We’re often asked to respond to questions and comments about herb prices, the most common which is “They cost too much.” Since the price of our granular services rose by a couple of pennies last week, our first change in three years, I thought it would be a great opportunity to briefly address this oft-posited and misunderstood concern.
The fact of the matter is that all costs associated with Chinese herbs have risen in recent years, a nexus of economic, political and environmental factors. A recent visit to China brought me face to face with these issues, as well as the profound integrity in the farming, preparation, and processing of the high quality raw and granular herbs we stock here at Great Wave. In many ways a first-hand confirmation, new meaning was given to notions of cost versus value in the world of Chinese herbs - concepts easily overlooked by practitioners not daily involved in their purchase or trade.
While inflation rates in China dropped just slightly during the first half of this year, the unusually high increases over the past few have meant more expensive goods of all types, hikes in related material costs, thus greater and more fair pay for workers from sectors Agriculture to Export (something we should be very, very happy about).
As of this time last year, the prices of 80 percent of the most frequently used herbs in mainland China had skyrocketed. Ren Shen, one of our most valuable clinical ingredients, increased 300 percent. In an interview last May, a division chief for the The Jian City Committee of Agriculture pointed out that the price of Ren Shen seeds had jumped to 280 Yuan (US$43) from 150 Yuan (US$23) since the previous autumn.
Difficult to accept but not entirely surprising is human intemperance: aggressive speculation by those with great means resulting in stockpiling (more commonly called “hoarding”), a practice by which certain herbs are sold only when prices have risen after forced and protracted scarcity. Industry experts believe the drastic price fluctuations are being driven in large part by manipulative business practices such as these.
It was once the case that most all the best quality herbs in China were channeled to the export market for a higher return, but changes in taxation have resulted in greater costs to those exporting goods, meaning less of the best is leaving its shores. A source with one of our primary raw suppliers suspects other trends are also affecting availability, such as the increasing popularity of medicinal wines - a smaller but burgeoning industry in China fueled by numerous books and other media on the subject. High on the list of herbs in these products are ones like Ren Shen, Gou Qi Zi and Dang Shen.
The fallen Dollar hardly needs mention, but the snapshot below well illustrates the situation. It covers the same timeframe as the inflation chart above.
Bearing cause alongside these economic factors are the unsettling and [immediately] ungovernable ecological transformations racking the home of our world’s very best herbs: devastating cycles of drought and flood that we’ve all come to know through consistent reportage.
The good news is that Chinese herbs still aren’t expensive when compared to other dietary supplements, the FDA category by which Chinese herbs are governed in the US. Nonetheless, practitioners are blustering. Eric Brand of Legendary Herbs mentions that “Everyone you talk to is in a state of panic over the future of herbal prices. Demand and prices have been steadily rising for years, but the sudden doubling and tripling of prices on essential items like ginseng has everyone in a tizzy because the end consumers cannot handle an overnight doubling of prices.” These kinds of worries on the part of well meaning practitioners are certainly understandable, but perhaps it’s time to more fully reevaluate our work.
Not unlike gasoline in this country, we have enjoyed artificially low prices far too long, leading some to casually speak of our most powerful clinical tool as “cheap”. Many of you sent questions and comments about a photo I posted last year during a visit to Mayway’s Hebei processing and manufacturing facility (see below), in which sixteen workers carefully separate “good and bad” Bai Zi Ren seeds before they are sent to the Western market. These comments were refreshingly congruent with the idea that the true value of herbs is inseparable from the motivations that are supposed to shape our practice. In the words of one responder, “I shuddered at the thought of a comment I made to a friend last week over a pricey post-dinner espresso, that I would never spare any expense to keep ‘the most well-crafted, sustainable, fair-trade coffee in my kitchen for everyday use.’ “
Thanks again for reading,
© Great Wave, LLC, 2012