Natural Products Tour

Reported from YCBI September 13, 2001 by
Beverly Whitehead and Bobbie Ammons

Yellow Creek Botanical Institute, Inc. (YCBI) sponsored a Natural Products Tour on August 23 and 24, 2001 to illustrate economic opportunities in herb growing, processing and production for local people.

The five businesses toured included Red Moon Herbs in Black Mountain, We-Du Nursery in Marion, the North Carolina Ginseng and Goldenseal Company in Marshall, the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Fletcher, and Gaia Herbs in Brevard. YCBI provided transportation and lodging for everyone on the tour. The idea for the tour originated with Robin Suggs of YCBI. He and Rob Jordan were responsible for the grant that funded the event and Rob Jordan made the arrangements.

We learned there are two places in the world that grow over 250 different herbs, Manchuria, China and western North Carolina. As a result Gaia Herbs, a 15 year old herbal remedy company, moved here from Massachusetts in 1995 to be closer to the source of their product with the intent of growing their own organic herbs. Jeanine Davis and a group of scientists at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station are currently doing research on different growing conditions to help local growers produce herbs as commercial crops. Several of the people on the tour have test plots of Golden Seal and are monitoring them for the Specialty Crops Program study.

Touring Red Moon Herbs

The first stop on the Natural Products Tour was Red Moon Herbs in Black Mountain. Red Moon Herbs “mission is to handcraft wild and organic herbal medicines that preserve the spirit of the plants and provide our community with simple, accessible health care.” Jessica Godino, founder of Red Moon Herbs, and Corinna Wood, a Certified Herbalist, showed us the facility where they make wildcrafted and organic herbal medicines. They explained the cold processing methods used to make extracts, oils, salves, and vinegars. As women and mothers of young children they have a special interest in women’s health issues and products. They teach classes and retail Red Moon products through catalog sales, the Internet, and health food stores.

With a greenhouse for propagation, plenty of water and a long shaded slice of land against Polly Spout Road in Marion, We-Du Nursery, is in its twentieth year of business, and was our second stop. Owned and operated by Dennis Niemeyer and Joani Lawarre, it is primarily a mail order nursery which grows over 4000 species of plants and ships over 250,000 plants a year all over the United States. Specializing in “essential natives and rare native plants their motto is “We-Du Natives and Other Neat Stuff”. They are open for retail sales in the Spring ONLY on Friday and Saturdays April – May and in the Fall for sales ONLY on Friday and Saturdays September – October. The rest of the year is dedicated to their mail order business.

The North Carolina Ginseng & Goldenseal Company in Marshall, NC was the third stop. Robert Eidus talked to us about the difference in microorganisms between shaded soil versus sunny soil. He said Dr. Elaine Ingram’s (1-888-LANDCARE) work in soil biology indicates that shaded soil has 75% fungi to 25% bacteria, but soils in direct sunlight have 25% fungi to 75% bacteria. To balance shaded soil he recommended adding composted pine bark, manure and vegetable compost. Then he led us up a trail and through the woods identifying growing conditions and plants. Robert said that the presence of maidenhair fern appears to indicate the proper environment for golden seal, ginsing, and bloodroot. An advocate of companion planting he said, “It seems the more diverse the vegetation is in an area the healthier the plants are.”

Friday morning started at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Fletcher. Dr. Jeanine Davis told us that the Specialty Crops Program went statewide this year and added medicinal herbs, including ginseng, black cohosh, goldenseal, and ramps. Just like any traditional crop, optimum soil pH, mineral and trace element levels are being studied. American Botanical Labs tests products such as ginseng to determine purity levels. The lab is finding that a significant amount of ginseng imported into the USA is contaminated. Dr. Davis said that if we cultivate in controlled conditions in USA, we could set the standard for the world market.

While looking at shade cloth covered herb beds she exclaimed, “do not use straw for mulch! In WNC, slugs and diseases love it. Pine straw is okay and leaves are great!” She referred us to Peaceful Valley Farm Supply’s Website for natural pesticides which would not jeopardize organic farm certification. Recognizing that Agritourism can bring more money into our area she said that, “tourists to NC are willing to pay a high price for an experience of nature, like navigating through a corn maze. People will travel a great distance to walk a different maze.” In creating more moneymaking opportunities for farmers, Dr. Davis is looking at other types of crops for maze making such as sunflowers.

