Herb 'pesticide' offers cure for polluted soil

Wang Yong
Worried about pest attack on your vegetables or viral infection of your poultry? Forget pesticides or antibiotics. Try some herbal medicine.
Wang Yong

Worried about pest attack on your vegetables or viral infection of your poultry? Forget pesticides or antibiotics. Try some herbal medicine.

A major grower of Chinese chives in Qingdao, Shandong Province, has applied a special “pesticide” made of traditional Chinese medical herbs to dispel ground worms, freeing the earth from the harm of chemical pesticides, Qingdao Evening News reported last week. Chives grown with the help of this organic “pesticide” have found their way onto the dining tables in Japan and South Korea known for their meticulous attention to food safety, the report said.

Wang Fengnuan, chairman of a local vegetable collective in Qingdao who specializes in growing chives, told the newspaper that he had been inspired by the way local people bathed in water sprayed with certain medical herbs that killed fleas. He then worked with herbal medicine experts in 2006 to develop an organic “pesticide” for chives. Initial costs were high, he recalled, as only 16 mu (about 1 hectare) of arable land was set aside for tests. But now such organic “pesticides” have been used in 200 mu of land to help achieve a production of unpolluted chives at scale.

Also in Qingdao, a company has raised chicken since 1993, but it was not until last year that it had come up with an idea to improve the chicken immune system by feeding them chrysanthemum instead of antibiotics. Another company has added mulberry leaves, among other medical herbs, in its feeds to enhance chicken’s health. The recipe has been awarded a national patent. Eggs laid by these medical-herbs-raised chicken contain no harmful residuals typical of the use of drugs.

The above cases in Qingdao testify to the ascent of TCM-agriculture across China over the past few years, in which scientists and farmers work together to apply traditional Chinese medicine to prevent pest or viral attacks on crops or poultry. Overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizer in many parts of the country’s farmlands, such as that for rice and cotton, has hurt the quality of soil. Chinese medical herbs may not be a panacea to farmland pollution, but they have rekindled people’s hope for at least treating soil as part of “us,” not something to be exploited and hurt.

As American farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry writes in his book “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture,” there are two opposite kinds of mind toward farmland: One of an exploiter, another of a nurturer. “The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care,” he explains.

Be it in the US or in China, overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizer, especially in the past few decades, has unwittingly increased crop or poultry output at the expense of soil quality or animal health. That’s not what an old-fashioned farmer was supposed to do. A traditional farmer would nurture the land the way he would himself — let everything grow naturally.

A National People’s Congress investigation last year found that chemical pesticides and fertilizers did far more harm to the countryside than various kinds of rubbish. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers can lead to soil acidification and heavy metal pollution, let alone crop and poultry contamination.

The poet Edwin Muir says: Men are made of what is made. We have the right to be organically made, not chemically constructed.

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