US farmers may benefit from wider use of TCM

Updated: 2015-12-31 12:31

By Paul Welitzkin in New York(China Daily USA)

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Rising American interest in traditional Chinese medicine could open up a new market for US farmers producing the herbs and flowers used by practitioners.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China and has evolved over thousands of years. TCM practitioners utilize herbal medicines and various mind and body practices, such as acupuncture and tai chi, to treat or prevent health problems, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Western medicine is a disease-based system, while traditional Chinese medicine is based on a model of health or optimum function, noted Jean Giblette, who has been growing Chinese herbs at High Falls Garden in Philmont, New York.

"While Western medicine excels in surgery, emergency medicine, and dentistry, traditional Chinese medicine is more effective for chronic degenerative disease and the maladies that come with aging. I like the word 'complementary' to describe the two systems, each working side by side and doing what they do best," Giblette said in an e-mail.

TCM is slowly gaining acceptance among US medical providers. One of the top hospitals in the US - the Cleveland Clinic - opened a Chinese herbal therapy unit in 2014.

Peg Schafer, who owns and operates the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma, California, said there are many universities producing high-quality practitioners, particularly in California.

"This is helping to drive up demand that has exceeded the capacity of China," Schafer said in an interview. "Just like in the local food wave now sweeping the country, people want to know the source of their herbal products."

For 18 years, Schafer has been growing items on her 10-acre farm like Salvia miltiorrhiza, a type of sage that "is a beautiful perennial herb with a wide range of functions that have been accepted for use in western medicine", she said.

Her farm also grows Scutellaria baicalensis, a perennial that features purple flowers that can be used to maintain cardiovascular health.

"We are now more of an educational farm," Schafer said. She has two employees and students training to be practitioners "who want to learn more about the medicinal herbs of the trade", she added.

Schafer is convinced that established farmers looking to diversify their product offerings would be successful at commercially producing the plants used in TCM.

"Someone who has successfully germinated plants would be able to transfer those skills to these plants," said Schafer. "This can be done in all climates."

Giblette has started the High Falls Foundation in New York's Hudson Valley to encourage research into the herbs and plants.

"New York has (various) climate zones. Plants hardy enough include Codonopsis pilosula, Sanguisorba officinalis and of course our own Panax quinquefolius or American ginseng," she said.

Schaefer said the startup time for domestic production is about 10 years. Most of the plants take two to five years to get established in polyculture settings, a form of agriculture new to most US farmers.

"The increasingly widespread resistance to antibiotics will be a chance for Chinese herbal medicine to show its power. Pathogens have a harder time developing resistance to a highly complex Chinese herbal formula than to a single drug or herb," Schaefer said.

 US farmers may benefit from wider use of TCM

Peg Schaefer has operated the 10-acre Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma, California, supplying various herbal products for practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine for the last 18 years. Provided to China Daily