Herbal Seed Suppliers and Nurseries:
Ethical Sources for Medicinal Seeds & Plants
By Meghan Gemma and Juliet Blankespoor
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
The freshest medicine on the planet comes right from our own backyards and gardens. When we grow a personal apothecary of herbs, we have an immense and intimate relationship with their quality and integrity. For this reason, starting with healthy seeds and organically-nurtured living plants is paramount!
What constitutes a healthy seed source for medicinals, you might be wondering? Here are some key terms used to describe different types of seeds and plants, and how they relate to herbs in particular.
Heirloom seeds come from old-time stock; their ancestors were typically pre-WWII varieties that have been handed down for generations. Heirlooms are typically regional varieties, with specific traits that have been hand-selected over the years. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated and their characteristics typically remain stable (true to seed) from season to season. Heirloom varieties are more common in the vegetable and livestock realm as compared to medicinal and culinary plants. Many herbs have a long history of cultivation, with seeds being handed down over generations. Still, there are few named regional varieties—or recognized heirloom varieties—of herbs.
Open-pollinated seeds are pollinated by insects, wind, birds, and other natural forces without human intervention. These seeds are generally easy to save and come up true to type. Almost all herbal seeds being sold are open-pollinated.
Hybrid seeds are the result of cross-pollinating two species or two varieties (within a species) to produce a desired combination of characteristics. Hybridization happens naturally in many plant groups (genera), and humans have been breeding plants for desired traits for millennia. Don’t confuse hybrid seeds for GMO seeds! They are in no way the same.
There are some wonderful hybrids out there; just keep in mind they are not true to seed from year to year, compared to open-pollinated seeds. If you save seed from a hybrid plant, there’s no telling what the traits of its offspring will be, but it’s likely that they won’t have the traits of its parent plant. You generally won't find herbal seeds that are hybridized but sometimes potted herbs are hybrids.
Cultivars, short for cultivated varieties, are the result of hybridization, selection, or natural mutation. Cultivars typically need to be propagated asexually (through division or cuttings) to remain true to type. This is why it’s better to purchase starts (little potted plants that have been divided) of mint varieties like peppermint or chocolate mint than grow them from seed—the offspring typically won’t have the same desired characteristics as the parent plant. You’ll end up with a mint mutt if you plant it from seed!
GMO (genetically modified) seeds have had their genes modified in a laboratory setting to produce desired qualities through practices like gene-splicing. It’s still unclear what the long-term ramifications of GMOs will be, but concerns include loss of genetic biodiversity (GMO’s can cross-pollinate with other plants) and impacts on ecology and animal health, including humans, insects, and so on.
You probably don’t need me to digress on the importance of cultivating seed sovereignty or on the dangers of mega-corporations taking control of our seeds—patenting them, modifying them, controlling their distribution, etc.
But I will say this: channeling our money to ethical, organic, and sustainable seed savers is no small thing in this era of big agribusiness.
The seed companies and herbal nurseries queued up in these lists (we’ve got one for you too, Canada!) primarily use organic methods or source from organic farms (even if they’re not “certified organic”). That said, you’ll need to vet each source yourself; some seed sellers offer both conventionally grown and organic seeds. Some are well-established businesses with plenty of herbal street cred, while others are smaller, newer additions to local growing scenes across the country.
Many of these companies ship internationally, but if you prefer to keep things local, we encourage you to seek out suppliers in your area (you’ll notice we’ve also created a separate list for small-scale and regional suppliers in the United States). And on that note, keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list.
Did we miss an all-star supplier? It’s likely the omission was not intentional! Let us know in the Comments section at the end of this article.
P.S. If you’ve got questions about herb gardening, we have a growing library of posts on our blog devoted to cultivating medicinal herbs. Here are some of the crowd favorites:
Herbal Seed Suppliers & Nurseries in the United States
A cooperatively-owned seed and garden supply company based in Maine. Offers a wide variety of medicinal and culinary herbs, native plants, and edible shrubs and trees. Specializes in cold-hardy varieties. They also have a great herbal seed planting guide.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Large selection of seeds and plants, with organic options. A great go-to site for general farm supply needs, with garden tools, soil amendments, etc.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Many organic seeds, plants, and soil amendments; large selection of garden tools, and seed starting and growing supplies.
Prairie Moon Nursery
My favorite resource for native plants of the eastern and central United States. Their website has loads of germination and cultivation info, super affordable prices, organically grown plants (although not certified), and the company is cooperatively owned.
