Herbs for the Himalayas
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Cathy Lee
Posted on: August 15, 2000

I have just returned from working in Humla in the far northwestern corner of Nepal. It is high (9000 to 12000 feet) and dry there with little irrigation -- snow in the winter. The people I met were interested in growing some medicinal herbs as a cash crop and I am wondering if you would have any suggestions for extrememly hardy, cold resistant herbs that would have a high enough commercial value to make their work worthwhile. I was reading your catalogue and saw the writeup for Roseroot -- Rhodiola Rosea -- Sedum Rosea -- and wondered if that would be a likely candidate. The people in Humla are very poor; many of them can only grow enough food for six months of the year so they desparately need to earn some cash to feed themselves. I am hoping that you can point us in a likely direction. I am including in this email an article I wrote about Humla so you can get an idea about the situation there. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Roseroot may work but we have no information on how well it would do in elevated areas. Our species of Rhodiola is mostly associated with maritime regions along the northern coasts of North America, Europe and Asia. This is, however, at least one Tibetan species used in Tibetan medicine which may be better suited for Humla. There are other Tibetan herbs that could also be looked at.

A key problem with any growing medicinal herb as a cash crop is marketing. The medicinal herbs market is not easily accessed, even by growers in the West. Very often it is a matter of hard work to find buyers for your product, and those buyers frequently are thousands of kilometers away. How, then, would the Humla farmers manage to market their product?

It may make some sense to look at herbs that are used in the region where there may be easier access to local markets. Certainly there are some Tibetan herbs that could be grown, but it would require some research to find out what herbs are in short supply or expensive to acquire in the region.

T.J. Tsarong has written several books on Tibetan herbs and Tibetan medicines. One of them is called "Handbook of Traditional Tibetan Drugs." Unfortunately, I do not recall who the publisher is, but you may have some luck searching for Tsarong’s books on the Internet.

Thank you for sending your interesting article about life in Humla. Coincidentially, I am trying to raise some money to bring a Tibetan teacher to the Mustang region of Nepal where the Tibetan culture is disappearing. The government does not support Tibetan as a medium of instruction. We are trying to raise enough to pay a teacher a very modest (by Western standards!) salary to teach. I am doing this in my function as coordinator of the Gaden Relief Projects (http://www.gadenrelief.org). This project is not one of the official GRP projects as of August 2000, but we are already actively seeking supporters for the project.

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