I want to grow medicinal herbs as part of an ethical, sustainable farm business based on permaculture design. I started this past spring by experimenting with growing about a dozen varieties of medicinal herbs. Here is some of what I’ve learned since then.
Space. The Chinese medicinal herbs with highest selling prices per ounce are almost all roots, which grow for 2-3 years before they are harvested. Caring for a plant for several years takes planning and commitment plus space to sow successive crops so you can harvest every year after the first crop is mature. Finding suitable spots for root crops has been challenging in a yard full of fruit trees, so I am building a patchwork of small plots around the yard with varying amounts of sun, soil amendments, and wind exposure.
There is a small empty urban lot across the street that I am looking into renting to plant medicinal annuals and luffas. Those medicinals sell for a relatively small price per unit, so you have to grow a larger volume to make any profit. The lot would take a sizable investment of time and money to clear and plant, and I’m hesitant to invest in that amount of space yet.
I am also sharing my seedlings with Academy for Five Element Acupuncture’s Chinese Herbal Studies students. I am donating a few seedlings of each plant variety to their Chinese medicinal herb garden. This project also allows me to observe how these herbs grow in large pot cultures without having to personally invest in materials.
Record-keeping. This is all an experiment right now, an experiment to try growing a wide range of Chinese medicinal herbs and Ayurvedic medicinal herbs here and see what thrives in our soil and climate. It’s an experiment and I need to treat it like an experiment. I need to keep better records, and start keeping records on things like germination and growth rate. I will need as much data as possible to determine whether this is a fiscally responsible choice for large-scale farming in the future.
Seeds. So far I have been limited to the seeds that are either being sold commercially, or being grown in an experimental herb garden in Seattle WA. (Thank you Tim Ross!) I need to find sources for plants that no one is growing here yet or that are specifically suited to our climate to build a specialized market offering.
Why am I interested in growing Chinese and Indian medicinal herbs here? Read this excellent explanation by Jean Giblette of High Falls Garden.