Plants & Farm StoriesFeb 2, 2022
Sara Katz, Herbal Pioneer
Four decades after she co-founded Herb Pharm, Sara Katz has been honored as a thought leader and influential voice in the herbal community. In early March, Sara accepted the Herbal Pioneer Award from the American Herbal Products Association.
Sara was not only instrumental in establishing Herb Pharm’s reputation and success, but she was also an early supporter of United Plant Savers and a devoted teacher, as part of our company’s one-of-a-kind, experiential herbal internship program.
Sara came of age in southern Florida at a time when apples were more likely to come wrapped in plastic than from a farmers market. Having spent a year living on a farm outside Chicago when she was a young child, Sara “yearned for wild places.” So in the 1960s, she headed West, trading the vibrant Art Deco pastels of Miami Beach for the evergreens and snow-capped mountains of Oregon.
“It called to me in a really strong way,” she says. “I wanted that green place. For me, it’s my church, it’s my connection to whatever there is that I don’t understand about my existence.”
She first enrolled in chiropractic school, which she saw as a way to support herself while satisfying her interest in natural health. By then, she was picking herbs but didn’t see that as a path toward making a living.
Sara and co-founder “Herbal Ed” Smith ran Herb Pharm from their home for over a decade.
Then she met Ed Smith, with whom she would co-found Herb Pharm. He turned her attention to the plant world, and she never looked back.
“Plants came and grabbed me again and said, ‘no, you’re going to work for us.’ ”
Sara became a key figure in the “herbal renaissance.” Though she co-founded what is now one of the oldest and most respected herbal products companies in the country, that wasn’t her intention.
Sara in a field on our farm back in the 90s.
“We lived so simply,” she says. “Survival didn’t require very much. Beyond that, I don’t think we dreamed or imagined or planned” that the company would grow as it has.
Herbal education and plant conservation have become her life’s work.
Sara (with former UpS Executive Director Lynda LeMole) has been involved with the group for almost 25 years.
Sara got involved with UpS shortly after it was founded 25 years ago. “It’s a very heart-centered organization that’s only about protecting plants,” she says. Having spent so much time in the wild collecting herbs, she felt drawn to the group’s mission.
“These plant populations were in danger,” she says. “I felt a moral obligation to get involved on that side of it. We were collecting so many plants and had been for so long.”
She was UpS Board President for a decade and has transitioned into an advisory role. She and Ed also created a UpS Botanical Sanctuary on the farm.
Sara (with renowned herbalist Paul Strauss and a box turtle) often visits and volunteers at the 360-acre UpS Botanical Sanctuary in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio.
That work also informed the curriculum of the Herb Pharm Herbaculture Internship Program, which she calls one of her greatest achievements. “The community that gets formed living on that farm,” she says, “serves the herbal world in a really good way. It started very small in our house, we nurtured it for a long time and it has taken flight on its own.”
Sara’s plant conservation work informed the curriculum of our Herbaculture Internship Program, which she calls one of her greatest achievements. Since 1980, interns like this group have studied and worked on our farm, learning about the cultivation and use of plants commonly found in herbalism.
Sara is also actively involved in the library system in Josephine County, Oregon, where Herb Pharm is located and which she still calls home. She brings the same grounded balance to her work there, just as she does in the herbal community.
“I get along well with people,” she says. “I really like working in organizations of people who are pulling together in the same direction. I love that and I nurture that in organizations that I’m in.”