Nurturing Nature’s Bounty for Your Apothecary
The importance of selecting and sourcing herbs to build a thriving apothecary.
By Heidi Jarvis, DNM
Currently, with the rise in popularity of self-healing, individuals are turning to natural remedies like herbs. To achieve proper healing, one must have knowledge of and access to therapeutic high-quality herbs. However, with numerous companies in the market, it becomes challenging to determine which ones to source herbs from. The high demand for herbs attracts many merchants who prioritize profit over proper knowledge and training, resulting in poor-quality herbs that are not sustainably sourced. Unfortunately, consumers bear the brunt of this situation.
So, what should you consider when choosing and sourcing herbs?
Firstly, gather as much information as possible about the company you’re considering. Find out where they source their herbs from and whether they provide information about the species and specific plant parts being sold. Do they have a Certificate of Analysis (CofA) or an on-site lab? It’s important to know what tests have been performed on the herbs.
Knowing the species of herbs is crucial.
There are many species within a genus, and it’s important to understand which ones work best for specific ailments. For example, Sage belongs to the genus Salvia, which comprises around 900 species. Not all of them have medicinal properties; some are purely ornamental. Salvia officinalis, commonly known as common sage, is used in cooking and has healing properties for excessive body sweat. On the other hand, Salvia apiana is primarily used for making smudge sticks in Native American traditions, while Salvia elegans is grown for its ornamental flowers. Additionally, each part of the plant may have different botanical names, such as root, bark, or flower, which help determine their specific uses and precautions.
Different parts of a plant can be used for medicinal purposes, and various methods are employed in their preparation. Depending on the part being used—such as the leaf, flower, root, bark, or seed—specific preservation methods are required to maintain the medicinal properties. For example, making a tincture may involve using a particular natural solvent, such as alcohol or glycerin, while drying an herb necessitates consideration of factors like sunlight or shade, drying duration, climate, and water content.
Quality is a vital aspect when it comes to herbs because each herb and its specific part require certain growing conditions to yield a high content of medicinal compounds. The cultivation method (organic, farmed, or wildcrafted) is important, and if an herb is wildcrafted, it’s essential to ensure sustainable and ethical harvesting practices. Quality also extends to how herbs are harvested, dried, and stored. Care must be taken to avoid infestation, diseases, or mildew, as these compromise the quality and safety of the herbs. Improper drying can result in a loss of medicinal content or even render the herb moldy and toxic, rendering it useless as medicine. Additionally, it’s crucial for the company to provide lot numbers and expiration dates for each batch.
Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting
When sourcing herbs, it’s crucial to consider whether they are grown and harvested sustainably and ethically. Sustainable harvesting involves avoiding practices that deplete plant populations over time, while ethical harvesting encompasses fair treatment of workers and protection of the environment, ensuring animals are not harmed. Without this information, overharvesting may occur, leaving little food for animals or leading to the extinction of certain plant species due to a lack of respect for the environment.
Beware of Adulteration
Another factor to consider is adulteration. Adulteration refers to offering or making a product with a similar substance, usually of lower quality, which weakens or worsens the overall quality. Some companies and individuals looking to profit from natural remedies may use cheaper, similar species or substitute inferior ingredients, resulting in products that fail to deliver the desired results.
Ensuring Authenticity with a Certificate of Analysis
One way to ensure the authenticity and quality of herbs is by requesting a Certificate of Analysis (CofA) from your supplier. This certificate verifies the species of a particular plant through chromatography testing. It may also include information about the manufacturing and testing processes, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.
Building your own Apothecary
Now that you have insights into choosing the right herb supplier, let’s discuss building your own apothecary. If you’re considering starting one, it’s best to begin on a small scale and gain experience working with herbs before venturing into a full-fledged business. Store your herbs in glass jars that seal tightly, such as mason jars, which can be sterilized. If you’re making products like salves and need to use plastic containers, ensure they are BPA-free and won’t interact with or contaminate your products, such as using HDPE plastic. You’ll also need a food scale that measures in grams and ounces, as well as stainless-steel utensils, measuring devices, and bowls. Avoid using plastic utensils, as some herbs may interact with them. If you need to powder herbs, a blender like a Vitamix can be used, but be cautious with heat buildup by blending in small increments to preserve the medicinal properties. Label each jar of herbs with their botanical name (species), lot number, expiration date, and the supplier’s information. When ordering herbs, start with a selection of 10 to 20 herbs, allowing yourself time to familiarize yourself with them. Keep records of the lot numbers and expiration dates for each herb you receive.
Take the time to learn about each herb, including its botanical name, medicinal properties, cautions, scent, taste, and appearance to ensure quality. Store your herbs in a cool, dark place, and infuse them with positive healing energy. Enjoy the process and let nature teach you about the fascinating world of herbal medicine!