United Plant Savers preserves and restores wild medicinal plants

Sound Consumer | January 2002

by Nancy Schatz Alton, PCC Guest Editor

When herbalists Beth Baugh and Christopher Hobbs moved onto 20 acres of forest in Williams, Oregon, they sought to make their land a legacy. They applied for Botanical Sanctuary status through United Plant Savers (UpS), a non-profit grass roots organization whose mission is to preserve, conserve and restore native medicinal plants and their habitats in the United States and Canada.

In 1994, UpS was started by herbalists who realized that plants used for medicine face two major threats: loss of habitat, and over-harvesting due to the rapid growth of the natural products industry. UpS hopes the city gardens, organic farms and wild spaces that are becoming members of its Botanical Sanctuary Network will serve as rich depositories of North American medicinal plants.

Baugh and Hobbs call their land and sanctuary "Living Farmacy." Hobbs' herbal medicine students complete internships on the property, spending one weekend a month here for eight months. As herbalists for more than 20 years — they have published more than 20 books on the subject — turning their land into a UpS sanctuary made perfect sense to the couple. "In the overall picture, we want the medicinal plants to be saved all across the U.S., which is really UpS' goal," says Baugh. "However we can work locally benefits the good of that whole cause."

Creating a network of sanctuaries is just one of UpS' goals. It sees itself as an educational outreach program. The organization publishes lists of "At Risk" and "To Watch" plants — medicinal plants that are in decline in their natural environs (see sidebar). Any- one can become a UpS member. The membership fee includes a semi-annual newsletter, opportunities to receive free seeds and plants for replanting purposes, a directory of nurseries that supply At Risk plants and UpS conference discounts. UpS has also purchased a 370-acre research farm in Ohio.

UpS Executive Director Richard Liebmann believes the organization's main task is to help people form relationships with herbs. "Growing what you need and using what's in your area, that's how its been, traditionally, with humans, up until two or three generations ago," Liebmann says. "Grow a rosemary plant in a pot, learn about it, use it in cooking or when you have a health problem it might help. That relationship is important."

Besides joining UpS, consumers can buy organically cultivated herbs, which, Liebmann says, help to protect herbs. Or citizens can sponsor a UpS planting project. For example, UpS will work with a school group to plant a native medicinal herb garden. To become a member or for more information, call 740-662-0041, log on to www.plantsavers.org or email info@plantsavers.org.

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