However, stress changes when it becomes a day-in, day-out condition without chance of recovery. The effects of chronic, unchecked stress take a toll on many aspects of our health.

Lifestyle choices are critical in dealing with stress and should include some form of relaxation. It is also helpful to regularly engage in some enjoyable and nurturing activity. Herbally, there are plants called adaptogens that are particularly well suited to helping us cope with chronic and excessive stress. Adaptogens help the body to rebalance internal regulating systems and increase biological resistance to diverse physical, chemical, biological and psychic factors. The ideal adaptogen is non-toxic and non-specific in the sense that it increases resistance to a wide range of stressors and has a normalizing action – whether dealing with excessive conditions or insufficiencies.

Our new Stress Manager™ is an excellent adaptogenic compound that brings together the following adaptogens:

  • Eleuthero  root (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Reishi  fruiting body, also known as “mushroom” (Ganoderma lucidum)
  • Holy Basil  herb (Ocimum sanctum & O. gratissimum)
  • Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea)
  • Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis)

Eleuthero, formerly known as “Siberian Ginseng” is one of our most important adaptogenic herbs. Eleuthero appears to enhance resistance to overwork and environmental factors such as heat and cold. It is a superior herb for support in the face of chronic stress and physical exertion.

Reishi has been used for thousands of years in China and Japan as a longevity tonic and is referred to by names translating as “spirit plant” and “divine mushroom.” It is an important adaptogenic herb, aiding adaptation to both physical and mental stress. In traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi is an herb that has the ability to enhance shen (spirit) and is thus of service in mental, emotional and spiritual stress.

Holy Basil is used in Ayurvedic medicine to clear the mind and improve memory, enhance immunity, strengthen the nervous system and improve digestion. Recent research suggests that Holy Basil may be an antioxidant, helping to curb destructive free radical reactions (peroxidation) in the body.

For centuries, Rhodiola has held a place in Asian and Scandinavian traditional medicine for enhancing strength and physical endurance, longevity and fertility. Over the past 30 years, studies in Russia and Sweden have confirmed these uses. Rhodiola is particularly well suited to deficient, stress-related states that manifest in disturbed sleep, poor appetite or over-eating, irritability, depression, hypertension, headache and general fatigue.

Schisandra was listed in ancient Chinese texts among the superior medicines, which were claimed to slow aging. From these revered texts, Schisandra is becoming evermore popular in modern Western herbalism. Like Reishi, Schisandra is also said to quiet the spirit and calm the heart. Traditional uses include irritability, memory loss and insomnia, including dream-disturbed sleep.

Adaptogens like those in Stress Manager are becoming more important in today’s world because they improve our response to newer, constant stresses like pollution, noise and even an over-abundance of information. Strengthening nerves and immunity coupled with an antioxidant action and ability to promote calm energy and mental clarity make Stress Manager a wonderful daily tonic. In today’s world of increasing chronic stress, Stress Manager is something we can all use.

Originally Published Winter 2012

Digestive Bitters

Digestion, of all the bodily functions, is the one which exercises the greatest influence on the mental state of an individual.
– Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

digest… In fact, the essence of good physical and mental health is rooted in good digestion. It provides all of the starting materials for building and maintaining our physical being. Every organ, every system and every function of our body relies on these starting materials to function properly. If our digestion falters, it quickly begins to take a toll on our entire well-being. Since our digestion does so much for us, what can we do in turn to keep our digestive system healthy and happy?

The digestive process is a complex and well-synchronized combination of physical and chemical processes. Our choices of food and quantity together with our mental outlook while eating, have a huge impact on digestion. Chewing and swallowing, which are the beginning of the digestive process, are voluntary actions. After we consciously swallow our food, digestion switches from a voluntary to an involuntary process. While the conscious choices we have made leading up to this point will strongly influence digestion, the rest of the process is out of our direct control. Still, there is one more conscious step we can take to positively impact digestion – take Digestive Bitters.

