The Choice - Organic vs. Chemically Grown Herbs

Organic or Chemically Grown Herbs

At Blue Dragon Herbs™, we grow our herbs in the same location and using the same methods that they have been grown for hundreds and thousands of years. The soil is fertilized naturally, with compost and the use of crop (herb) rotation, instead of chemical fertilizers. In place of toxic pesticides, our farmers use the naturally effective juice of fresh herbs such as Ju Hua, Xi Xin, Huan Niu Xi, Zi Su Ye and Ma Huang. Instead of poisonous herbicides, our farmers take care of weeds the old-fashioned way, pulling them out by hand one by one.

First, let’s get the really bad news out of the way—the toxicity of the chemicals commonly used in herb farming in China. Now, many of these same chemicals are also used in the U.S., but a significant number have been banned in the U.S. and the European Union because of their high toxicity levels. Here are a couple of examples.

Heptachlor, though banned in US for agricultural uses in the 1980’s, is still used as an insecticide on herb farms in China. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring questioned the safety of heptachlor and other chlorinated insecticides. Due to its highly stable structure, heptachlor can persist in the environment for decades. The U.S. EPA has limited the sale of heptachlor products to the specific application of fire ant control in underground transformers. High levels of it increases type 2 diabetes risk to about 7 percent (Harmon 2010). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the EPA have classified the compound as a possible human carcinogen. Animals exposed to Heptachlor epoxide during gestation and infancy are found to have changes in nervous system and immune function. Higher doses of Heptachlor when exposed to newborn animals caused decrease in body weight and death.

Parathion is another potent insecticide that is highly toxic to non-target organisms, including humans. Its use is banned or restricted in many countries, and there are proposals to ban it from all use, although it is still commonly used on herb farms in China.

Parathion is a cholinesterase inhibitor. It generally disrupts the nervous. It is absorbed via skin, mucous membranes, and orally. Paraoxon exposure can result in headaches, convulsions,, poor vision, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, unconsciousness, tremor, dyspnea, and finally lung-edema as well as respiratory arrest. Symptoms of acute poisoning are known to last for extended periods of time, sometimes months. Parathion has been used for committing suicide and deliberately poisoning other persons. It is known as “Schwiegermuttergift” (mother-in-law poison) in Germany. For this reason, most formulations contain a blue dye providing warning.

Based on animal studies, parathion is considered by the U.S. EPA to be a possible human carcinogen. Studies show that parathion is toxic to fetuses but does not cause birth defects. It is classified as a UNEP Persistent Organic Pollutant and WHO Toxicity Class, that is, “Extremely Hazardous”.

Another common insecticide, Monocrotophos is acutelytoxic to birds and humans, and for that reason has been banned in the U.S. and many other countries. Widespread bird kills have resulted from the use of monocrotophos. This pesticide is now out of patent, and is produced by at least 15 manufacturers, although Novartis still produces an estimated 40% of total annual production. Monocrotophos is also manufactured and exported by companies in India, China, Brazil and Argentina. It has been shown to cause neuropathies, reproductive deficiencies and birth defects.

Of course, many of these effects are most obvious in the farmers who handle the substances directly. However, pesticide residues remain, and no study has been done on these substances ingested over long periods of time.

Shane Heaton of Organic Food News Quarterly puts the danger into perspective. “Most pesticide-residue safety levels are set for individual pesticides, but many samples of fresh produce carry multiple pesticide residues. Rules often do not take into account the “cocktail effect” of combinations of pesticides in and on foods (and, of course, our herbs). Research is emerging confirming the potential for such synergistic increases in toxicity of up to 100-fold, resulting in reproductive, immune and nervous system effects not expected from the individual compounds acting alone. Israeli researchers have linked symptoms such as headaches, tremor, lack of energy, depression, anxiety, poor memory, dermatitis, convulsions, nausea, indigestion and diarrhea with dietary intakes of pesticides. Belgian research has found that women diagnosed with breast cancer are six to nine times more likely to have the pesticides DDT or hexachlorobenzene in their bloodstreams compared to women who did not have breast cancer. Hawaiian researchers following 8,000 people for 34 years have found that increasing consumption of conventional fruit and juice (and the pesticide residues they carry) raises the risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

Next, let’s take a look at the different effects of organic and inorganic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers improve the biodiversity and long-term productivity of the soil. Organic nutrients increase the abundance of soil organisms by providing organic matter and micronutrients for fungal mycorrhiza which aid plants in absorbing nutrients and can drastically reduce external inputs of pesticides, energy and fertilizer, as well as increase yield. Chemical fertilizers cannot be integrated into soil or plant life in the same way as organic fertilizers. In a natural environment, life is renewed as dead vegetation and manure decompose and feed the microbial life in the soil. In contrast, most chemical fertilizers are acid salts that burn their way through the soil and create imbalance by killing microbial life and worms which nourish the earth. Most inorganic fertilizers do not replace trace mineral elements in the soil which gradually become depleted by crops, especially in a monoculture where the same herbs are grown in the same soil year after year. Studies have shown up to a 75% decrease in trace minerals present in fruits and vegetables (and we must presume herbs as well). Inorganic fertilizers also lead to heavy metal accumulation. The most toxic elements in this type of fertilizer are mercury, lead and arsenic.

