Biosphere Botanicals: Researching Cultural practices in Herb & Vegetable Production
"Our experience has demonstrated that [medicinal herbs] usually thrive in these 'wild simulated' settings much more that they do in linear rows planted within hundreds or thousands of their own kind. They prefer to grow in diverse communities, as they do when we see them growing in the wild." Jeff & Melanie Carpenter (The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, 2015)
It would make sense for plant medicines to be a product of their environments; what isn't? But when you start looking more closely at the cultural practices used in our food and medicine production (the good, the bad and the ugly), you realize just how critical it is to 'know your food; know your farmer'.
Everyone wants the most pure, energetically and nutritionally healthy foods and medicines, but what benchmarks do we use to help us to describe the botanical's vital qualities? Organic, Biodynamic...these are benchmark systems we have come to know and associate with a certain set of vital qualities, but we also know that there is a lot of important nuance to the issue.
Organic farmers don't use chemical inputs and organic foods should in theory be more nutrient dense and with fewer toxic residues because of the cultural practices used by organic farmers. There is a lot of reasons to support organic farming, to eat organic foods and use only the purest botanical medicines, but as more people come to demand a wider range of healthy fruits, herbs and vegetables in their diets, we need more local research to be done to support more local production of high quality organic food and plant medicine. That is where we come in...
NEO's Biosphere Botanicals project brings a research-based approach to assessing plant performance with a focus on monoculture vs. polyculture settings under organic management in an attempt to further advance our understanding of the bio-cultural growing preferences of our amazing plant allies.
Specifically for 2017 we are planning trials for perennial polyculture medicinal plant guilds at 3-5 sites in the Escarpment Bioregion. Our primary hypothesis under investigation is:
- which species when grown together in polyculture will optimize the quality and quantity outcomes for medicinal plant production, or does monocultural production result in the most integral agroecological outcomes, and for which crops?
If the results of this long-term research trial are of interest to you or your clients, or would like to see us trialling plant guilds suited to your exact needs, please don't hesitate to contact us to learn more about how you can support this important work and help us make the results widely available.
Other research questions and contexts we're interested in looking at include:
- wild-crafted geo-authentic indigenous botanicals for our region;
- medicinal quality of cultivated botanicals indigenous to other part of the world but which we grow here as either annuals or perennials;
- medicinal quality and yield benefits of small fruits (haskap, seabuckthorn, elderberry, aronia berry, grape) intercropped with herbaceous under-stories; and
- impact of wild and honey bee populations on flowering medicinal plant and honey quality/bee health outcomes
- A lot more questions equally worth asking - please contact us for more information!
If you have any other nagging research questions pertaining to the impact that cultural growing practices of organic herb or vegetables can have on plant food/medicine quality, we'd love to hear from you. We can design custom research experiments to meet your requirements and furthermore assist in the design and implementation of supply chain analysis and sourcing for your home or business.
We look forward to working with you!
"It's an intern day at the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm, and Peg Schafer is sitting down just long enough to share a short lunch with her interns and explain the process of growing herbs. She repeats the terms "cultivating wild quality" and "farming with the wild" like mantras. The terms, she says, describe the method of re-creating natural, semi-wild conditions for cultivated plants. Primarily, this means growing herbs that are not "pushed", or grown with a lot of fertilizer. This yields smaller plants but, according to Schafer, higher concentrations and diversity of active medicinal components."
Peg Schafer (The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm, 2011).