New Crops on the Pharm Farm

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
This plant is a biennial native from northern Europe and Western Asia. A biennial is a plant that grows vegetative leaves during the first summer, and completes its life cycle in the second year by producing flowers and eventually seed. The seed is commercially grown for flavoring wine, vermouth, and liqueurs. The plant easily reaches six feet tall during flower production with white umbrella-shaped flowers and the flowering stalk is hollow. Gardeners can remove these flowering stalks to prolong the plant’s life for a few extra years. Angelica prefers to grow in moist soil and is deeply taprooted. It is the root that will be harvested for medicinal use.

Arnica (Arnica montana)
Arnica grows wild in high elevation, mountainous regions across Europe from Southern Norway southward down to Portugal. It spreads east to the high alpine meadows of Italy and Romania. Arnica’s flowering tops are often the main constituents in many topical herbal crèmes and oils. The plant’s healing properties are in increasing demand on the herbal market. United Plant Savers has identified Arnica montana as a potential species in which its native population is in decline due to loss of habitat and unethical wildcrafting practices. At the farm, we are currently planting a German variety of Arnica montana that has been bred to grow in cultivated environments. This spring’s seed germination success rate was very high, and now we have 6,000 seedlings in the field!

Originally Published in July 2011

The Promise of a Seed

Spring has finally arrived at the Pharm, and with unfurled leaves and emerging seeds, the race of plant reproduction begins. With an average life span of 77 years, humans mope like tortoises through our life cycles when compared to the efficiency of a plant’s lifespan. Right now, the majority of our farm’s herbs are breaking through their embryonic seedpods and progressing into young seedlings within a few weeks. Many of these herbs will reach full maturity by mid-summer and produce hundreds of viable offspring by September! The plants are highly influenced by sun/moon cycles, water cycles, seasonal temperatures, and specific environmental conditions. It is the grower’s responsibility to unlock the life mysteries of these plants, and most importantly, to be on time! For the gardener in spring, the time to plant seeds is now.

According to my farm records, we have already planted a minimum of 250,000 seeds into our potting soil mix and greenhouse trays. This quarter of a million seeds will equate to roughly 100,000 to 150,000 individual seedlings. In farmer terms, this equates to 4-5 acres of new plantings. We have added some new crops to our farm plan this year, which includes Cayenne pepper, Angelica, Arnica, Blue Vervain, and Elecampane. We are growing a total of 68 individual species of crops on our farm and the majority of these plants are propagated from seed in our two commercial greenhouses. Transplanted seedlings afford the grower many advantages when compared to a direct-seeded crop in the field: Primarily, we can accommodate room for 200,000 seedlings in neatly organized planting trays on tables in both greenhouses. Remember, this amount would equate to 5 acres of field space that is now vacant for another production or cover crop, while our plants grow in their trays for the next 2-3 months.

Also, greenhouse growing allows us to control the temperature and water needs of individual plants, resulting in increased germination percentages. The farm has recently installed a bench-top heating system to bring heat directly to our plants’ roots. This system is similar to the efficiency of radiant floor heating. Opposed to blowing hot air to raise the room temperature several degrees, this system simply raises the temperature of circulating water 5 to 7 degrees as it recycles throughout our greenhouse tables. This heat source supplements soil temperature loss that occurs at night in the greenhouse after the sun is away. We can maintain consistent temperatures during cloudy days or the frost-filled nights of spring and increase soil temperatures for heat dependent seeds to germinate, such as Yerba Mansa, Cayenne Pepper, and Spilanthes. The farm crew currently tracks days to emergence and germination percentages by lot number. Our new system will result in faster, more consistent rates of germination and a higher percentage of successful early seed emergence for heat-loving crops.

Finally, my favorite benefit of growing seedlings in the greenhouse is that there is no hoeing involved. Once our transplants are set into the field, they already have a 4-8 week head start, ahead of millions of weed seed that will emerge soon after transplanting. If the plants are healthy, they will outcompete and shade most weed species with one or two cultivations by hand or tractor.

Nature’s gift of seeds to humans permits the mutual benefit of propagating species and nourishing our bodies. It can allow a gardener more control over success during the growing season. Just remember to be on time and don’t miss the planting window.

Originally Published in June 2011

Heart Health

Heart Health is Herb Pharm’s primary heart and circulatory (cardiovascular) formula. Our Heart Tonic contains extracts of Hawthorn, Cactus Grandiflorus, Motherwort and Ginger. As the term “tonic” implies, this is a nutritive and building formula intended for long-term use. Heart Health carries the structure/function statement, “Supports Healthy Function of Heart and Circulation.”

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a member of the Rose family common to the impenetrable hedgerows of the British and Irish countryside. A large number of native and introduced species also occur throughout all but the uppermost parts of North America. Hawthorn is usually a large shrub or small tree bearing numerous, compact, white to pink five-petaled flowers typical of the family. It also bears typically substantial thorns from which the plant derives its name. Heart Health contains our Hawthorn Blend, which combines the most therapeutic parts of Hawthorn, namely the berry, leaf and flower. In the 115 years since Hawthorn was first widely acknowledged as a cardiovascular herb, it has become without question the most popular heart remedy in Western herbalism.

Cactus Grandiflorus (Selenicereus spp.), also referred to as Night-blooming Cereus, bears incredibly large and showy creamy-white blossoms that last for only a single night. Lloyd Brothers Pharmacy, suppliers of specific medicines to Eclectic physicians, described several medicinal species of what is now the genus Selenicereus in their Cactus Grandiflorus drug pamphlet. Historically, many cacti were inappropriately substituted for Cactus Grandiflorus and even today other genera are sold in place of the genuine article. We use the fresh, succulent stem of true Selenicereus, which was considered by Eclectics to be the remedy in heart maladies marked by irritability and weakness.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a member of the mint family characterized by nearly ominous looking palmate leaves and sharp, spiny calyx surrounding the base of each flower. We include the dried leaf and flower of Motherwort in our Heart Health. Like the herbs above, Motherwort also combines its cardiac strengthening effects with a positive influence on the nervous system. Bridging Motherwort’s actions from the physical to the metaphorical heart, Culpepper stated that it drives melancholy from the heart and makes the mind cheerful.

Ginger dried rhizome (Zingiber officinale) is an excellent warming circulatory stimulant that also warms and activates the overall energy of the formula.

Unlike some highly active cardiac herbs and pharmaceutical drugs (often derived from those herbs), the herbs in Heart Health do not contain potent cardioactive glycosides that could be cause for concern. However, there are some indications that Hawthorn may potentiate cardiac glycosides such as the Digitalis-derived heart drugs. For this reason, Heart Health and single Hawthorn extract are best avoided when taking these types of prescription heart medicine. Also, given the potentially serious nature of heart disease, heart problems should always be monitored and treated by a qualified healthcare practitioner. If you are being treated for a heart condition, discuss the use of Heart Health with your physician.

Heart Health is taken in doses of 30 to 40 drops in a little water, three times per day. It may be helpful to take one dose first thing in the morning and one just before bed. As with all tonics, our Heart Health can be taken before there is any overt cardiac issue and is ideal when heart health issues run in your family. Try it for two or three months once or twice a year as a general heart tonic. Heart Health is well suited as a general heart tonic in the aging, an adjunct to medical heart treatment and as a recuperative tonic.

Originally Published in February 2011

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