Beth Lambert

May 18, 2012

3 Min Read
Supplier Issues for a Specialized Herb Company

In the past few years we have encountered several recurring problems in sourcing botanical ingredients for our practitioner quality products. For a company such as ours that tries to maintain not only an available supply of extracts of the better known herbs (e.g., Chaste Tree or Milk Thistle) but also the very specialized botanicals that sell in small quantities (e.g., Quassia or Jamiaca Dogwood), the size of our purchase can range from a few pounds to several hundred, depending on the product.

*Small volume botanicals-We don’t drive the market. Good suppliers that we have used for years can sometimes decide that they do not want to bother gathering small amounts of some of the more difficult to harvest botanicals. Fringe tree was one such botanical.

* Suppliers that carried a species of a botanical can often drop that species, substituting another in the genus that may not have the research behind it, but is easier to gather.Quassia (Picrasma excela) is hard to find. Quassia amara, the more plentiful Mexican species, has been substituted by most suppliers.

* We have had good growers have a bad year with labor or the weather. One year we had to turn back Dandelion Leaf from a good supplier—it was filled with snails, mud, and had started to mold before it arrived.  And last year we could not get Coptis that would pass an aflatoxin test. We have carried Coptis for years and had never had a problem with aflatoxins. We tried many of our best suppliers only to find out that it had been a rainy year in China and there really was not any quality material left from that harvest. We had to reformulate some products with the more expensive U.S-sourced goldenseal until we could review this year’s harvest.

* Importing directly from small suppliers has had its challenges. Even working with air freighting by well- known commercial carriers we have had shipments “get re-routed” going from Eastern Europe to Tennessee to Hong Kong and back to Tennessee before arriving in New Jersey.

* Recently we have noticed a disturbing trend with fruit suppliers. All too often the materials have been tested and revealed that either the material had already been processed or that the drying process virtually destroyed the constituents. This occurs even with qualified suppliers we have been using for years. 

* Making sure that one has wild-crafters and growers committed to sustainably gathering botanicals is another challenge. We have developed a network of people we trust to gather botanicals such as Arnica, Bloodroot and Lomatium. Purchasing high quality, organic woods-grown botanicals such as American Ginseng and Black Cohosh take pressure off the wild harvests.

* Cultivation of previously wild harvested botanicals can pose a challenge. Herbs such as cordyceps fungus that had traditionally been collected after devouring its “host” caterpillar is now grown on other vegetable-based hosts. Clarifying identity (and replicable efficacy) with traditional characteristics that might change given the cultivation method is a developing challenge.

While these challenges can require reformulating with a different but equality effective herb, or the occasional out of stock moment, we always do manage to adhere to the practitioner-quality we are known for—but not without a few sleepless nights. 

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