Our Connection to Forest Botanicals
Almost 25 years ago, Gaia Herbs moved from Western Massachusetts to our current home in Brevard, North Carolina. Our founder, Ric Scalzo, chose this area due to the rich biodiversity of the region, temperate climate, and the potential to grow a vast array of herbs. Geological events created the Blue Ridge Mountain range, which contains a wide variety of vegetation from dense forests to open mountaintop balds. The changes in elevation, rainfall, temperature, soil, and humidity all contribute to the unique microclimates of this region, which allows a diverse range of species to live and thrive here.
Beyond the Gaia Farm, we are surrounded by thousands of acres of protected national and state forests, which are among the oldest in the world. It’s in these lush forests that herbs like Goldenseal, Ginseng, and Black Cohosh grow, and have long been revered by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of this region. As white settlers populated these areas and learned of the power of these herbs, they soon became very popular with the Eclectic Physicians of the late 1800s. With this popularity came an increase in demand, and with an increase in demand, entire economies began taking shape around the trade of these indigenous mountain herbs.
Our Forests, Our Future
Thankfully, there has been a growing interest in the sustainability and protection of these herbs in their natural habitats. Two groups dedicated to this mission, the Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) and the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP), have partnered to launch the inaugural Forest Botanicals Week, celebrating the history and diversity of U.S. forest-grown herbs. This week plans to highlight the importance of these forest botanicals to their natural habitat, cultural significance to the communities of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the potential to bring economic opportunity. According to Stephanie Kane, our Global Sourcing Specialist, "We are excited to join ASD and SHP in celebrating Forest Botanicals Week, as this felt like a natural extension of our commitment to these plants and our home in Southern Appalachia."
At Gaia Herbs, the umbrella of forest-grown and wild-crafted botanicals is comprised of over 40 individual plant species grown in Western North Carolina, across North America, and around the world. "As consumers, we are often detached from the origin of our purchases, and this week provides a great opportunity to call attention to some of these important forest botanicals, the mountains where they are grown, and highlight some of the personal relationships our team has developed with them while working in Western North Carolina," Kane says.
In continued efforts to raise awareness for forest botanicals, we also participated in the United Plant Savers’ Hope for Hydrastis campaign in 2019. Hydrastis canadensis is the Latin name for Goldenseal, one of the featured herbs of Forest Botanicals Week. During a time of heavy harvesting around the 1800s, the population of Goldenseal greatly decreased, leaving this plant endangered and almost to the point of extinction. This campaign is only the beginning of a five-year conservation project that involves propagation, forest farming cultivation trials, and providing farmers with the resources that they need to sustain future populations, including planting stock.
Wild Harvesting with Integrity
We work closely with our suppliers to review the practices and standards for harvesting wild plants. "When we decided to really focus on Goldenseal this year," Kane remembers, "we asked our supplier what type of support he needed most, and he immediately said training." Later this year, we'll be sponsoring this training for a portion of our wildcrafting network on sustainable harvesting and wild stewarding methods with the help of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Wild stewarding refers to the practices wildcrafters use to promote the regeneration of forest-grown plants. "We also hope to hear from wildcrafters about the challenges they face and learn more about what else we can do for them, and for the plant", Kane says. By nurturing this relationship, we can better ensure the ethical sourcing of Goldenseal and prevent further endangering this important species and the plant community it belongs to.
Our Global Sourcing and Sustainability team continuously work to find ways to deepen our commitment to protecting our wild and forest-grown botanicals. By getting out into the fields and forests and seeing the plants up close, working hand-in-hand with our suppliers, providing education for forest farmers, and partnering with organizations to further the protection of our wild forest-grown plants, we are hoping to raise awareness for these important native herbs and to inspire others to help care and protect them for future generations.