Second Place Winner: Beyond Lavender and Echinacea

With the beginnings of modern medicine, the rise of technology and the development of the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, America wholeheartedly endorsed the concept of “better living through chemistry.” The use of natural products fell dramatically. Now, as concerns about the environment and the long-term adverse effects of all this chemistry grow, many people are beginning to seek simpler, healthier and more natural lifestyles.

With this quest, the availability and use of herbs and herbal products has skyrocketed. In coming years, as we move away from viewing herbs from only culinary and gardening viewpoints, herbs will become increasingly mainstream, and may well return to their time-honored status in the household.

In stark contrast to 20 years ago, supermarkets now stock cilantro and lemongrass in the produce section next to traditional culinary herbs like parsley and mint. The garden departments of home improvement chains offer Thai basil as well as echinacea and several varieties of lavender for home gardens. Once available only at health food stores, Echinacea cough drops, herbal cold remedies, and herbal skin lotions now are available at supermarkets, drug stores and on the Internet. Herbal essential oils enhance shampoos, baby products contain calendula and chamomile extracts, and dishwashing, laundry, and housecleaning products feature lavender and tea tree oils.

Over the next 20 years, rosemary, oregano and garlic will remain popular, but I predict more creative uses of culinary herbs, like bay leaves in custards and puddings, or fresh cilantro in fish and vegetable dishes. Hotter varieties of peppers, chiles and other warm spices will show up in green markets, or freeze-dried for winter use. Freshly grated ginger will accent more dishes and convert many to its healing properties as a tea. White tea will compete with green tea and pomegranate as the refreshing antioxidant beverage of choice.

Specific to health, will andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) become the new echinacea as we hunt for new ways to guard against stress, aging and the effects of pollution?  Skirmishes likely will increase between pharmaceuticals and botanicals over efficacy and standardization, but I expect a gradual, steady integration of herbal medicine and its preventive and supportive elements with allopathic medicine. Adaptogens will come under increased scrutiny as scientific research focuses on immune system enhancement, particularly alternatives to antibiotics. And while herbal producers will continue to make single extracts of herbs, they will also combine more Ayurvedic and Asian herbs with traditional European and Native American herbs. Manufacturers will use technology to vary and improve herbal products, marketing herbal soft gels, for example, as an alternative to alcohol tinctures.

Concerns about global warming and the greening of society will renew our interest in nature and will foster deeper interest in botanical gardens as well as sustainable backyard and container gardens. In the garden, planting seeds will rival planting nursery stock for adding herbs to the landscape. Hanging baskets, buckets of herbs and windowsill gardens will appeal to those in small spaces or with limited land use who want fresh herbs. Scented gardens for relaxation will enhance public gardens, and herb gardens for children will appear in school yards as nature studies are added to the school curriculum.

Herb books will continue to be published as interest in herbal housekeeping grows exponentially, along with children’s gardens, herbal landscaping, herbal pet care, herbal legends and lore, and family herbal remedies. More significantly, the Internet will burgeon with herbal information on websites, blogs and social-networking groups as technology makes ancient knowledge increasingly accessible and helps with the rapid spread of new information to increasing numbers of people worldwide.  

Our future, indeed, may well be an herbal one.

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