Sustainable Herbal Medicine

 Choosing plants as an option in health and healing is being ‘green’ isn’t it?

Well, actually, not in today’s world.

There is somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 medicinal plants at risk of extinction today largely due to human activities.

OTC’s (Over the Counter) Herbal Medicines are now BIG business globally but how often are the following questions asked?

  • How at risk of extinction are the plants we use – are you a small but contributory trigger for that?
  • Is growth in the whole Herbal Industry and the way it is occurring, sustainable?
  • Many of these medicines are tested on animals, should we support animal testing just to provide a mainstream reductionist ‘Evidence base’ to the plants we use? Does quoting these studies mean we support that testing?

 “I believe that knowing the plants that grow around you well, how they grow, what their requirements are, how gathering affects them, what their affinities are in the Plant/Person healing relationship, are  Conservation and Sustainable actions, much needed in today’s world”.

When we live among our local plants, watch daily their growth pattern and responses, we know just how much we can gather in the current year. We notice how different seasons affect their nature and over time how they are adapting to change.

The 4 C’s are worth remembering;

Consideration – with regard to what plants are used for medicine, where they come from and how they are gathered and prepared. Ask questions.

Choices – choosing the more locally common over what comes from elsewhere.

Care – when gathering from wild populations and how you do that.

Cultivation – wherever possible.1

WE have many local plants that are ‘Wild Crafted’ increasingly.


With an abundant plant such as Rosehips (Rosa canina), over harvesting is not really a concern. When we travel through Bannockburn, Central Otago, it is easy to think the same of the wild Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).




Last year though, I was horrified to see that harvesters had just cut out whole centres of the bush – a sure way to kill a plant. A Thyme plant should not look too different before and after gathering, a sustainable way is to thin it out.


Many come here for gathering the flowering tips of St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). If all in an area are gathered then don’t be surprised if the next year you come back to the same spot and they have disappeared. A sustainable guide is to leave the plants that are sparsely flowering – they will be stronger the next year and only to gather the full flowering tips.

Just now the gorgeous Hawthorns (Crataegus ssp) and Elders (Sambucus nigra), are in full flower. It would be difficult to imagine either becoming extinct especially as we gather flowers and berries. We do of course need to be mindful that the Elder berries are food for birds as well as us. I try to only gather flowers from higher up but leave enough for the birds later.

In your garden…

Annual herbs Gathering your own seed allows the plant to develop its own adapting qualities.

Always leave approximately 25% to seed.

Biennial We are usually gathering the roots of these plants at the end of the first growing season so leaving at least 50% to go to seed is important.

Perennial plants Depending on what part is used and how they are best propagated (either by root division or seed) will guide your gathering. Replant root crowns and rhizome pieces. 25% though is the minimum.

In the wild there are some golden rules;

♣ Don’t overharvest. Consider all beings who visit these areas.

♣ Leave an area as beautiful as you found it.

♣ Learn which plants not to gather, including endangered, overharvested and scarce plants.

♣ Teach/talk responsible wildcrafting ethics.

♣ Teach/Learn about the most prolific plants, especially the common weeds.

♣ Rescue plants from areas that are going to be developed or destroyed.

♣ Gather seeds and replant them.

♣ Encourage the use of locally common plants wisely as medicine.

♣ Wildcraft from organic gardens and farms. These places often have an abundance of medicinal plants such as dandelion, burdock, alfalfa, and red clover.

♣Leave some of the strongest and most lush plants from an area you are wildcrafting.

Adapted with thanks from;

Wildcrafting for the Practicing Herbalist

Northeast School of Botanical Medicine ,USA. by 7Song, Director

1The Biophilic Garden Connecting People, Plants and Inscape’ Viriditas Publishing. Available from

Isla runs Viriditas, Centre for Plant Directed Learning and Herbal Resource Centre and gardens, Central Otago, and offers workshops locally.

Her website has free downloads, books, workshop details and a link through to her Blog.

Documentaries: ‘Earth Whisperers Paptuanuku’ (New Zealand) and Numen (USA).

Books: ‘Weeds Heal. A Working Herbal’. ‘The Biophilic Garden. Connecting People, Plants and Inscape’.





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1 Response to Sustainable Herbal Medicine

  1. Linda says:

    Isla. I completely agree. Linda

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