spice shop 43

A Call For Conservation

written by John & Maria Yager

Oregon, USA

RIP John

We are writing this letter to raise awareness of the urgent need for incense and natural perfume producers to give attention to the endangered status and ecological ramifications of the plant materials utilized in the manufacture of aromatic products.

As we all know, the world is becoming very small, and wild plants are being harvested in unsustainable quantities.

We recognize that we are only a small part of the overall problem. Deforestation and habitat loss occurs for many reasons throughout much of the Earth.

The use of aromatic materials in many countries is more pervasive than their use in the United States. Not withstanding this truth, we would like to see us become part of the solution.

Too much incense and essential oil is produced from endangered plants.

Too many incense and natural perfume sites fail to take into account the ecological ramifications of the materials they sell or use.

We must do more than just giving lip service to the problem. We all need to be ecologically responsible.

It is up to us to change the way we do business. It is us that can best educate the consumer of these products.

Our future and the Earth’s future is at stake.

If we continue to conduct business without an ecological consciousness, then we fail to be responsible citizens of Earth. Earth is our home.

The harvesting of aromatic plant material impacts many plant communities significantly.

The collection of wild plants has endangered many species to the point of extinction in Nepal (See p 138 of SHAMANISM AND TANTRA IN THE HIMALAYAS by Ebeling, Ratsch, and Shahi), India and in many other locations.

Many plants have already succumbed to our desire. Silphium, the most treasured of all aromatics, was long ago harvested to extinction. The roman emperor, Nero could harvest but one specimen in the 1st century A.D.

Many others have also disappeared such as Juan Fernandez sandalwood (1908) and Illex gardneriana holly (1997). Even if the plant has not been harvested to extinction, if it is desirable, then demand may endanger it.

This is the situation today for many wild plants that become the focus of our desire. Even in the United States some species of aromatic plants are endangered in certain locations.

Two that come to mind immediately are sweetgrass and white sage. Although much of the problem stems from habitat loss, both species of plants are very susceptible to losses from over harvesting.

We the producer of aromatic plant products can reduce unsustainable harvesting by demanding responsible wild harvested plant materials and, wherever possible, farmed, preferably organic farmed plant materials.

We realize that in many cases the price for wild harvested plant materials is artificially low, making it impossible to competitively produce farmed plant materials.

We also realize that farming is not the full solution. Farming uses space that was once wild.

We must seek a balanced approach based on the understanding that we need the wild, and only responsible wild harvesting can preserve ecosystems. We must remember that these plant resources are limited.

In the past most local plants were used locally. Only the wealthy could afford the exotic. The following poem attributed to Saint Isidore captures this nicely:

“Aromas that Arabian alters and Indus breathe, That the waves of the Ionian sea have borne: Cinnamon, myrrh, Indian leaf and cassia, Balsam, incense, calamus, saffron of Anatolia; These are found in the spice-stores of great kings, And the house overflowing with riches. We poor people make do with the simple herbs of the fields, That the low valleys and high passes bear.” – Saint Isidore

Today there are many more well off people. Modern mercantile practices have developed markets around the globe. No desirable plant is safe from our desire. It is up to us to protect these valuable plants. If we all do our part, we can make a difference.

Let’s assume you want to help conserve incense plants. How can you find out which plants are endangered and which are safe to use? There are many sources of information as relates to the status of different plant species of which we list some important sources below:

United Plant Savers
Website: https://unitedplantsavers.org/

United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
Website: https://speciesplus.net/

Vida Verde Association of Amazonia (AVIVE) for sustainable Amazon rain forest products.
Website: www.equatorinitiative.org/

IUCN World Conservation Red List of Threatened Species:

Cropwatch – this website gives lists of threatened species.

Copyright © 2008 to 2021 John & Maria Yager. All rights reserved.