Growing and Protecting At-Risk Herbs – The Herb Society of America Blog


By Jen Munson, Education Chair, The Herb Society of America

blue cohosh

Blue Cohosh Caulophyllum thalictroides ¬ – Native American women used this plant to help with childbirth.

Unless you live an unplugged life you know about the difficulties facing bees, monarchs, and other beneficial creatures. These pollinators struggle because of habitat fragmentation and the impact of chemicals used in the environment.

The problem goes beyond pollinators. Habitat loss is affecting another delicate system, native medicinal herbs. To learn more attend Growing and Protecting At-Risk Medicinal Herbs, at the Herb Society of America’s Mad for Herbs in Mad City educational conference in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more click here.

Beyond habitat fragmentation native herbs are suffering because of overharvesting and bioprospecting.  According to the World Conservation Union between 50,000 and 80,000 flowering plants are used medicinally and at least 15,000 of those face the threat of extinction. Closer to home the United Plant Savers lists 20 Northern American medicinal natives as at risk and places 23 more on their watch list.  These plants include slippery elm, American ginseng, yew, black cohosh, goldenseal, blue cohosh among others.

bloodroot-1158975_1280

Bloodroot Sanguinaria Canadensis¬ – The fresh roots give off a reddish dye.

You can help. The obvious solution is to grow more natives, particularly at-risk species. Beyond adding them to your landscape you need to be certain to purchase nursery propagated natives and NOT wild-sourced plants. Make a point of asking the nursery staff before making your next purchase. Better still learn to propagate your own native plants and share the extras with friends.

Still further, when you require herb-based medicine, assess whether alternative plants will  ease your ailment. For example, Japanese barberry Berberis thunbergii is a potential alternative to goldenseal. Not only will you protect goldenseal but you’ll be removing the highly invasive Japanese barberry from our forests. And finally if you lack garden space you can still support the efforts by learning and joining organizations that support conservation like The Herb Society of America’s Greenbridges™ program or United Plant Savers among others.

lady slipper

Lady Slipper Cypripedium spp. – This was once widely used as a substitute for the European plant valerian for its sedative properties.





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