Growing Chinese Herbs in the US

Photo Credit:


I took a holiday job at a local bookstore this season which just recently came to an end.  One fun part of the job was conversing with the customers that came up to the register.  I was able to discuss many different topics and ideas as their books showed their personal interests.  One topic that came up quite often with customers and co-workers alike was where the medicinal herb market was heading in the US.

Being a student of Western herbalism I often start sharing how easy it is to grow herbs that are native to Northern Indiana soil.  There are plenty of helpful herbs that often get mowed over or destroyed simply because they become invasive and do not look as tidy as grass.  Equipped with the knowledge of recognizing these helping plants and being able to properly asses their quality, most people would find that they are already growing something in their yard they could use.

But many times when I talk on herbalism I find that Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is what initially comes to people’s minds.  They think of wild ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, L) which actually grows in North America but is used in TCM, or other herbs that are grown in China and brought over to the US.  There is a bit of romanticism about it, getting foreign herbs to aid healing when “modern medicine” won’t do the trick.  It also helps when beneficial techniques such as the practice of Thai Chi are used along with herbal supplements.  The package deal is unique and interesting.

With rising quality issues concerning supplements from other countries, it is no wonder that there are more American herb farmers interested in growing specific herbs for TCM. These herbs have been well documented for years and carry quite the reputation.  And focusing on a sustainable, local source for these gems is phenomenal.

I’m intrigued with how this will go as people become more interested in herbal supplement use for health in general.  If we use our lands for herbs that do not naturally grow here, I wonder what the outcome will be.  The quality may be better, similar, or worse.  It could also lead to interest in native herbs, many that have the same helpful properties as those purchased from other countries.  An educated customer keeps herb quality in check.

*Edited to add a recent study showing that American ginseng tisane protects cellular DNA within 2 hours from consumption. (Sept 2015)

Anyway, another article popped up on a social network today that got me thinking about a balance of trends.  As we find ourselves interested in securing our own sources for herbs used in TCM, China has just opened a fancy new McDonald’s that rivals anything I have seen here.  In fact, if I had one of these new “McDonald’s Next” close by, I am sure I would visit.  What trends and what sells at each moment is quite interesting, huh?

Some recognizable herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Common Name*

Mulberry Leaf
Honeysuckle Flower
Reishi Mushroom
Angelica Root
Astragalus Root
Liquorice Root
American Ginseng
Cassia Seed

*These herbs could be recommended in common name, scientific/Latin name, or Chinese name. It is best to double check with the scientific/Latin name to make sure you are getting exactly what was recommended.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners in Indiana

Essence of China Acupuncture & Herb Clinic, Carmel IN
Dr. Angelica Kokkalis, O.M.D L.Ac., Lafayette IN
Munster Medical Acupuncture & Wellness, Munster IN