Herbal KnowledgeFeb 2, 2022

Why Some Herbs Are Vulnerable — and How You Can Help

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), American Ginseng (Panax quinquifolius) and Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) are plants that many of us know and love for their herbal properties and uses. Unfortunately, these herbs are struggling — and they face an uncertain future.

According to United Plant Savers, “At-Risk” botanicals like these face issues like overharvesting and loss of habitat. Many of these plants are slow-growing and can also be rare or sensitive by nature, which can contribute to smaller plant populations.

One way we have worked to help protect these plants and others is by establishing our land as a UpS botanical sanctuary, which is lovingly tended by our resident Master Gardener Sayaka Lean, our landscaping crew and our Herbaculture interns. Our sanctuary ensures that we are helping protect and restore these fragile plant populations for future generations. It is also a great educational tool, providing insight on the cultivation of these special plants.

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is among the Appalachian herbs grown on our botanical sanctuary, to help protect and restore these fragile plant populations.

As herbalists, we also know we must look out for our collective future. Herbs are our business, but they are so much more. That’s why you will not find certain plants, like wild Goldenseal and American Ginseng, in our products. We never use plants that are classified as threatened or endangered plants on a federal level — it’s part of our root values. Herbalism is inextricably linked to nature, and we must protect the plants that have given so much to us.

While Goldenseal is commonly wildcrafted, for decades we have been dedicated to sourcing only Certified Organic, cultivated Goldenseal to protect wild populations. By using only organically cultivated plant material in our extracts, we help minimize the impact of overharvesting.

Recently, we’ve partnered with a grower to invest in a long-term source for forest farmed Goldenseal. This is a multi-year project in which we provide our farmer partner with root stock, which is growing exclusively for us, as part of an Appalachian Sustainable Development project.

Another way we’re helping is by supporting the inaugural Forest Botanicals Week (May 18-22, 2020) to draw attention to these beloved and vulnerable herbs. In an effort to raise public awareness about these issues and encourage solutions, ASD’s Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub and the American Botanical Council’s Sustainable Herbs Program have teamed up on this campaign about Appalachian forest botanicals.

Forest botanicals require special growing or harvesting practices. These plants are native to complex, sensitive ecosystems within forests, and they also have unique growth patterns, supply chains and trade history.

The Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) we grow in our sanctuary isn’t used in our products. We only use organically cultivated Goldenseal to help minimize the impact of overharvesting.

We’ve created a guide to the different categories of plants that are vulnerable — and information about what you can do.

“At-Risk” plants

According to UpS, “At-Risk” plants are widely used commercially. Due to practices like overharvesting, loss of habitat, logging or their “innate rareness or sensitivity,” these plants are either at risk of declining or have already significantly declined in numbers.

Threatened and endangered plants

In addition to the North American plants UpS is working to protect, others are considered to be critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable around the world, according to groups like the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. And according to the United States Department of Agriculture, endangered plant species are at risk of extinction — either entirely or in a significant portion of their native habitat range. Threatened plants (also per the USDA) are “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”

Curious about the state of some of these plants where you live? Use the USDA’s resources to learn about threatened and endangered plants.