The herbal sector of the industry has a number of notable women whose long-term commitment and expertise along with their inclusive and consensus-building management styles have significantly impacted the growth and development of the botanical product category. One of the women in this sector has one way or another had impact on every herbal product manufacturer through her extensive work with AHPA as well as the example set by her boutique herbal company, Herbalist & Alchemist. You may not know Beth Lambert, but you should.
1) How did you connect with David Winston, founder of H & A? How did you get from your traditional career path in the financial world to running H&A? What personal/professional transitions did you need to make?
It is a bit of a story. After graduating from HarvardBusinessSchool, I had a very successful Wall Street Career. But I left to follow my interest in environmentally based businesses. For years I had made money for clients whose products were made without consideration for sustainability or the environment. Having met some environmental pioneers in the Permaculture movement in the late 1980s, I resolved that the next part of my life would be dedicated to making products that were healthy, “closer to the earth” and sustainable. How life changes! Before I knew it, I was running a Permaculture publishing company and a community supported farm and teaching at Rutgers. One of my farming partners, who was taking David’s 2 year herbal studies program, introduced me to David. He was looking for some advice on his herbal products company. And after reviewing the business, I joined the company as his business partner; the rest, as they say, is history…
The personal/professional transitions were quite dramatic when I look back on them. As many who move from a corporate to an entrepreneurial environment, my lifestyle changed. No more first class airplane seats or 5 star hotels. I moved from the city to rural NJ. My business trips became visits to farms and sustainable communities; my social network became organic farmers and educators. Serious improvements in my cooking skills and a crash course in gardening/farming were in order. Many of my former colleagues did not understand my choices, but my real friends from my days in the “Ivy Leagues” & “financial world” are still friends and we continue to share our life journeys. But along the way I have met many wonderful like-minded people who work to make the world a better place. And I found time to have a social life, meet my husband and spend time with my horse, dogs & cats. Plus, having obtained a bit of success as an entrepreneur, every once in a while I can enjoy some of the things I had taken for granted, such as a great restaurant or a nice vacation.
2) You were board chair of AHPA for several years and have been a member for many years. Please talk about how your trade association involvement benefits your company.
What a fantastic group of people! My fellow Board members have really given me a welcome perspective on our industry. The ability to work through issues with people with different points of view really helps one to understand why people take what might otherwise seem to be a difficult to understand position. Other benefits:
- Incredible Staff-Michael, Tony, Steven, Devon, Karen and those who have been there before. I really have not found a question they cannot answer. They are always on top of industry issues. Their connections to government and other industry leaders are invaluable.
- The realization that companies, who are committed to quality no matter what their size, have a lot in common.
- An appreciation for the range of companies who make up our industry. Large & small. Fully integrated companies, growers, marketers, manufacturers, international. Traditional. Analytical.
- Great resources: Analytical labs, consultants, lawyers. We get a chance to meet them, in many instances through the Educational Committee Seminars, hear them and evaluate their abilities before hiring. Very effective.
- Industry issues-gives depth and perspective to what one reads.
- Work together to get our issues heard and addressed
- Hearing about industry challenges from my peers and how they address them.
It takes an investment of time, but it has yielded wonderful returns.
I would repeat all of the same comments about the National Animal Supplement Council, run by Bill Bookout. They are a fabulous resource for companies making products marketed for animals.
3) What is the state of wildcrafting these days - is there still a lot of concern about over harvesting? How is H&A addressing the problems?
- First, we recognize that there is a problem
- We work on our relationships with collectors. All of our purchase orders include harvesting guidelines. We require documented certificates of harvesting practices
- We work with and support farmers, especially organic farmers, who are trying to make a right livelihood cultivating botanicals
- We participate in AHPA tonnage survey because we source directly from many growers and gatherers who are not AHPA members. We support the industry efforts to develop and maintain statistics of commercial usage.
- We are members & supporters of organizations who keep watch on this issue such as the United Plant Savers
- We limit use of or discontinue some threatened or endangered species. And we inform our customers why, so that they try to act responsibly in their use of botanicals. Nature has provided us with many alternatives.
