(7/28/08) This article out of Alberquerque, New Mexico got my attention today. The article discusses a native herb called Yerba Mansa ("calming herb") which is used extensively in local herbal magick and healing. Yerba mansa is a wetland plant. That right away should set off warning bells to the ecologically-minded. A wetland plant with herbal industry potential? That spells extinction, or at least rarity and so seems to be the case with yerba mansa. American Ginseng, a woodland plant that could once be found in 22 of the United States can now only be found growing wild in a few states, thanks to its popularity in the herbal market combined with habitat loss. Yerba mansa, which only grows in the Southwest has similar problems. Lucky for yerba mansa, local scientists and growers are looking into ways to grow it as a crop plant. However, if yerba mansa proves as difficult as ginseng and white sage to grow in captivity (I know, I’ve tried!) that might not help much.

It is important when we are looking for our herbal and magical herbs to ask questions before buying them. Where did the herbs come from? Where they sustainably harvested? Many herbal market suppliers have no compunctions against uprooting wild specimens and will even advertise them as organic (hey, it’s true). Although herbs aren’t regulated at all, most will label their products “wildcrafted” if they are or “sustainably wildcrafted”.

America isn’t the only place that has these problems. Yew trees in Britain have been threatened by the production of the drug Taxol which is derived from the plant. This after their populations were nearly for bow production a few hundred years ago- and only saved by the invention of the gun!

Not all endangered plants are endangered due to wildcrafting. Most are endangered due to habitat loss and some due to a decline in the availability of natural pollinators.

If you’re into native gardening (like I am), you may want to grow some endangered natives in your garden. Many of them are as beautiful as popular imports sold for the garden trade. However, you want to ask questions about where the plants came from. Taking a plant from the wild and transplanting it into your garden isn’t doing the native populations any good! Contact a nursery that is closest physically to you so that you can get the plants that are most native to your area, but unless you are planting a strictly regional genotype native garden (some people do), feel free to expand your repretoire to include plants from all over the country, provided they’ll grow in your region.

Another source for native plants, particularly rare ones, is your local Native Plant Conservancy. There are organizations in just about every state that will go in and rescue native plants from planned building sites and then sell them to the public. This is probably the best place to get native plants, though they generally only have one or two sales per year and their stock isn’t very reliable.

Some things to keep in mind when you are purchasing native plants to grow at home:

1. Rare native plants are going to cost a lot. The more rare they are, they more expensive they are. Consider it a donation to the Earth. It’s worth it. More common plants cost much less. Seeds will cost less than living plants.

2. Just because they are native doesn’t mean they don’t need to be cared for just like any other plant. In fact, rare plants are usually rare for a reason and many are quite delicate. For the first year at least, baby your native, especially if it’s rare. After that, it will probably get along just fine without you.

3. Orchids often live in cooperation with fungus and require an innoculant for survival. If you’re not getting an innoculant with your purchase ask about it. If they don’t know about it, question their qualifications.

You can buy lots of seeds at American Meadows
and learn more at
http://www.utne.com/community/the-endangered-herbs

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