Deborah Balmuth: A victory for Gladstar, herbalist community

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NORTH ADAMS — As the publisher of Rosemary Gladstar's best-selling books and a long-time Berkshires-based business, Storey Publishing (our name was changed from Storey Communications in 2001) has followed the case of the Fire Cider trial with great interest. I'd like to present a fuller picture of our perspective on this controversy than the one presented in Sunday's article ("Federal judge: Term too generic for trademark", Sunday, October 20).

A practicing herbalist since the 1970s, Rosemary Gladstar has been a leading voice for traditional herbal medicine, which she calls "the people's medicine." She has devoted her career to promoting the sharing of herbal knowledge and created two major conferences that bring together herbalists from around the world: the International Herb Symposium and the New England Women's Herbal Conference.

Rosemary began sharing her recipe for fire cider in 1980 at the California School of Herbal Studies, which she founded. This recipe first appeared in a Storey book titled "Rosemary Gladstar's Herbs for the Home Medicine Chest," published in 1999, and it became one of her classics. Her fire cider formula has also appeared in "Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health," which we published in 2001 (now with 190,000 copies in print) and in "Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide," published by Storey in 2012 (the same year that Shire City Herbals was granted the trademark). That book now has 350,000 copies in print.


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To say that the term "fire cider" was not in popular circulation before Shire City Herbals brought it to market is incorrect. Thousands of people had seen the term in Storey's books alone, and many more had encountered it in her workshops, classes, and nationwide talks where she freely shared her recipe and encouraged everyone to make it. Further, the idea that anyone who had read or heard about her fire cider recipe (which she still doesn't claim to "own") would trademark the term for their own and exclude others from using it when selling a product that had long been known by that name is contrary to the spirit of shared knowledge that Rosemary has cultivated for nearly 50 years.

Knowing the challenges of growing a successful business in the Berkshires, I was thrilled when I first saw Shire City's fire cider products showing up on local store shelves. And as a publisher committed to promoting herbal medicine, I was happy to see this traditional remedy getting such great visibility. My enthusiasm was quashed, however, when I heard that Shire City Herbals had trademarked the name "fire cider" and were demanding that dozens of other herbalists stop selling their own versions on the online marketplace Etsy.

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To say that "a small group came out of nowhere" to challenge the trademark is not an accurate description. Perhaps it wasn't a mainstream, highly visible community, but it was significant, connected, and passionate. This community mobilized to challenge the trademark, and the commitment they showed had nothing to do with money or personal gain; the only thing they asked for on winning the case was a public apology from Shire City Herbals. All the legal costs of the defendants, the Fire Cider Three, were covered through a combination of pro bono services from lawyers who believed in the cause and funds crowd-sourced from thousands in the herbal community who simply want to see the traditions respected and access to the use of the terms open to all.


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I've been fortunate to work with a wonderful group of herbalists who have partnered with Storey over the past 25 years to build our line of herbal books. They are creative, unconventional, and often irreverent when it comes to challenging the status quo — and they are the most passionate, exuberant people I have ever met. Their love of plants, their quest to know first-hand the uses and effectiveness of each one, and their desire to share what they know with others is irrepressible.

Inspired by this community's creativity and determination to continue to promote the people's medicine, Rosemary invited 77 herbalists to share their recipes, stories, and uses for fire cider, which we've gathered in a new book, "Fire Cider: 101 Zesty Recipes for Health-Boosting Remedies Made with Apple Cider Vinegar," released earlier this month. This lively, colorful book is the perfect tribute to the feisty vinegar-based remedy. And the additional recipes for using fire cider in everything from tartar sauce to hummus, chutney, and shrubs are testimony to the many incarnations of this versatile "people's medicine" formula that endured and evolved in the hands of makers long before this trial, and that, happily, will continue to do so.

Storey Publishing has published more than 600 books promoting hands-on skills and activities that empower people to create rich, connected lives. Bringing the work of authors such as Rosemary Gladstar to the public is what makes our work rewarding and meaningful.

Deborah Balmuth is publisher and editorial director of Storey Publishing. Established in 1983, Storey Publishing employs 50 people in its offices on the MASS MoCA campus in North Adams.


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