Biodiversity

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Biodiversity

Every discipline has its specialized vocabulary.  In herbal medicine, we have terms such as ethically wildcrafted, sustainably grown and harvested, organic, biodynamic, and such that refer to sourcing and growing, but there are two addtional terms that are very important. One is permaculture and the other is biodiversity.  Permaculture refers to methods that promote improvement of the soil and these are usually associated with language that refers to nutrient density or superfoods.  Biodiversity addresses a slightly different need. Throughout the course of history, certain crops have suffered serious assaults by insects, plant diseases, and climatic factors. Many of us remember the potato crop failures in Ireland, but to understand this in a wider context, we need to realize that, ubiquitous as they are, potatoes are not even native to Ireland nor Europe. They are native to South America.

When a crop fails, there is tremendous suffering. Of course, there is risk of famine and financial setbacks. Geneticists have seen the persistence of famine in genes, certain traits that are inherited from an ancestor who was malnourished for one season. The story that emerges when the dots are all connected can be shocking.

In most cases, farmers try to grow the same crops even after losing a crop for two consecutive years, but how is this accomplished?  It is managed in part of seed banking and in part by replanting using hardier stock from an area that survived the blight or hurricane or frost. For instance, when France lost its grapes to aphids in the 19th century, part of the recovery involved importing plants from America. Had settlers not planted the species that were familiar to them, recovery would have been far more complicated and perhaps incomplete.  In some cases, plants are lost.  They become extinct.

Kitzia has addressed the issues of seed banking and intentional propagation of hardy species so I will not duplicate her effort but rather emphasize the need for diversity and use an interesting example.

There is a product used in Ayurvedic medicine called shilajit. It is not clear exactly whether it is a mineral or plant but the theory is that the Himalayas were formed by the collision of an island with Asia. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, this island migrated from somewhere near where Australia now is and pushed the land into the sky.  The evidence for this are sea shells and tropical vegetation. As the plants fossilize and mix with rocks and glacial ice, a sticky substance is formed that can be harvested in the summer when the rocks are exposed to the sun. Only then does this exudate form.  Collection is a risky adventure and harvesting was severely impacted by the earthquake a few years ago in Nepal.

 

About this same time, there were reports of a similar substance in the Chilean Andes. There is also a fascinating story about the last ice man in Chimborazo, Ecuador.  Now, you connect the dots!