Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - Herb growers, healthcare professionals and consumers can learn about growing and using medicinal herbs while sampling a wide selection of locally produced products at New Mexico's first herbal expo June 25 in Albuquerque.
The expo is organized by the New Mexico Herb Growers Association, the local chapter of the American Herbalist Guild and New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.
The event aims to build demand for locally grown herbs by encouraging herbalists and health professionals to buy from New Mexico producers, and by educating consumers about herbal goods, said Charles Martin, an agricultural specialist who studies herbs at NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.
"The expo provides a unique opportunity for herb growers and healthcare professionals to learn more about each other," Martin said. "We want them to network and share ideas about building the local herb industry. We also want to increase consumer awareness about herb production in New Mexico and about the uses and benefits of herbs."
The Herb Growers Association, which NMSU helped form in June 2005, received a $10,000 grant from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to promote herb production statewide, Martin said. Apart from organizing the herbal expo, the association used some funds to conduct a statewide survey of herb production.
"The survey allowed us to gather base data on what's currently being produced in New Mexico and determine what assistance growers need to increase and diversify production," Martin said.
The survey showed at least 60 producers grow herbs commercially in New Mexico, although dozens more raise herbs for self consumption, Martin said.
Most commercial producers are small-scale growers who raise a variety of crops. They generally devote only 1 or 2 acres to herbs, earning on average only between $1,500 and $4,000 from herb sales, Martin said.
"It shows there's a lot of room to increase production," he said. "Growers need more education about how to produce medicinal herbs, and most important, they need secure markets for their crops."
The herbal expo will help growers address those needs, said Katy Blanchard, president of the36-member Herb Growers Association.
"The expo is a cornerstone in our efforts to develop a local market," Blanchard said. "It will provide education on how to grow medicinal herbs while offering healthcare professionals more information about the quality, use and local availability of herbs. It also provides herb producers and users with a forum to network and share ideas."
The basic goal is to launch an ongoing dialogue among everybody, said Deborahlise Mota, head of the New Mexico chapter of the American Herbalist Guild.
"The herb industry is currently very disjointed," Mota said. "If we can bring alternative medicine practitioners together with herb growers and manufacturers to create long-term dialogue and networking opportunities, it will greatly strengthen the local herb industry."
The expo includes an all-day, indoor conference at Albuquerque's Indian Pueblo Cultural Center on producing and using medicinal and culinary herbs, Blanchard said.
Production workshops will cover identification and harvesting of wild herbs, organic production, plant selection and breeding to improve quality, use of native New Mexican hops for culinary and medicinal products, and research on domestic production of Chinese medicinal herbs.
"Clinical" workshops will cover herbs that prevent colds and flu, aromatherapy and essential oils, guidelines on using herbs for pediatric care of infants and children, and the medicinal value and preparation of four common native herbs that include algerita, yerba mansa, mallow and chaparral.
The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June25. It concludes with a panel discussion by growers, herbalists and healthcare professionals on developing business partnerships to replace out-of-state and foreign herb supplies with local products.
An all-day, outdoor vendor fair in the Cultural Center plaza will include about 40 booths that highlight a range of products, including raw and processed herbs, culinary herbs, and herbal soaps, tinctures and ointments.
The conference costs $40 dollars. The vendor fair is free.
For more information on workshops, call (505) 247-HERB. For information on the fair, call (505) 638-0306.
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