Organic spices and tea: Good for you and good for the farmer, says new report

The Organic Center shows the widespead benefits of organic spices, herbs, and teas

Washington, D.C. (October 17, 2022) — The medicinal benefits and good taste of spices, herbs, and teas have been known by civilizations for thousands of years. Now a new report from The Organic Center sheds light on how choosing organically-grown spices and teas can provide even greater benefits, not only for consumers but for the farmers and rural communities growing the crops.    

“Spices and teas produced according to U.S. organic standards yield tremendous benefits – from worker safety to social equity and the economic prosperity of those involved in their production, and ultimately to the consumer,” said Amber Sciligo, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center. “This report presents important science highlighting those benefits and can be a guide for consumers who want their choices to have a positive impact not just on their own families, but also on our environment and on the farmers who produce their food.”  

The saga of spices, herbs, and teas is one involving storied regions and civilizations ranging from the ancient Fertile Crescent in the Middle East; encompassing India and China and Asia; and reaching into the Americas. Cultures and civilizations remain intertwined and shaped to this day from the long-lasting trade of spices and teas. 

The United States today is the world’s largest consumer and importer of spices, and one of the top tea drinkers and buyers, importing some $2.6 billion worth of spices and teas from more than 50 countries. Because of the deep global aspect of the tea and spice trade, consumer choices at the local store can impact the prosperity of rural communities throughout the world where spices and teas are grown and harvested. 

The report by the center, “The Benefits of Organic Spices, Herbs, and Teas,” reflects the review of some 45 studies of the historically predominant regions for spice, herb and tea production in Asia, focusing on the impact that responsibly produced organic crops can have on those areas. To provide the tools to make better choices and build greater awareness, the report also spotlights case studies from organic companies who are working above and beyond to enhance environmental and socioeconomic outcomes along their supply chains. 

The benefits of organic 
The key findings of the report show that the production of organic spices, teas, and herbs: 

  • Reduces potential for consumption of harmful pesticide residues; 
  • Limits uptake of heavy metals;  
  • Reduces occupational exposure to hazardous pesticides; 
  • Helps mitigate climate change by boosting soil health and avoiding synthetic nitrogen fertilizer;  
  • Improves farmer livelihoods and increases household incomes due to organic price premiums. 

The elimination of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in organic spice, herb and tea production systems is good for both consumers and the environment: less exposure to pesticide residues for consumers and for the environment in the reduction of heavy metals and the increase of biodiversity, better soil health, and climate change mitigation. Case in point: a recent study of 60 organic fields in Bangladesh found that applying organic soil amendments reduced the presence of heavy metal in crops and soils by more than 70 percent. 

Pesticides and fungicides can also impact the nutritional quality of spice and tea crops and reduce the amounts of beneficial antioxidants in the products.  Organic spices and teas, however, are rich in these healthful ingredients. Case in point: store-bought samples of organic sage and mint in Poland contained more than 100 percent higher levels of flavonoids which act as antioxidants, and another study found a similar result with a 60 percent increase in the content of the beneficial compound polyphenol in organic tea leaves in Malaysia.  

Organic production of spices, herbs and teas improves the livelihoods and social benefits for resource-poor, small-scale farmers. Organic spices and tea fetch higher prices than non-organic, and that means increased farm incomes. Case in point: in Nepal and India, the organic premium has been shown to boost the livelihoods of tea farmers by 15– 20 percent.   

Going the extra mile 
When organic companies go beyond organic certification requirements with community development and environmental protection programs, the benefits of organic expand significantly. 

Examples abound of organic spice, herb, and tea companies working with producers in far-away lands and in often economically struggling and environmentally sensitive areas to improve the health and safety of rural villages, promote sustainability and environmental stewardship, and to enhance environmental and socioeconomic outcomes along their supply chains. 

An organic tea company working with producers in India supports 5,000 small tea-producing families living within its organic and fair trade Darjeeling region.  The company is improving working conditions for its growers by ensuring access to clean drinking water and medical care, providing household utilities such as electricity and cooking stoves, making available soft loans for income diversification, developing a buy-back program for seed replantation, and focusing on women empowerment through the appointment of tea garden managers and welfare officers. 

A leading retailer of organic and natural herbs, spices, and botanical products has a sustainable impact sourcing program in place that benefits farmers, the environment and businesses across its supply chain. The company invests in infrastructure and business training to help their global suppliers adopt more sustainable practices and addresses community-specific needs like access to clean water, and medical or educational projects. In Vietnam for example, it is helping to transition 150 conventional black pepper growers to organic pepper production. This means safer methods for farmers, reduced environmental impact and an opportunity for these small-scale farmers to increase their incomes.  

Small-scale organic tea farms in the Himalayas are working with a U.S. importer and retailer to raise the quality of their tea and thus of their livelihoods, creating a sustainable future for local farmers and their families. Another organic company working with farmers in India and Nepal is investing a percentage of its sales to launch next year a farmer-owned organic tea factory in north India.  

“Our report shows that the benefits of organic spices and tea are deep and wide,” says The Center’s Sciligo. “Responsible organic companies are honoring their consumers and at the same time improving the lives of all the farmers and families in their supply chain.” 

The Organic Center, along with industry spice and tea experts, will be presenting a live webinar, “A Spice, Herb & Tea Bazaar: The Benefits of Organic,” on the science and trade of organic spices and teas on November 16. October 19. Register here


Organic Benefit, spices, herbs, teas