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So What's The Problem?
If you were wildcrafting for small-scale use--for example, selecting wild plants for healing-you would collect only as much as you knew you needed without diminishing the ability of the plants to reseed and reproduce themselves. In this way, you would ensure that your green medicine would be available when you needed it next. You also would walk carefully and lightly, being sure you did not remove or otherwise harm companion plants. You would leave the field, forest or desert where you collected these species much as you found it.
Sometimes, however, wild plants do not fare as well. Due to rapidly increasing demand and the massive scale of consumption, collectors turn out in large numbers to dig huge quantities of medicinal plants-more than their rate of reproduction can sustain. When the price of echinacea skyrocketed in the late 1990's,conservationists expressed alarm as hundreds of thousands of plants were dug throughout the American prairies. Not much is known about continual intense harvesting of one species in an ecosystem, but great concern has been voiced. Recent research suggests that collecting five percent of mature echinacea plants would ensure a sustainable population. Yet such practices have not been standardized among all commercial collectors.
Concern For The Wild
For some plants, conservationists are unconcerned that their popularity will fuel commercial overcollection. For example, St. John's Wort is not native to the United States and, in some states, its rampant growth classifies it as a noxious weed. Therefore, overcollection is not an issue. Likewise kudzu. Also stands of witch hazel and wild sassafras appear sufficiently abundant to withstand collection at current levels. On the other hand, concern for vanishing wild populations of ginseng and goldenseal led to their listing on Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This means their international trade must be monitored to help ensure that large-scale commercial use does not threaten their survival in the wild. But what about native plants for which little is known or those that aren't primarily exported? How can scientists, manufacturers, wildcrafters, conservationists and others work together to anticipate trends and safeguard wild populations before commercial overharvesting reduces their numbers? To a large extent, the hope lies in commercial farming, which should help decrease collection pressure on wild populations.
Where Can You Find More Information?
There are many papers and articles which discuss the status of medicinal plants and conservation efforts. Click here for some Medicinal Plant Working Group related publications. You can also check our More Information page for related organizations, books, and other links.
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Last Updated: 4/4/02