Craig Macintosh, in his book, Soil: Our Financial Institution, writes “What is soil?.” Unfortunately, and increasingly, the modern mindset simply regards it as “dirt” – something to clean off your nine-year old son’s knees if he’s fallen out of that tree, or worse, at an industry level, its regarded as nothing more than an inert medium for sowing plants – just somewhere to put them.

For agri-businessmen, little or no connection is made between the health of the soil, and the health of the plants they produce. The mechanized treatment of the soil is arbitrary and aggressive, and the consequences of this disconnect are dire. You could simplify it’s composition by reducing it to four main components: minerals, air, water, and organic matter. The complicated version, however, is almost beyond belief, and despite the best efforts of scientists many aspects remain mysterious. Hidden from immediate notice, a healthy soil contains innumerable micro and macro-organisms. In fact, there are said to be over four billion micro-organisms in just one teaspoon of healthy soil. These organisms work with each other, and with plants, in a symbiotic relationship that ultimately provides for the needs of all creatures that walk, fly, or swim on our planet. Part of their work is to break down decaying organic matter, along with minerals in the soil, and then make these available to plant roots in a nutrient form they can utilize. They are essentially an immense army of recyclers – working for our benefit without reward and with scant recognition.”

Dr. Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson in their great book, The Empty Harvest: Understanding the Link Between Our Food, Our Immunity, and Our Planet, make a direst connection between organic farming and TCM. “A clean environment is the foundation of life on this planet. It is the basis for health in every organ, gland, tissue and cell in the body. The ancient Chinese culture understood this interconnection between man and the environment, and it was fundamental to the development of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal were not just abstract concepts, but the practical materials of everyday life. Today, modern life removes us from our environment and the elements. Farming, (including herb farming), has become a high tech industry, where the health of the farmer, consumer and Earth are discounted. “Modern agriculture reduces the role of the soil to a substance of convenient texture that holds plants in a vertical position while chemicals are forced up their shaft. Plants stand in the field and receive a chemical enema.”

In The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry explores the different mindset of the organic farmer and the “agra-farmer”. He writes, “In order to understand our own time and predicament, and the work that is to be done, we would do well to say that we are divided between exploitation and nurture… I conceive a strip miner (or strip-farmer) to be a model exploiter, and as a model nurturer, I take the old-fashioned idea or ideal of a farmer. The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much more complex and difficult: What is it’s carrying capacity? What can it produce dependably without diminishing it for an indefinite time? The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible, the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible.”

From the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society explores the nutrient difference between organic and chemically produced foods. “Organically and sustainably grown foods are higher in cancer fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. The research suggests that pesticides and herbicides actually thwart the production of phenolics, chemicals that act as a plant’s natural defense and also happen to be good for our health. Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant activity. Many are produced in plants in response to environmental stressors, such as insects or competing plants. Bitter or harsh phenolics guard the plant against pests. The need for these natural safeguards decreases with the use of herbicides and pesticides in conventional agriculture. This decrease is reflected in the total amount of antioxidants the plants produce. This helps explain why the level of antioxidants is so much higher in organically grown food. By synthetically protecting the produce from these pests, we decrease their need to produce antioxidants. It suggests that maybe we are doing something to our food inadvertently.”

We’ll finish with another quote form Dr. Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson in, Empty Harvest: Understanding the Link Between Our Food, Our Immunity, and Our Planet, “According to the dynamic laws of holistic healing, health is restored when the cause of the problem, rather than its symptoms, is appropriately treated. Therefore, we must approach the decontamination and restoration of the Earth by first identifying the cause of the problem, then we can start to clean up the water, air, and soil… It is to our advantage that the systems of the planet are interactive – just as one is capable of contaminating the other, they are also capable of healing one an-other. Again, the principles are similar to those of the human body, and what is beneficial and supportive of one system will benefit the others… We can restore harmony to our own relationship with nature. But first, we must stop pretending that conditions or diseases are “caught. “ We do not catch diseases, we build them. We have to eat, drink, think and feel them into existence. We work hard at developing our diseases. We must work as hard at restoring health. Similarly, Mother Earth did not “catch” any of her diseases… Human chemical abuse in the form of environmental pollution is what must be stopped and reversed in order that the natural healing ability inherent in both the planet and the human being is to take over.”

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