Randy Buresh, co-founder of Oregon’s Wild Harvest, became interested in traditional herbal medicine during his 20-year career as a registered surgical nurse. He noticed a pattern of unnecessary surgeries and pharmaceutical side effects and knew there had to be a better way. He started dabbling in herbs, making tinctures and studying Native American medicine. After seeing results when treating his family and pets with herbs, he thought, “This stuff really works!”
Randy and his wife Pam were determined to do things right from the very beginning. When they started OWH in 1994 in their garage, they committed to ensuring the highest level of quality in plant material for their products, whether they grew the plants or bought them.
It’s not about the profit margin, it’s about growing herbs sustainably in the United States. We’re big non-GMO seed collectors, too. My goal is to make sure these seeds are here for my kids and grandkids. You care for the land, protect the soil, and save the seeds. You do that, and you’ve done your job. That’s all there is to it.
A Family Business
Pam runs the business end of things, leaving Randy to do what he is passionate about: farming, making medicine, and teaching others about herbs.
“We started out with twelve encapsulated herbs. I went to clinics and schools; my wife was off to health food stores with the baby on her back. We haven’t stopped since.”
These days, the entire family works on the farm in some capacity. One of their sons, Adam, is the farm manager. Dylan, the other son, manages the office. Even the grandkids are pitching in.
In 2014, after Oregon’s Wild Harvest outgrew their farm in Sandy, OR, they moved to a beautiful farm overlooking the Crooked River in Culver, OR. The 47,000 square foot production facility is located in Redmond, OR. About half of the employees moved with them.
“It humbled me,” says Randy, “to know that they sold their homes and uprooted their families to come with us.”
OWH grows nearly 40% of the herbs used in their products on their 284-acre farm, with a goal of 60%. For the outsourced herbs, such as eleuthero root, rhodiola root, and schisandra berry (see Josef Brinckmann’s interview about the FairWild panda-friendly schisandra project), OWH has developed a network of organic growers with the same values and standards.
“We grow what we can, and responsibly source the rest. Sustainability is so important. If we don’t take care of the plants and protect them, they’re not going to be around for long. Because of overharvesting in the wild, goldenseal, black cohosh, ginseng and echinacea are at risk. It’s important that we do our part. We finally have 3-4 rows of Ginseng growing. We have about 5 acres of Goldenseal in Sandy to transplant on a farm over by the coast.”
Biodynamic Farming and Our Connection to the Plants
Organic farming methods address the biological factors that influence a farm. Biodynamic farming goes beyond that by paying close attention to the dynamic spiritual and metaphysical influences on the farm. Biodynamic farming is a model of agricultural sustainability. It is more labor intensive than organic farming. Growing and harvesting is very hands-on. OWH has dedicated 137 acres of their farm to grow 100% of the herbs used in their Biodynamic line.
Randy believes the extra work is worth it.
You become one with the farm. The farm becomes a reflection of who you are, and you become a reflection of the farm. I think the problem with our society is that we’ve lost the connection with the plants. We no longer understand the plants come from the earth, from the soil. The soil is the same as we are; it’s all interconnected. Biodynamic farming brings us a step closer to understanding how closely connected we are with the earth on all levels.
See our interview with HerbPharm manager Matt Dybala about their participation in the Regenerative Organic Certification program.
Whole Plant Medicine & Energetics
Randy believes in using whole plant medicine. “It goes clear back to the bible,” he says. “You can’t go wrong focusing on herbs that have been used for thousands of years. Whole herbs are balanced. Why mess with what nature has perfected?
“A lot of companies sell standardized extracts. They take plant material and isolate the so-called active constituents that are considered to be therapeutic. The process uses chemical solvents like acetone, benzene, carbon tetrachloride. But we get high quality plant material and process it properly in small batches from a whole to a powder into a capsule. We are delivering the same activity as the standardized extracts without having to run it through a solvent. And it works! Your body is going to produce the enzymatic constituents you need to assimilate the herb.
“We no longer understand that as a society. So that’s what we do, we try to clue everyone in. This is good stuff and it works well. And I think people are starting to get it. Look at our beautiful Ashwagandha field. If you hold the plant you can feel the energetics of it. I believe plants have a personality. They become a part of us, and they know what to do when they get inside of us. There are A-personality plants, B-personality plants, happy plants, sad plants, speed plants, slow plants and everything in between. The art of practicing herbal medicine is understanding that.”
OWH performs tests on all plant material that comes through the door. Heavy metal testing for lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc. are performed along with microbe testing for E.coli, salmonella, yeast and mold. Plant material is properly identified using organoleptic testing and microscopic observation. The company undergoes annual inspections by the FDA, USDA and Oregon Tilth. Product labels must be approved by the FDA as well.
“We do a lot of research,” says Randy, “looking up clinical trials and other research in order to prove that our label claims are backed by science. It is really interesting to find scientific data that supports what I’ve known all along.”
One of the reasons OWH does so well with their inspections is that the company has been focused on quality control from the very beginning.
Sarah Snyder, food scientist, is part of the Quality Control team. Sarah’s job also involves making the herbs more palatable. The goal is to keep the natural flavor of the herb, but balance the it with complementary flavors. Lavender, vanilla, and peppermint are flavors they commonly use to balance a bitter or astringent formula. In other words, she makes the bad stuff taste good!
“Sometimes I still pinch myself. We did it. How’d we get here, you know? It’s working. It’s always been about making good medicine. Never compromise that. Never cut corners. Do the very best you can. And it is all about love, doing it from the heart. Everyone who works for us has that same feeling. We’re totally invested in this. Because this is very important.”