The Forgotten Pollinators


Longer, warmer days are here, and with them we acknowledge a key player in the wonderful seed to flower transformations happening all around us – our friends and allies: the pollinators.

These creatures, which include beetles, butterflies, moths, bees, and bats, are responsible for the transfer of pollen from the male sex organ of the flower (anther) to its female counterpart (stigma). This well manipulated strategy ensures the birth of a seed in the plants ovule and the continuance of certain species. Pollen can also be moved by wind, water, or a gardener’s helping hand. Wind pollinated plants tend to produce a large abundance of lightly weighted pollen. At Herb Pharm’s “pharm” our Corn, Sweet Annie, Wormwood, and Stinging Nettle are wind-pollinated herbs. My nose always knows, along with itchy eyes, where to find these plants. However, insects pollinate the majority of medicinal herbs, including many of our farm’s crops.

From observation at the farm, bees seem to be our most prolific and efficient pollinators. Worker bees voraciously consume nectar and pollen in the early summer from our Motherwort and Mullein patches. They move happily towards July through the Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Catnip, Calendula and Echinacea purpurea. Worker bees, which are female, will forage nectar to bring back to the hive. Female nurse bees will feed nectar, honey and pollen to the queen’s young brood. There is only one queen per colony, but worker bees can choose to feed the young larva “royal jelly” to create a new queen. New queens are typically raised in the spring, when it becomes a colony’s natural instinct to swarm. A swarm is how honeybees advance their population, when approximately half the hive’s workers leave the colony with a new queen. You may have seen a swarm of honeybees land on a tree, under house eaves, or in chimneys and walls during this time.

The farm crew rarely encounters a male honeybee, called a drone, in our crop fields. They do not forage pollen or nectar from our plants. They fly to the “drone congregating area” and hang out all day with other male bees waiting for the queen bee to pass by. Their main role is to mate with the queen. However, the free meals and ride is over in the fall. The female workers will drag drones to the hive entrance and close the door. Drones serve no purpose to the winter hive, and they will not survive on their own.

One type of male bee we do encounter on the farm is the male bumblebee. Once a male bumblebee leaves the nest hive, he will not return to it. Instead, they sleep inside the flowers at night for warmth and slowly emerge, while drinking nectar as the sun warms them up. We observe bumblebees drifting amongst our Wood Betony, Bugleweed and Hyssop flowers.

Butterflies are also an important pollinator for many of our farm’s herbs. It’s hard to miss the giant swallowtail butterfly feeding on Goldenrod, Echinacea, and Pleurisy flowers. The smaller skipper butterflies are always attracted to our Yarrow beds. Beetles are some of the most primitive forms of pollinators on the farm. Finally, hoverflies enjoy feeding and sleeping in our Calendula flowers, and typically get trapped in our hands during the harvest. However, they are all buzz and no bite! Their bee-like appearance is to frighten predators, but these flies do not have the capability to sting.

Overall, these remarkable beings gather nourishment from the flower’s pollen and nectar to strengthen their own health, disease resistance, reproductive capabilities and individual societies. As we work alongside these creatures, our human-insect mission melds into a common goal of gathering and living well. A lively hum of chatter can be heard between the student farm crew and the bees in these flowery fields. And as the summer crops and crew begin to fade away, everybody will benefit from the transformation of flower into seed, perpetuating an ensured co-existence between plants, pollinators and people.

Listen to Herb Pharm Farm Manager Matt Dybala as he discusses the importance of bees on our 85-acre organic farm in southern Oregon.


Originally Published in June 2011

Infused Herbal Oils & Essential Oils What’s the Difference?

The term “oil” in herbal medicine can be a confusing matter without clarifying exactly what type of “oil” we are talking about. The generic term oil can refer to two distinct herbal preparations. In one type, herbs are extracted with a fixed oil, usually vegetable oil, to make infused herbal oil intended primarily for use on the skin. The other products, essential oils, are phytochemical constituent groups isolated from aromatic herbs. An important point here is that essential oils are both plant constituents and when isolated from the plant, herbal products.

Culinary oils like Olive oil used in making infused herbal oil are lipids or fats. Lipid-based oils are also known as fixed oils because they are non-volatile. Fixed oils consist in part of fatty acid chains and are best known in the realm of nutrition. The highest quality fixed vegetable oils are cold-pressed from the fatty fruits and seeds whose names they bear. Olive and sesame oils are the most commonly used oils in herbal dietary supplements today, but many others can be found in herbal cosmetic products.

To make infused herbal oils like Calendula and St. John’s Wort, Herb Pharm uses a traditional process called digestion. Digestion is a very low heat, prolonged extraction designed to draw out the plant’s bioactive compounds. Herb Pharm uses food-grade, cold-pressed, certified organic extra virgin Olive oil to make our infused oils. Fixed oils dissolve many of the same compounds that dissolve in pure alcohol and the resulting infused oil represents a whole herb extract of the plant.

Fixed oils are distinct from the very fragrant essential oils. Essential oils are highly aromatic, volatile plant oils that are commonly used as fragrances, flavorings and in aromatherapy. These oils tend to evaporate or volatilize fairly easily at moderate temperatures. It is this volatile character that allows their aroma to reach your olfactory receptors and be perceived as fragrant. Natural essential oils occur in complex combinations that have a fairly specific composition for each plant. In herbs like Peppermint, Lavender and Cinnamon, the unique phytochemical composition of each essential oil is responsible for the highly distinctive aroma of the plant.