Herbal digestive bitters begin working as soon as they reach the taste buds in our mouth. The bitter taste has a reflex action on our stomach and pancreas, stimulating the production of digestive juices. Bitters also stimulate the liver and prepare the gall bladder for the release of bile. Using bitters before eating has always been a good idea, but the need for additional bitters has become a necessity as most people have eliminated most of the bitter foods from their diet.

Bitters are a true tonic that should be taken regularly over time in the same way that bitter foods would be consumed. Continued use of Digestive Bitters is not only safe, it is the most effective way to use bitters. The positive effect of bitters on digestion actually increases with time and the full effect is seen only after continued and prolonged use.

Good digestion is considered the foundation of health. It is the gateway for all of the amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and herbs that feed and heal our bodies and is thus linked to every other condition in the body. Secondary benefits of bitters therapy include mild but positive effects on blood sugar and blood lipids, easing of constipation and improvement in chronic skin conditions. Also, Digestive Bitters can be a synergetic adjunct to many other herbal compounds.

Digestive Bitters should be taken ten to fifteen minutes before meals to help activate the digestive process. Use twenty to forty drops in a small amount of water, which should be sipped slowly and allowed to mingle with your taste buds. This formula is wonderfully aromatic with an underlying bitter taste. The bitterness may seem a little foreign at first, but the overall aromatic and warming flavor will quickly become a favorite part of every meal.

Originally Published Fall 2009

Herbal Ed Lectures in the Kingdom of Bhutan

bhutan_monestaryThis past September I had the honor of lecturing at the 7th International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicine which was held in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Herb Pharm was a corporate sponsor of the event. The congress was attended by 300 people from 30 different countries, including traditional healers, doctors, herbalists and acupuncturists from Tibet, China, India, Thailand, Bhutan, Korea and Japan; academic scholars, including medical anthropologists, medical historians, ethnologists, agronomists, ethnobotanists, many government healthcare policy makers; and one American herbalist, me.

I presented a lecture on “Conservation of Wild Medicinal Plants Through Sustainable Wild-Harvesting and Propagation by Organic Agriculture,” and participated in several round-table discussions on conservation of endangered medicinal plants of the Himalayas. Besides attending this very interesting congress, I was also very happy to finally visit the exotic and very isolated Kingdom of Bhutan and its serene and friendly people. Before 1963 there were no roads going into Bhutan, so one could only enter the country by hiking through very dense, tiger-infested jungles in the south, or by trekking over very high Himalayan mountain passes in the north.

It’s not easy getting a travel visa to Bhutan; they only allow in a small number of tourists per year. Bhutan – which many call “The Last Shangri-la” – is very isolated geographically and is just coming into the modern world. This emerging nation is now modernizing, but not at the expense of overwhelming its traditional culture and pristine environment. Fortunately Bhutan’s king is very wise and is learning from the mistakes made by other devel-oping nations. The Bhutanese government’s guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) gives precedence to its people’s happiness over GNP (Gross National Product). The government allows very few multinational corporations to establish in Bhutan and, instead, favors and promotes its own people and businesses. Television and internet only arrived in 1999. It was so pleasant in the capital city of Thimpu with-out the likes of McDonalds, KFC or 7-11. There are no electric signs; the air is very clean because there are few cars and the sale of tobacco is banned nationwide; also, the national sport is archery, not soccer; and most citizens still wear traditional Bhutanese costume. With a population of 650,000, 80% percent of Bhutanese derive their income from agriculture, of which 95% is free of synthetic chemicals.

The new government has rejected GMOs and only allows the introduction of a few non-native plants. They are very supportive of the development of internationally-certified organic agriculture. Free medical care is provided for all, and the government fully supports the Bhutanese traditional healing system, which is very similar to traditional Tibetan medicine. I visited their National Institute of Traditional Medicine Services which has a traditional-medicine hospital, medical school, and a manufacturing herbal pharmacy for which I’ve been asked to consult in order to bring it up to an international GMP standard. I was extremely proud to represent Herb Pharm at such a prestigious international congress and to see how favorably impressed attendees were by the work we all do.

Originally Published Winter 2010