- We support the work that AHPA does with US Fish & Wildlife to identify threatened populations. And we follow AHPA trade recommendations.
4) Botanicals are particular targets for negative studies and media coverage. What are your thoughts for addressing that problem?
(Deep sigh!) It has been discouraging to be in a business where one has a commitment to integrity and health and find those who would be our critics have very often not come close to that standard. The bad news gets reported. The fact that there are issues with quality, preparation form, and/or dosage amount of the product used in the study never gets the same level of attention. And believe it or not, there are positive studies! They just do not seem to get the same level of press coverage. Our industry suffers from the same problem as many– good news is no news, bad news sells newspapers
One of the major challenges is traditional medicine itself. Most well trained herbal practitioners treat individuals, not diseases; therefore the same condition may call for different botanical combinations depending on the constitution, age, and sex of the individual. So study design poses tremendous challenges.
I guess if I am pressed… the best ways to address the problem are:
- Better design of studies. The researchers should be brave and add a qualified herbalist to the design team. They should ask for advice on dosage and preparation form.
- Set product specifications and insist on quality review.
- Set some parameters on the individuals qualified for the review that reflect the traditional use of the botanical.
5) Some have said that the changing regulatory environment presents a problem for smaller companies who might not have the scale to compete. How would you respond?
- It is expensive to make the commitment to meet not only GMP’s, but all regulations, however if one wants to be in business; it is a reality
- Many companies may need to re-examine their business model
- I see it as an opportunity for us, especially in manufacturing. With the breadth of our product line, we already sell some of our extract products to other manufacturers to supplement their lines. There is an additional opportunity for us to take on more manufacturing projects for others.
- Small companies need to get involved; read regulations; hire help if you need it. I know we had to. All through the regulatory process, we worked with AHPA to make comments to the FDA about our needs; the trade association has the clout to get them noticed. I feel that we were heard and that we have been able to manage our expectations and direct our investments to meet these challenges. We still must listen to our colleagues in the industry and share best practices. Keep up on enforcement issues. AHPA has some fabulous educational seminars.
- I truly believe there will always be a demand for high quality products.
6) What differentiates Herbalist & Alchemist and the few other “boutique” herbal companies from the mainstream manufacturers?
Believe it or not, once a quarter our staff meets to discuss this question.
- First on the list is, always, David Winston RH (AHG), our company president, Herbalist & Alchemist’s founder and my business partner. David is unique in our industry. An internationally known lecturer, author and ethnobotanist, for over 35 years David has been studying, practicing, teaching and researching Cherokee, Chinese and Western herbal medicine. There are very few other individuals with the depth of his knowledge about both the traditional and scientific uses of botanicals. It is from this knowledge base that he has developed our formulas and extraction processes.
- Next is our wonderful Relationship with Rutgers University During the time I was an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers, I worked with many talented up and coming young stars that are now in key positions in the University. Having access to a multi-million dollar lab for identity confirmation, knowledgeable experts in food processing and marketing and great scientists who are doing research with botanicals such as blueberry and cranberry, is invaluable.
- Of course, our Products, which include unique formulas developed by David Winston based on his knowledge of plant energetics. Our extracts are made using spageric alchemical processing and our extraction methods are based both on David’s research and research projects we have done with Rutgers.
- The Ingredients we use are an integral part of these products and are mainly sourced directly from organic farmers or experienced gatherers, some of whom I have known from my experience as a farmer and work with the Permaculture community.
Breadth of our product line
- We manufacture over 250 herbal products including formulas, extracts, teas, oils, ointments, and are pioneering solid extracts.
- Our BIO-SPECIFIC™ product formulation process is based on knowledge of the chemistry, character and energetics of plants.
- Experienced herbalists carefully examine every shipment of herbs to evaluate quality and validate species. Most plants arrive whole, fresh and are easily identified.
- Skilled lab techs meticulously sort all batches of herbs, garbling or removing inferior parts such as woody stems or yellowed leaves.