At GAIA HERBS in Brevard, our last stop, Greg Cumberford, the Business Operations Director and Daniel Vickers, the Raw Materials Inventory Manager gave us a walking tour of the outside tree orchards, the greenhouse, the cultivated open fields and the product production area where the herbs are processed into tinctures. Chemists check each batch to insure that the active ingredients of each remedy meet Gaia’s exacting standards prior to bottling and labeling. If not, the tincture is placed in a warmed centrifuge for evaporation and intensification of the active ingredients until Gaia’s standards are met. Then the tinctures are bottled, labeled and distributed to health stores and health practitioners.

As we were leaving Gaia, Greg and Daniel asked about the Smoky Mountain Native Plant Association. We told them SMNPA was comprised of local farmers, growers, and wild crafters. They said that within three years the demand for Gaia’s products would exceed their farm production capacity. As a result they are looking for local growers who would grow specifically for Gaia’s herbal needs. They offered to come to Graham County to provide organic growing advice, seed, and technical assistance if we would grow herbs for them.

After visiting all the sites Avi Askey said he learned that “no site is perfect, you have to make the best of what you have” …as long as you’re in the Southern Appalachians almost any piece of land will grow herbs.

Those participating in the tour were Karen Hurtubise, Ransom Cornett, Beverly Whitehead, Bobby Ammons, Joanne Parrott, Avi Askey, Tony Odom, Star Lightfoot, Jack Whisnant, Jim Weeks, and John and Priscella Carswell, Rob Jordan and Robin Suggs. Jack Whisnant said the, “trip set my agenda for the next couple years. I have a clearer understanding of what needs to be done to make this possible. In addition to the plants “creativity and marketing are important. A good business plan and marketing plan are critical.” Everyone had a great time, learned a lot and laughed a lot.

Yellow Creek Botanical Institute is also sponsoring the next educational opportunity geared toward the region’s production of native plants. On September 28 and 29, 2001 “Growing Opportunities in Native Plants, Part 2” will be held at the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville. Call Rob Jordan at 828-479-4733 for information.

Quotes From the Tour:

“The first day we saw small businesses with 1-2 people, the second day we saw a large operation. It showed me how we can start out and where we could end up. Whether it’s a two-person business or a manufacturing plant, the process of distilling herbal essences into tinctures is the same.” – Ransom Cornett

“I learned more in two days than I had …in three years of seminars and reading on how to start my own herb farm.” – Bobbie Ammons

“I learned about different kinds of growing practices and marketing opportunities” – Joanne Parrott

“The most valuable for me was “connecting with neighbors and people in the trade to work towards a local network for marketing and sharing information.” – Avi Askey

“I learned that western NC offers the unique growing conditions necessary for the maximum variety and highest quality herb production. – Beverly Whitehead

The tour showed me how economically viable herbal production can be. There is an increasing need. There is money to be made in raising herbs.” – Beverly Whitehead


Jun-17-01, 10:39 PM (EDT)

“Re: Herb Farming”
There were some posts a while back talking about Robert Eidus, who runs North Carolina Ginseng & Goldenseal Co. here in Madison County. I went out to his place on Friday and took a tour of what he has going on there, and it’s pretty interesting. He grows and processes all kinds of natural medicinal herbs and plants and seems to be quite knowledgeable in those areas. I was mostly interested in ginseng, but apparently there are many other naturally growing herbs and plants in these mountains that have medicinal value. So at this point, I am still trying to learn more about this type of farming and will probably avail myself of his services in the future. If anyone has any thoughts or information on this subject, I would appreciate hearing about it.

Jun-19-01, 05:44 PM (EDT)

“RE: Herb Farming”
Clod, here’s another source for seed:
Also, this site is one that offers info as well as goldenseal:
Good luck!

Jun-20-01, 10:54 PM (EDT)

“RE: Herb Farming”
This is something i have always wanted to get into, after working with people for years this would be a welcome respite. Someday, post all the info you can on this, i am listening.