Why Sustainability Matters to the Future of Ayurveda
This concept is probably not new to you. Sustainability is a movement that is sweeping over our global community at a steady rate, and we all do our part in the best way we can. Maybe you have made it a habit to bring your own bags when you go grocery shopping, or you know someone who rides their bike to work or school a few days each week to cut down on fuel dependency. You probably know a master recycler who easily decodes those tricky numbered triangles on the bottom of recyclable plastics. Wherever there is a use of resources, sustainable practices can be implemented, and determining your level of engagement in these practices is quite a personal matter.
Now, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with Ayurveda. To get a better understanding of the nature of this issue, let’s establish some context. Ayurveda is an incredibly old system of medicine, with its origin date unknown, but estimated to be around 2000 to 5000 years ago. For the last several thousand years, Ayurveda has primarily lived on the Indian subcontinent, where practitioners, sages, and householders could walk through their local bioregion and freshly harvest Ayurvedic herbs from the wild. This rich tradition of wildcrafting has harmoniously brought man and nature together for thousands of years. Today, however, the demand for Ayurvedic herbs simply does not match the wild availability. In large part, this discrepancy is due to population increase, but there are other factors at play, and in many ways, this is a great problem to have! It means that more and more people are turning back to nature’s pharmacopoeia to find support for their health. And while there is an established herbal tradition on nearly every continent, Ayurveda has made its way out of India and into the homes of people all around the world. With this growing exposure understandably comes an increase in demand for the traditional plant species used in Ayurveda, and naturally found across India.
In the case of plant-based resources, when supply is not able to meet demand, several unfortunate things start to happen: The species becomes over-harvested and endangered or even extinct, and imitation products begin to enter the market. The history of sandalwood and jatamansi illustrate good examples of this cycle in the herbal marketplace. Both of these traditional and highly revered herbs have been severely over-harvested in recent years, slowly vanishing from their native wild landscapes. These two potent herbs have been effectively used in Ayurveda for millennia, but now the mere survival of these endangered species is under great threat. Banyan has chosen not to support the continued over-harvest of jatamansi and sandalwood by not offering these herbs until a sustainable source becomes available.
Awareness is Key
Luckily, more and more people are becoming interested in the story of their herbs, and herbal suppliers have taken notice. Sustainability-focused non-profit organizations around the world have begun raising awareness around the issues facing the herbal products industry, helping to establish some guidelines for sustainability. When shopping for herbal products, especially those involving international agriculture, look for the quality standards of your supplier. This information should be readily available and can help to make your decision making process easier. Here are a few sustainability guidelines to look for, and some insight into what they represent:
For cultivated varieties, organic is one of the first qualities to look for when checking the sustainability of a product. This certification ensures the herbs were grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, and other toxic substances. Organic agriculture promotes sustainable soil management, pollinator-friendly crops, and toxic free run-off into nearby waterways.
This concept addresses the human sustainability of a product. Fairly traded means the people involved in growing, harvesting, and processing the herbs were paid a fair, living wage.
Specific to endangered plant species, this certification ensures the plant was not exploited in the way it was harvested, collected, or traded. We are proud to offer CITES certified kutki powder, some of the first available in the United States.
This organization ensures that wild-collected products were harvested and gathered in a sustainable, ethical manner. Banyan’s FairWild bibhitaki fruit is harvested from an old-growth bibhitaki forest, which serves as a home and nesting ground for the great pied hornbill. FairWild ensures this ancient grove is stewarded in a way that preserves not only the forest but also the natural habitat of this beautiful bird species.
Where do my herbs come from? How were they grown, and who harvested them? These are important questions to ask when shopping for Ayurvedic products. If you have an herbal ally, or a formula that you depend on to stay balanced, we encourage you to learn about the environmental issues facing the herbs you rely on. If you don’t have time to research the sourcing of all your herbs, find a supplier you trust to do the background check for you.
Since Banyan’s humble beginnings in 1996, we have made it a priority to seek out ethical sources for all of our herbs. Unfortunately, pure, sustainable sources are not always available, and over the years we have removed items from our offering simply because we could not find sources to meet our standards.
We are involved in projects that range from working with small farming cooperatives to cultivate widely used Ayurvedic herbs like pippali, tulsi, and ashwagandha in the state of Karnatika, to supporting the planting of hundreds of guggulu trees in Rajasthan, and even helping to fund one of the first cultivated sources of kutki in the Himalayan foothills.
We believe the quality of an herb is not only defined by its potency, but also the fertility of the soil where it was grown, and the working conditions of the hands that harvested it. Sustainability of people, place, and culture are all considerations we make when establishing new farming partnerships, and, in sourcing the herbs, we ensure that the farmers are paid a fair and stable price. We are committed to providing opportunities to improve quality of life by assisting small farmers in achieving a stronger position in world markets and supplying a healthy link between you and the products. The farming projects we are involved with aim to incentivize local wild-crafters to stop harvesting from the scarce, over-stressed native sources, and instead work to preserve the future of Ayurvedic herbs by cultivating them in a sustainable, responsible manner.
Here at Banyan, we feel strongly about the importance of plant preservation. Ayurveda has been thriving for several thousand years, and we want it to continue thriving for several thousand more. Through global, collective efforts, we can preserve Ayurvedic plant allies and ensure their availability for generations to come. As part of the Banyan community, we want to thank you for joining us in this effort. Together, we can set the herbal-product standard by committing to organic ingredients and ethical, renewable harvesting practices.