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Su Bristow Plants

Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian on June 12th 2015. Gone are the days when intrepid plant-hunters could plunder the resources of the world and give nothing back.


Su Bristow plants

Sticks of cinnamon

It’s not just about decorative flowers for our gardens, or food plants like potatoes and corn, or even straightforward herbs and spices like cinnamon, vanilla or nutmeg.

These days, there is big money to be made from extracting constituents from plants, or using genetic material, to make all sorts of things from new drugs to pesticides – and who knows what next?

Su Bristow Plants

By Winfried Bruenken (Amrum) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The first picture is of Hoodia gordonii, a beautiful desert species in Namibia. It’s been used traditionally for time out of mind by the local tribespeople, to suppress hunger cravings on long hunting trips. Like a lot of plants growing in marginal environments, it contains some very interesting compounds, and you can imagine the potential market in the overweight western world. An appetite suppressant that bypasses the need for willpower? To the scouts from the drug companies, it was simply a cash cow.

Fortunes have already been made out of Hoodia, but not by the people who live where it grows

Its new celebrity brought them nothing but trouble as the prospectors moved in, annexing land, overcollecting plants, and attempting to secure exclusive rights to the profits.

It wasn’t until some concerned outsiders started to publicise this, and got legal representation for the tribespeople, that the rights of the indigenous people, and those of the fragile environment in which they – so far – have managed to live sustainably, began to be defined in law, let alone protected

Now, a portion of all profits goes to the region and its people. Of course, it’s a work in progress, as the Guardian article shows. And of course, new prosperity can bring its own problems, but it has to be better than being at the bottom of the exploitative food chain.

So it’s up to us to question where our miracle cures and quick fixes come from, and to make an informed decision about whether to buy into the process or not. Sometimes, the price is simply too high.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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