Let me start out by saying that I’m not a medicinal herb farmer on a commercial scale, though I grow and use many medicinal herbs as an herbalist and owner/producer of an herbal body care business, Blue Lotus Botanicals.
The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, written by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter (Melanie is the stepdaughter of renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar), is part of my library of gardening and herb related books, because it is accessible and valuable not only to farmers, but to the herb grower and small business owner, as well.
The Carpenters, who previously were the owners of an herbal product company, are the owners of Zack Woods Herb Farm in Vermont, a farm specializing in growing and selling Western Medicinal Herbs. The book, subtitled The Ultimate Guide to Producing High Quality Herbs on a Market Scale, is a fantastic combination of a practical reference for organic herb farming techniques and a step by step methodology for developing and building a small scale herb business from seed to sale.
Starting out with the question, Why Grow Medicinal Herbs?, the authors lay out a clear and well developed step by step guide which takes the reader through deciding on the size of the farm being devoted to herbs, growing plants, buying and using tools and equipment, weeding and dealing with pests, harvesting, processing, packaging and selling. The focus is on the best way to grow the highest quality herbs, rather than producing the largest quantities possible.
Throughout the book, the Carpenters point out the need to farm using organic and sustainable methods, well as the ethical considerations regarding selling wildcrafted herbs commercially, commonly known as responsible wildcrafting–gathering plants that are growing wild, as opposed to harvesting those that are cultivated–but harvesting quantities that will not jeopardize the plants’ abilities to regenerate themselves. They also note that plants that are on the United Plant Savers (www.unitedplantsavers.org) “at risk” or “to watch” lists should never be harvested from the wild, and should be cultivated.
The final section of the book describes in detail 50 herbs to consider growing and selling, including information on each about propagation, life cycle, medicinal uses, harvesting, drying and market pricing.
As a grower and collector of medicinal herbs, this book has a great deal of useful information I have not found elsewhere. I’ve referred to it many times in the short time I’ve had it,–when trying to figure out when the best time is for harvesting certain herbs, checking on average market prices of herbs I am planning to purchase, and the best ways to propagate certain plants.
The Organic, Medicinal Herb Farmer is a valuable resource for anyone growing medicinal herbs on any scale. It is also an inspiring story of how Jeff and Melanie Carpenters’ love for herbs has blossomed into a successful business enterprise, and how important it is to maintain high standards in order to produce a high quality product using responsible and sustainable methods.