Wildcrafters with good eyes and strong hands have harvested ginseng, bloodroot and other herbal medicines for centuries in these blue mountains of the South.
Today, thanks to a cooperative of growers called the Appalachian Botanical Alliance, there will be new harvests for health and healing, harvests with names like Ju Hua, Dan Shen and Yi Mu Cao.
These and other Chinese herbs, used in alternative wellness practices, as well as other natural remedies, form the basis of a farm-to-market business viscerally connected to the historical roots of our region.
Appalachian Botanical Alliance Partners with Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Speaking of the co-op, partner Amy Hamilton says, "We’re focused on producing a consistent, high-quality supply of raw-material herbs. A number of companies use local herbs, but there is no coordinated group of growers offering supply on a large scale."
The group has a strong partner in Blue Ridge Food Ventures, which helps the team bushwack through regulatory thickets and meets operational needs like storing and drying and packaging as plants and market connections bloom and grow.
Currently in the co-op, there are several actual grower members - with more joining - and about seven acres of herbs under cultivation. In large part, however, the group operates as a certified organic raw material supplier, cutting leaves and sprigs from plants, drying the herbs, then packaging them in bags for distribution to dealers and brokers.
Natural Products Manufacturing Facility at BRFV helps with compliance & GMP
Blue Ridge Food Ventures with its natural products manufacturing facility takes care of many of the issues in the area of compliance with good manufacturing practices. There have been a number of compliance questions cropping up in China and elsewhere, so now is a good time for quality botanicals in the US.
Hamilton worked for a number of years with Dr. Jeanine Davis, director of the Specialty Crops Program for NC State.
Market for botanicals: Wide open with huge demand
The market is "wide open" and "the demand is huge," Hamilton reports, "so we’re staying focused and deliberate, making sure the quality is there, that each herb is medicinally potent and of excellent quality. All those fundamental aspects of sustainability - environmental, economic and social - they are all bound together in a good way in what we’re doing."
Blue Ridge Food Ventures helps navigate FDA rules
The cooperative stores herbs in the climate-controlled Blue Ridge Food Ventures facility, where Hamilton says the staff has made a big difference, helping them navigate FDA rules and "that interesting ground between the two where we often find ourselves working. It’s been great."