Southern Exposure Seeds
Heirloom varieties, with an emphasis on varieties that perform well in the mid-Atlantic and southeast United States. Their website has a great list of various growing guides and resources.
Strictly Medicinal Seeds
Formerly known as Horizon Herbs, this Oregon-based business has the largest collection of organically grown medicinal herb seeds and plants. One of my go-to’s for over two decades. Check out the detailed propagation profiles on their website!
Small-Scale and Regional Suppliers in the United States
Black Locust Gardens
A medicinal herb farm and nursery located in Dexter, MI. Sells classic medicinal herb starts and a small number of medicinal shrubs throughout the growing season. Plants can be ordered online, but must be picked up in person. Becoming certified organic in Spring 2019.
Herb nursery located outside Athens, Ohio. Offers many varieties of common and exotic herb plants, as well as over 200 varieties of seed, most of which they grow themselves using environmentally-friendly methods.
Crimson Sage Medicinal Plants Nursery
Extensive selection of rare and endangered live medicinal plants, including plants from the Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, along with many hard-to-find Native American and European herbs. Certified organic. Small, woman-owned business based in northwest California.
Friends of the Trees Botanicals
Medicinal herb seeds wildcrafted or grown with organic methods in the Pacific Northwest.
Garden Medicinals and Culinaries
Cooperatively-owned company that sells a large selection of ecologically grown, open-pollinated medicinal seeds (some certified organic). Based in Virginia.
The Grower’s Exchange
Sells rare herb plants (non-GM); not a source for seeds. Based in Virginia.
The Good Seed Co.
Regionally adapted heirloom and open-pollinated non-GMO seeds including medicinal herbs, vegetables, and flowers selected for their homestead and permaculture value. Based in Whitefish, Montana.
Harding’s Wild Mountain Herbs
Offers seeds and rootlets for cultivating American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Based in Maryland.
The Herb Farm at Midsummer Farm
A certified organic medicinal and native plant nursery based in Warwick, NY. Only open on specific dates throughout the growing season. Check their website for details.
Hudson Valley Seed Co.
Certified organic, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds (herbs, flowers, and vegetables). Based in New York.
Medicinal plant nursery based in Portland, OR, that features a great selection of traditional and native herbs.
A wonderful small seed company that regularly sells out! Certified organic medicinal herb seeds and organically-raised live plants. Based in Vermont.
The botanical garden of Joe Hollis, who moonlights as an instructor here at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Seeds and bare root plants available by mail—specializing in Appalachian and Chinese medicinal herbs. It may be harder to procure seeds from Mountain Gardens than other suppliers but the quality and mind-boggling selection is worth the extra work! Based in North Carolina.
A botanical sanctuary and biodynamic herb nursery based in North Carolina—plant starts can be shipped cross-country or picked up in person.
The Thyme Garden Herb Co.
Organically grown, non-GMO culinary and medicinal herb seeds and live plants. Based in Oregon.
True Love Seeds
Offers rare, open-pollinated, culturally important herb, flower, and vegetable seeds. All of their farmers are committed to seed sovereignty and sustainable agriculture. Based in Philadelphia, PA.
Useful Plants Nursery
The permaculture-based nursery started by Chuck Marsh, legendary teacher and permaculturist who has soared on from his earthly body. Specializing in useful, phytonutritional food and medicine plants well-adapted to the southern Appalachian mountains and surrounding bioregions.
Herbal Seed Suppliers & Nurseries in Canada
A family-owned company in Barrhead, AB. Sells a variety of open-pollinated, non-GMO medicinal herb seeds, as well as vegetable, flower, and grain seeds.
Raven Song Seeds
Small seed business located on Vancouver Island, BC that specializes in organically-grown medicinal herbs, with a selection of culinary herbs, flowers, veggies, and garlic.
Canadian nursery offering a huge selection of herb seeds and plants, including rare or hard to find herbs. Sells rare cultivars. Based in Toronto.
Salt Spring Seeds
Heirloom seeds including culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, vegetables, grains, and pollinator plants.
Looking for more blog articles about medicinal herb cultivation?
Remember, we’ve got a wheelbarrow-full of herb gardening and seed starting resources on the blog. Come on over to browse, pick up our personal gardening tips, and learn about our can’t-live-without garden medicinals.
Don’t have a garden?
Porches, patios, and sunny windowsills are all prime time real estate for the herb gardener. Take a wink at our Container Gardening Hub for a collection of resources that will have you growing potted plants like a pro.
Meet Our Contributors:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.
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