education

COVID-19 and Herbal Supplements: Why Quality & Transparency Are Now More Important Than Ever

During this unprecedented time, our purpose of connecting people, plants, and planet to create healing has taken on even greater significance. People are at the heart of our business. From our supply chain to our farm, lab, production, bottling, and shipping areas, and right through to your homes, we’re working hard to continue to produce and deliver much-needed herbal products to help you stay healthy during these challenging circumstances.

With the rapid increase in demand for herbal supplements (especially those that support immune health), you may have seen that some of our products have recently become out of stock.* This is just one example of the new realities that all herbal products companies are experiencing due to the COVID-19 situation. Let's dive in deeper to explore some of these new circumstances and explain why quality and transparency are now more important than ever when you're shopping for herbal supplements.

Reduced Supply of Herbs

The rapid increase in demand has resulted in shortages for many key herbal ingredients, especially immune-supporting herbs such as Black Elderberry and Echinacea.* Most companies order these herbal ingredients years in advance based on the typical levels of demand. The COVID-19 situation triggered a rapid increase in demand for herbal ingredients, and in some cases, companies went through months' worth of materials in a matter of weeks. Since herbal ingredients are made from plants, which are a limited natural resource that takes time (sometimes several years) to grow and reach their full phytochemical peak, these materials are not easily replenished.

As a result, people should exercise additional caution when shopping for herbal products and insist on product traceability and transparency. Why is this now more important than ever? Quick changes in circumstances and increased demand from companies trying to keep their products in stock have led to issues in the market. These issues include lower quality herbs, the sale of incorrect species, and even harvesting herbs too early, which can significantly decrease the potency and quality of the supplement.

We recently made a conscious decision as a company to go out of stock on many of our Echinacea products, as we had quickly depleted our existing inventory of Echinacea that had been grown on our own Certified Organic Farm and were unable to find a supplier that could meet our stringent quality standards. Our commitment to producing the highest quality herbal supplements and retaining the trust of families that we have served for over 33 years will always take precedence over profits.

The Importance of Transparency

African American hand holding herb

When buying an herbal supplement, you deserve to know exactly what's in the product. You should feel comfortable asking companies to provide transparency on their ingredients, as they should be able to supply this information. This is why we established the world’s first herb traceability platform, Meet Your Herbs®, in 2010. All of our products have a unique ID number that allows you to access detailed information on each ingredient of each batch that we produce. This includes where the herb was harvested, the extraction method, and the testing it underwent to verify its purity (meaning it does not contain harmful pathogens, pesticides or toxic solvents), integrity (verifying the plants inside are actually the plants listed on the label), and potency (confirming the ingredients contain a certain level of potent phytochemical constituents). This visibility and level of transparency ensure that what you see on our product labels is what you are getting in the bottle and nothing else.

Claims That Seem Too Good to Be True

Reading supplement labels can be confusing, but a good place to start is the product claims. Does it sound too good to be true? Some companies list unsubstantiated claims on their products, providing a distorted perspective on what herbs can do and damaging the reputation of the natural products industry as a whole. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) sets the regulations for dietary supplement labeling claims in the United States. And per these restrictions, supplement labels and educational materials are not allowed to claim that a product treats, cures, prevents or mitigates any disease. We are very intentional in the language that we use on our product labels, and you will see that our supplement claims speak to the traditional usage of the herbs contained in our formulas.

It's also important to understand that while herbs and supplements can help support a healthy response to specific conditions (such as stress and anxiousness), and have been used successfully by millions of people to help maintain their health, these supplements should not be looked at as an alternative to a medication that your doctor has prescribed.

Impact on Agriculture & The Value of Conscious Consumerism

Gaia Herbs farm team member harvesting california poppy

Increased demand and inflated prices for herbal ingredients have caused additional challenges for farmers. Farmers may plant more of a specific herb in response to the current demand, but by the time the herb is ready to be harvested (often at least a year out), the demand may have decreased. If this happens, the farmer may end up with an excess amount of herbal inventory and, without a buyer for it, in an even worse financial situation.

One way to ensure that your dollars will make a difference is through purchasing products from companies that are Certified B Corporations® (also known as B Corps™). B Corps are for-profit companies that meet the highest level of third party verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. These companies often have accompanying initiatives for causes such as farmer prosperity, social justice, environmental responsibility, and regenerative agriculture, so your dollars go beyond your product purchase to help fund these important efforts.

We are proud to be a Certified B Corp since 2018. Through our social impact program, the Gaia Herbs Roots Initiative, we support community organizations and small farmers focused on regenerative farming, herbal education, and social justice efforts. Through an annual small grants program, monetary awards are given to organizations meeting the grant criteria and focused on strengthening communities in the U.S.

Use This Opportunity to Grow Your Own Herbs

Herb starts in a seed tray

If you are discovering that some of your favorite herbs are currently hard to find and you have some extra time these days, this is an excellent opportunity to learn how to cultivate herbs. Learn more about everyday herbs you can grow at home. You can buy herbs like Lemon Balm, Lavender, Peppermint, and Rosemary at your local nursery as seeds or starters. Once the herbs have reached their peak, you can use them fresh in various preparations, and they can be tasty additions to dishes.

You can also use these homegrown herbs in herbal tinctures and infusions. These can be made with either fresh or dried herbs and offer a fun way to further your understanding of plants and their benefits to supporting health.