Essential oils can be separated from plant material by extracting them with certain types of solvents and in many cases by passing steam through the herb. Some essential oils are collected by simply pressing the fresh plant, as in the case of Orange oil used to flavor Children’s Echinacea™. Steam distillation is widely used to produce essential oils and is the method used for our Tea Tree oil and other essential oils we use as ingredients. We eschew chemical solvents and never use essential oils that are extracted with them.

The chemistry is complex, but it is the hydrophobic or water-repelling nature of essential oils that allows for their isolation and collection through steam distillation. And since both essential oils and fixed oils are hydrophobic, they are very compatible with each other. Fixed oils are commonly used as carriers and diluents for very strong essential oils. This combination is commonly seen in products like massage oil.

In line with the “like dissolves like” principle, essential oils are also highly soluble in strong alcohol. This forms the basis for the old pharmaceutical preparations known as “spirits.” Herb Pharm makes several spirits as combinations of a liquid extract or tincture with the essential oil of the plant rather than a simple alcohol solution of the essential oil. Our spirits include Oregano Spirits™ and the very popular Peppermint Spirits. One similar product is Erigeron/Cinnamon Compound that combines essential oils of these two plants in high alcohol. Another related product is Friar’s Balsam that contains several balsams, which are chemically closely related to essential oils, dissolved in alcohol.

Tea Tree Oil represents the only essential oil product that Herb Pharm carries. In all other cases the essential oils we use are ingredients in other products, but our Tea Tree is a pure, standalone essential oil. Essential oils represent large quantities of plant material and are therefore very powerful plant derivatives that should be used sparingly and carefully.

In contrast, the infused oils like those made from Calendula, Arnica and St. John’s Wort are very soothing to skin because of their fixed oil bases. Each of these herbs brings their vulnerary or skin healing properties to their respective infused oils. These single oils are also combined in our aptly named Trauma Oil™. Two other special oil-based formulas are our Mullein/Garlic eardrops and Herb Pharm’s Original Salve™. While tinctures or liquid extracts comprise the bulk of our product line, these two distinct categories of oils are important contributions to the Herb Pharm medicine chest. Our infused oils constitute a very visible and significant part of our external product profile. Herb Pharm’s essential oils may not be as apparent, but they establish a noteworthy category of flavoring and active ingredients throughout our products.

Originally Published in June 2010

American Herbalists Guild 20th Annual Symposium

ahgThe American Herbalists Guild (AHG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting herbalism and herbalists throughout the United States. The Guild welcomes both general members (anyone can join) and professional members. One of the Guild’s main goals is to establish AHG professional membership as a recognizable standard of competency in botanical medicine. In order to demonstrate their skill level, Professional member applicants are peer-reviewed by the AHG Admissions Board. General members include students, aspiring herbalists and a wide variety of others drawn to plant medicine.

This past October, the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) held its twentieth annual symposium in Santa Rosa, California. About 300 people turned out for the three-day symposium, entitled “Herbal Medicine: New Possibilities for Primary Care.” Nineteen nationally recognized teachers presented classes and herb walks to attendees from around the country. The symposium addressed herbal healthcare throughout all stages of life, from healthy pregnancy to end of life care. Topics included children’s herbs, maintaining health in aging, and treatment of diseases associated with aging.

Herb Pharm attendees included co-owners Ed Smith and Sara Katz, Herbal Educator, Julie Plunkett and staff Herbalist, David Bunting. Julie and David tended to the Herb Pharm information table over the weekend. It was good to see friends and current customers and Julie applied her excellent educational skills in telling new customers about Herb Pharm and our products. Herb Pharm is proud to have been one of the top-tier sponsors of this important event.

Ed Smith presented two great classes during the event. The first was entitled “An Herbal Travelogue, the Botanical Adventures of Herbal Ed.” This travel slideshow took attendees on Ed’s herbal explorations from Kava ceremonies in the South Pacific island nations of Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu to the Junín Maca Festival at 15,000 feet elevation in the Peruvian Andes. Ed’s second class, “Optimizing Male Sexual Health, Performance & Pleasure With Herbs” dealt with tonics to optimize sexual health and treatment of various sexual maladies. This class served as a complement to a talk addressing women’s sexuality presented by Aviva Romm, the president of AHG.

The idea for an organization of herbalists was planted in the early 1980s during the annual herbal gatherings at Breitenbush Hot Springs in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. In 1989, a group of herbalists from around the country came together in Santa Cruz, California to move the idea forward and the American Herbalists Guild was born. Guild founding members included Herb Pharmers Sara, Ed and David.

In keeping with its long-term goals and mission, the Guild has brought together a disparate coalition of people who share in common a love of plants and herbal medicine. AHG publishes an excellent journal and newsletter, sponsors regular telephone trainings and the annual symposium and acts as an ever-growing voice for promoting herbalism. Annual memberships are available for the general public, herb students and pro-fessionals. To find out more about the American Herbalists Guild, visit

Originally Published Winter 2010

Choco-Maca “Milk”


  • 1 dropperful of Herb Pharm’s Maca liquid herbal extract
  • 4 ounces of chocolate “milk” (dairy, soy, almond, rice, hemp, or oat)

For 24, 4-oz.servings use one full, 1-ounce bottle of Maca in 3 quarts of chocolate “milk.”
Stir well before serving.

Herbal Spotlight: Schisandra chinensis

Schisandra (Wu-Wei-Zi) is an important herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is known for its nourishing and tonifying effect, especially on the liver and kidneys. It is also a member of a class of botanicals known as “adaptogens”, which are used to optimize physical and mental performance. We prepare our Schisandra Extract from the ripe berries of Schisandra chinensis vines which are Certified Organically Grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.



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