Book Review: The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer- The Ultimate Guide to Producing High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale

By Jeff Carpenter with Melanie Carpenter, Forward by Rosemary Gladstar

Published by Chelsea Green, 2015

 

 Reviewed by Sarah Crocker

Cover image, The Organic Medicinal Herb FarmerEver wanted to turn medicinal plants like dandelions & knotweed into an asset for your farm? In The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, Jeff and Melanie Carpenter share 20 years as herbal entrepreneurs. Situated on both wild and cultivated land in Vermont, the authors face challenges and rewards familiar to many growers. From this experience comes a practical business guide to produce herb crops on a market scale.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer challenges growers to think like a business manager; to ask guiding questions of their operation. Answering these questions then directs the specific scale, marketing, and production plans of a farm. The materials and labour cost of mulch, for example, is compared to soil conservation and product quality benefits (the mulch wins!). Specific examples, down to the row spacing and equipment modifications, are found throughout each section. Comparison charts, lists, profiles, and images throughout the text help illustrate information.

Producing botanicals of the highest quality has been key to the authors’ success at Zack Woods Farm. Active compounds in herbs can be affected by growing conditions, fertilization rates, watering, and pest pressure. Many customers, including wholesale and manufacturing clients, are looking for consistency and assurance of quality. While herbs are adaptable to many climates, not all will thrive and produce high quality medicine outside of their native ranges. Growers will also want to tackle ethical issues of harvesting from the wild, cultivating invasive species, as well as social and ecological standards. The authors make a strong case for knowing your farmer and supporting certified organic production.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer shines with a detailed treatment of post-harvest processing. Most medicinal herbs are sold dried which must be accomplished in a reliable and affordable way. The interaction of humidity, air volume, and temperature are presented in a technical way, geared towards commercial production. However, tests like crushing and smelling is still a way to gauge quality – whether in hand tied bunches at home or purpose-built drying sheds with tonnes of product.

Fully one third of the book is in Part Two, a selection of 50 herbs of interest for market growing. Familiar annuals such as dandelion, poppy, and garlic as well as longer lived perennials such as ginkgo biloba and hops are covered. Each entry provides a retail price for products. This links back to the importance of business planning and assessment of sales and market. The authors acknowledge their advantage of farming in the “herb forward” state of Vermont, with access to both local customers and larger distributors. However, these herbs of interest were chosen for their broad adaptability to established markets and many would be suitable for Canadian climates. Canadian growers will also want to read up on equivalent Good Manufacturing Practices and specific labeling requirements for products, particularly those making a health claim.

Medicinal herbs can be a strong driver for revenue and biological diversity on the farm. The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer is both a how-to for getting started and a valuable reference book for established growers. It promotes a straight forward approach to production planning that cherishes the ability of medicinal herbs to nourish people and the land.

Sarah Crocker is a market gardener with 10 years’ experience in organic production; she operates Seed to Spoon in Portugal Cove, NL.

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This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

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