Chinese Herbs Growing in Virginia

Jul 9, 2014

Credit Blue Ridge Center for Chinese Medicine

More Americans than ever before are turning to Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture to heal and prevent disease.  Many states, including Virginia now license practitioners and regulate the industry.

As the sector grows, there is more demand for Chinese Medicinal herbs, an important aspect of the practice. A new project underway to grow Chinese medicinal herbs here is taking root in Floyd Virginia.  

“The ones at the top are the ones we can grow at the clinic here but most of these are sourced from China and the west coast,” says David Grimsley.  

He’s standing in what looks like a very clean country kitchen, pointing to a wall with shelves of large glass jars of what look like cooking ingredients.  But this is the Blue Ridge Center for Chinese Medicine in Pilot, Virginia and these are Chinese medicinal herbs. Instead of writing a prescription Clinical Herbalists choose from what’s here on the shelves to treat their patients.

“This is Trichosanthes. We go by their Latin names as opposed to their Chinese ‘pinyin’ medicinal name because we’re farmers working with the herbs themselves and not the medicine.  The Chinese, the pinyin - or the Chinese name refers to the actual medicine, to the final product. With something like Trichosanthes, this is a perennial melon and one wonderful thing about it is the skin is used the seeds are used and the fruit is used and they’re all for something different.”

In China, medicinal herbs have been wild harvested for thousands of years. But increasing environmental pollution, over harvesting, and sometimes unreliable quality control means Chinese imports may not be enough to fill the growing demand for the herbs in this country. That’s why Grimsley and Nate Sloan are growing herbs here on the sunny slopes outside the Blue Ridge Center for Chinese Medicine.

“A lot of these seeds, we’re going to let flower and grow for the seed because there is such a need for the seed for the whole country.  We really want to make sure that there’s enough seed available for everybody or the whole country. We’ve called around looking for seed and it’s hard to find so we just have to use what we have, which is a wonderful thing.”

Jean Giblette owns High Falls Farms in New York’s Hudson Valley.  She’s been growing Chinese Medicinal Herbs since 1993. She heads a non-profit foundation and is a member of the Eastern Forest Chinese Herbal Medicine Consortium.

“There’s a constant increase in demand because of the growing popularity of the profession. The herbs are gradually becoming more expensive imported from China and that’s because there’s a wide range of quality. And, of course, no one wants to buy the lesser quality herbs.”

The key is careful sourcing of the herbs and often personal relationships between growers and practitioners who know and trust them. That’s why the Chinese Medicinal Herb farm here in Floyd County is looking to create a consortium of Appalachian Medicinal Herb Growers who meet the standards.

“Ideally we would be branding our own name of product, kind of like a root stock or a seed that we can then stand behind our name and supply our region,” says Nate Sloan.

Some of the herbs here have been growing here at the Blue Ridge Center for the past several years, but this autumn will be the Consortium’s first harvest.  Sloane and Grimsley are project directors for what they hope will be a growing number of certified Chinese Medicinal Herb farmers around here.

Credit Blue Ridge Center for Chinese Medicine

“One thing to know about this is we’re not trying to be competitive about this. We are throwing it out there to the farmers saying, hey, if you want to diversity your crops, we’d love to help you,” says Grimsley.

In part two of our report, we’ll take a closer look at how Chinese Medicinal Herbs are grown and used in Traditional Chinese Healing Practices.

“I feel like this is a very interesting time to be alive because I feel like we’re taking the wisdom from many different cultures and bringing it together as the American experience, but hopefully it’s a more global experience.”