- Formulation Standards are an integral part of assuring a superior extract. Herbs that lose activity upon drying are always extracted fresh. Conversely, the dried forms of many bitter, pungent or acrid herbs produce a more energetically-vibrant extract. Certain herbs need extensive cooking before alcohol is added to produce a vital extract. Other herbs must be hydrolyzed to release their activity.
o We use Certified Organic, USP Pharmaceutical Grade Alcohol in our herbal extracts.
o Our unique alchemical extraction process based on traditional herbal practices of China, India and Egypt.
Quality Control & Good Manufacturing Practices
- We have been committed to Quality Control and Good Manufacturing practices for years. Documentation training for all of our staff started with courses jointly funded by our Company and the NJ Department of Labor.
· Committed To Preserving Our Environment- Our business decisions reflect our commitment to improving & preserving our planet as we provide the highest quality herbal products
· Dedicated To Education
o We sponsor an ongoing Educational Seminar Program given by experienced herbalists.
o Staff members are available for store or practitioner training.
o Our selected educational materials – cds, tapes and books – are available to support herbal education.
o David Winston is a noted author and teaches a 2 year herbal studies course.
o I am working with the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association to develop a tele-seminar program for veterinary practitioner education about botanicals that will begin in February.
o As Chair of AHPA’s Educational Committee, our committee determines the topics and content of AHPA’s industry educational teleseminars.
7) You mentioned plant energetics and spageric alchemical processing. Can you describe these?
o Plant Energetics really means the intrinsic characteristic of the botanical. The 2 most important areas knowledge of energetics comes into play:
§ Selection of the form and part of a botanical (raw material) used in an extract. For example, we make 3 different extract from the nettle plant: nettle leaf extract, nettle root extract and nettle seed extract. Optimal harvest time for each part is very different. Spring for the leaf, late summer for the seed and fall for the root. All have different uses. Also as noted above, herbs that lose activity upon drying are always extracted fresh. Conversely, the dried forms of many bitter, pungent or acrid herbs produce a more energetically-vibrant extract.
§ Selection of which botanical extracts to use to balance a formula. For example, in our Bitters Formula,David has chosen Dandelion, Gentian and Artichoke because they are bitter tonics which stimulate the stomach, liver and pancreas which in turn increase absorption of nutrients via the small intestine. He balances them with Peppermint, a classic carminative for enhancing digestion and preventing gas, and then adds Angelica and Orange Peel which are warming stimulants to build digestive functions.
o Our unique spageric alchemical extraction process is based on traditional herbal practices of China, India and Egypt. During alchemical extraction we calcine the plant residues. This concentrates the essential minerals of the plant. Other companies discard the plant residue in the preparation of simple tinctures, losing the essential minerals which are not soluble in alcohol. When we rejoin our calcined minerals with the liquid extract, the result is a product that contains the full spectrum of the plant's nutrients.
8) What “best practices” can other companies learn from yours? How did these best practices evolve?
- Invest in your employees with continual training. Most of our employees have taken David’s 2 year class. Many attend management training classes or technical classes at our local universities or other educational venues.
- Never neglect basic business practices. Budgeting, accounting, inventory control, marketing, analysis, evaluation. In my first accounting class, the very first lesson has never left me…keep your eye on the cash!
- Quality Control again
- Don’t cut corners
- Our customers are using our products to help people or themselves; they are practitioners, health food stores, friends, colleagues. We never forget that. They deserve only honest information and integrity in working with them.
How did they evolve? In different ways. Some of these are David and my core values, but I have a weekly coordination meeting with key staff members. It takes time, but we have a chance to discuss short term issues and look at Company and personnel needs. We also have a quarterly “all staff” meeting to review accomplishments, goals and challenges. We are always looking for good solutions to our challenges. I also listen to my colleagues at our industry trade meetings.
9) Have your customer’s expectations of you changed over the past few years? How so?
Yes and no.
- They still expect the same level of quality products.
- They look to us for a diverse product line.
- They expect us to meet regulatory requirements
- Recent questions reflect their concerns about foreign sourcing; they want assurance our botanicals are from select suppliers and that we have confirmed our specifications, for example, through heavy metal testing.