Herbalism is finally beginning to gain more credibility in the West, although this interest is increasingly capitalized upon through a booming wellness industry that has quickly become defined by gimmicky marketing, misleading claims, and a whole lot of confusion. How does one know which supplements or products to take for their own bio-individual needs? Is local always better? Should we look for herbs that are grown organically or wildcrafted? When is wildcrafting unethical? As we collectively become more and more empowered by reclaiming responsibility for as much of our healthcare as possible, there are some guiding insights from our own experience that can help you receive the medicine you truly seek.
The practice of turning to herbs to support our bodies in their inherent capacity for healing, restore balance, and promote vitality is a part of the human tradition from time immemorial, but as most of us have been severed from these stores of wisdom, it’s important to remember that herbs are incredibly effective, too. As a business founded and operated by a TCM practitioner with a history of offering individualized care, we take the issues of safety, appropriate usage, and dosage extremely seriously. We choose to share tonic herbs, which refers to those classified by Taoists as being safe for long-term, regular consumption. China has one of the longest-standing herbal traditions in the world; its time-tested framework for understanding each herb’s effect on the body is what determines our recommendations for usage and intended benefits.
Locally grown or organic herbs are not always preferable, and it is precisely our commitment to sharing potent, effective herbal products that leads us to source our TCM herbs primarily from China directly. Hear us out. Di Tao is a concept that refers to the superiority of herbs and mushrooms that are sourced from their spiritual homeland, understanding that habitat and growing conditions play a big role in activating the constituents of an herb. For example, you can’t expect the same benefit from a mushroom that didn’t cultivate its own resilience and life force by adapting to cold winters, finding ways to thrive in high altitudes, and receiving nourishment from pure, living waters vs. one that was grown indoors, on grain housed in a plastic bag, and under artificial light. In China, these herbs and mushrooms are honored and intimately tended according to traditions that simply don’t really exist in much of the West, and the resulting potency makes a world of difference when it comes to the efficacy of an herb’s intended benefit for you.
Di Tao helps explain the benefits of herbs that are semi-wild and intimately tended within an intact tradition, but as herbs have become trendy, there is justified concern that the demand for certain herbs and mushrooms is leading to wildcrafting on a scale that can cause them to become endangered. Over-harvesting is a real issue in some cases, and there have been times when trying to secure an herb that one of our very trusted, direct sources made us aware that it was endangered and therefore unavailable. This is why we, for example, share the Rhodiola Crenulata species instead of Rhodiola Rosea, as the latter is at risk of becoming over-harvested and endangered.
All of these pieces of information coalesce perfectly to explore the rumor that Chaga is over-harvested and shouldn’t be wildcrafted. Firstly, Chaga is not endangered and, in some of its native regions (what the Taoists would call its spiritual homelands), it is actually quite abundant; it has been reported that Chaga is found on upwards of 20 percent of birch trees in Russia, with similar estimates coming from some of its other native habitats, like Finland and Sweden. Our Chaga is ethically wildcrafted in Siberia, where it has long been revered and deeply embedded into far-ranging aspects of the culture; the farmers we source from are careful to only take 30 percent of any given piece of Chaga from the lands they tend, helping to prevent the threats of over-harvesting and endangerment. This is in stark contrast to examples we’ve seen of the unethical wildcrafting of Chaga here in the states, where awareness of practical ways to ensure regeneration seems less common.
Furthermore, cultivated Chaga is markedly inferior when it comes to medicinal value or efficacy; indeed, research has shown that only wild Chaga contains the necessary bioactive compounds like polysaccharides (including beta-glucans) and polyphenols to offer the health benefits for which Chaga is renowned. This incredible fungus provides amazing support for the notion that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, for much of its medicinal benefit comes from the living, symbiotic relationship between Chaga and birch. Please note: when it comes to medicinal mushrooms like Chaga, “organic” tends to mean they were grown indoors (you are largely receiving mycelium instead of the fruiting body, and lots of grain/starch from the substrate they were grown on) and “locally-sourced” can likewise become an often empty, green-washed selling point.