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Herbal Expo keynote speaker calls New Mexico 'herb central'

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico is "herb central" according to a leader in the nation's herbal industry who will be the keynote speaker at the New Mexico Herbal Expo Sunday, June 24, at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

The event, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., is being presented by the New Mexico Herb Growers Association with support from New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

"Speaking from a national level, we consider New Mexico very important in our work," said Jean Giblette, director of the High Falls Gardens in Philmont, N.Y., a farm-based educational enterprise with a goal of advancing the practice of oriental medicine through cultivation of Asian medicinal plants.

"There is a good mix of people, the climate is very tolerant and it is one place that we have several different herbal traditions working together," she said. "It is very well positioned to take a leadership role nationally."

Historically, herbal medicine is a tradition in New Mexico's culture.

"New Mexico, as a state, is the one place in the country that has a tradition of herbal medicine. It's in people's memories. In the Hispanic and Native American communities, people remember their grandmothers going out and getting specific herbs and using them for the family's medicine. That is unique in the United States," she said.

In terms of state legislation, Giblette said New Mexico is "very forward thinking. It has one of the best state licensing laws for oriental medicine and for herbal medicine."

As a participant in the first Herbal Expo last year, Giblette said she was impressed that Miley Gonzales, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, was the keynote speaker.

"It was an amazing fact to have a state's secretary of agriculture speak to 150 people who are interested in herbs," she said. "He said we have to change policy at the state level so we can get more resources for specialty crops before it can ever happen at the national level. This made so much sense to me that there would have to be a number of states taking action first."

Giblette compliments New Mexico State University's work in promoting the herbal industry through its research at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

"I think the Alcalde facility is a jewel among the land-grant universities nationally," she said. "The fact that they have committed themselves to medicinal plants as a prime area of specialty crop research and as a possibility for sustainable farming is very forward thinking."

She sees an opportunity for farmers in many areas of the country to benefit from raising specialty crops such as herbs.

"Historically, in the Northeast (United States) we've never had large farms or been in commodity farming in a big way," Giblette said. "Farms have always been highly diversified operations. I feel this area is poised to come back to specialty crop growing in a big way and I would like the people here to listen to and follow New Mexico's lead. They have a lot to learn from New Mexico."

Giblette will be among several leaders in herbal and oriental medicine who will be presenting at the Herbal Expo. Among them will be Z'ev Rosenberg, doctor of oriental medicine and department chair of herbal medicine at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego; Althea Horthage-Orr, founder of the Chicago College of Healing Arts; and Roy Upton, executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of quality control standards in botanical products.

Event organizers encourage growers, vendors and anyone providing a service that involves herbs, such as massage therapy, aromatherapy or body and skin care using herbal products, as well as users of such services, to attend the conference. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is at 2401 12th Street N.W. in Albuquerque.