Ok, first, I want to make it really clear that this post isn’t a magic solution to the intense and complex reality of trying to source herbs, supplements and support with limited economic resources. I do wish I had that post. That would be the one celebrating the crumbled structures of white-colonial-capitalist-ableist economy and normalizing of poverty as an individual issue. May it be so.
In the mean time, the few things I have to share here are the result of collaborating with many folks through herbal consults on tight/fixed/non-existent budgets to try and get the most back for our bucks we could.
Sourcing herbs can be complicated, especially for those of us who are concerned about the process the herbs have taken to get to us. There are lots of considerations: where was this grown, on whose land, what chemicals may or may not have been used, how long has this sat on a warehouse shelf, were the herbs treated well during the drying/extraction process, were they treated well as they grew or harvested in eco-caring ways? Can I trust this larger company? Can I afford or source this local version? Supplements can be a similar struggle and while this post for sure isn’t about necessarily being able to answer these questions, being nutrient deficient and in pain/needing support doing the best we can with the resources we have, is great. Sourcing herbs in a culture that doesn’t actually value life isn’t easy. This post is less about those complications and more about how can we get the ball rolling when we are broke and need things to help us like supplements or herbal preparations because they have specific therapeutic supports we are seeking, which is a very valid place to start, specifically if managing multiple survival needs, health concerns, histories of trauma and/or marginalization, etc.
Before I get into the links to retail things (a few of which are affiliate/referral ones which are marked with *), let me share some free and low cost herbal clinic resources:
Herbalists Without Borders has a herbal clinic listing page HERE which lists them by region, both Domestic and International, many of whom will supply the herbs during the consultation for a donation, low cost or as part of the clinic visit, most of which are not online but in person visits
The above list is not likely not exhaustive and it could be possible to email a local herbalist in your community and see if they know about what local stuff might not be easy to find online (I’ve actually sent people herbs because they asked, mostly folks in shelters when I had herbs to dispense).
The only student led-instructor reviewed free herbal clinic that takes online and phone sessions that I am aware of is The Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine (full disclosure I have done/will do again a short teaching intensive there and so have seen it in person) and these sessions include the first round of herbs and I think some supplements. I have referred a few folks directly there and have seen some great results.
Railyard Apothecary will take a formula from a herbalist, make it up and ship it out for pretty reasonable rates, especially if you need capsules made or two or three different herbs in one tincture bottle, etc. They can blend up teas and have some vinegar and glycerine extracts (kava!) as well. An herbalist does need to call in the order but then they get back to you and verify and confirm cost as well. Their extracts are often about or lower cost than buying them from larger retailers online. If you know an herbalist local to your area, they might be able to support getting a formula filled through them after a consult.
Farmers markets: at the end of the day there are usually the culinary herb bundles hanging out which haven;t sold. A few times have approached someone in a booth and asked if they would cut a deal for what they had left, and usually, since cut fresh herbs do not travel and keep well for later sale the answer has been yes. I’ve gotten thyme, rosemary, oregano, dandelion leaves and others for $0.25-0.50 a bundle or a bag full for a couple bucks. I usually say, “hey, if you are open to a end of day deal, I might be able to take some of these herbs of your hands.” They think about it and say yes or no.
Buy in bulk with friends/family if that is possible. It is a little extra work but can make things more reasonable
If you have been told to get bitter herbs for digestion and other things but need to be strategic/make some tough money choices, chewing a bitter green can be supportive of digestion and help stimulate stomach acid production, like a head of radicchio for a couple bucks: super bitter, you can chew it while prepping food to get the digestion a little more active
Many of us could use magnesium supplementation, here is a safe, DIY version that can be less expensive than store bought stuff
Buying stuff online:
Ok, here is the fun system that a few folks I have served and I started experimenting with. It involves using a combination of cashback apps/services and sale/promo codes. Again, not a magic wand for being broke but can be helpful if you need to invest in some things and I wish I had known about these earlier than I did! Hence, sharing. (Some of these are affiliate links and I use any affiliate bonuses to support solidarity work I do with marginally housed folks, so thank you if you use one of these links!)
Step One: Sign up to get cash back
*EBATES: How did I not know about this sooner? Ebates is a cashback thing, you sign up for it online and link a PayPal account or they can send you a check with your cash back. If you use my links you get $10 in your account after your first purchase I think. After you make an account, they send you an email with a link to download it as an app on your phone (totally optional) and to install a plug in for chrome which will tell you whenever you visit a site they offer cashback for. It’s pretty awesome. I started ordering cat food/litter online and got cash back! They have triple and double cashback days, etc. They have some in-store options too. They work with a lot of stores and Etsy as well (which has a lot of dried herbs in small amounts as well as herbalist-made products. I basically wait to get one of their emails that says a good sale is on and then I try to maximize it if I have the room in my budget.
EBATES for sure is my favorite but I also downloaded *Ibotta and *TopCashBack as well because all three offer cashback for Vitacost, which I mention below. TopCashBack usually hovers around 6-9% cash back which is awesome.
Step Two: A Couple places with the best online deals:
iHerb.com: My favorite thing about *iHerb is that they ship for free at $20. That’s the lowest free shipping I have found and means that if you only need one thing or just a couple (especially if you are avoiding amazon like me or don’t have prime) you don’t have to keep adding things to your cart to get to a magical number for free shipping. They also have little internal cash back program for your own purchases that you can use to a future purchase. Unfortunately, iHerb doesn’t work with the cashback apps but they do offer 5% off as a referral thing, which you can access using any of my links here or with code: NPR844 at checkout.
Vitacost: This online retailer is my favorite for a few reasons:
Their prices rival that of any of the online sites usually comparable to Amazon prices as well
They frequently send out certain codes which combined with cashback apps can really help cut down the total costs, my favorite coupon codes are the ones for 20% off a food order of $50 because it includes many Starwest Botanical bulk herbs as ‘food,’ 12% off your entire order, 20% off bulk herbs and supplements, etc.
Here are a couple examples of what combining the cash back and the codes can look like:
So many blog posts say that the CHEAPEST option for getting herbs you want is to grow your own. To that I say, you are obviously not marginally housed, in chronic pain or struggling with health needs that are greater than some teas can support. And, I also say, that if you have one little window that gets some light, picking a mint family plant to grow (many can grow from cuttings) in a pot and use for your own teas can be something special.
I hope this post offered a strategy or two to add to your own arsenal. Getting the things we need when we are choosing between various survival needs or cutting things close can be really stressful. If you have ideas that have worked for you or know of other ways I’d love to hear them!