(393) Diversifying Into a New Market—Medicinal Herbs

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  • 1 North Carolina State University, Horticultural Science, Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, Fletcher, NC, 28732; Gaia Herbs, Inc., Botanicals Division, Brevard, NC, 28712

Seventeen North Carolina farmers received $5000 grants to grow medicinal herbs as part of a research study to determine the economic feasibility of producing herbs in different regions of the state, including producing the quality and quantity of medicinal herbs required by the industry at a price that is competitive in a global market. With the help of five buyers in the natural products industry, four medicinal herbs were selected to be grown: California poppy, dandelion, Echinacea purpurea, and valerian. The growers experimented with new crops, learned new production methods, and adapted existing methods and equipment to these crops. These growers were also introduced to new markets and made connections with buyers, statewide and nationally, in an industry that can be difficult to enter. Growers were responsible for keeping detailed records of production, harvest, and postharvest handling. To produce a marketable crop in 1 year, some of the growers started seedlings in their greenhouses, while others direct seeded into the field. With the natural products industry moving toward a nonchemically grown product, growers in this project had to produce their crop without pesticides. Weed pressures were the biggest challenge to most of the growers. Prior to harvest, bioactive constituents were tested on the dried raw material to see if levels met buyers' requirements. Other testing methods determined percentage of ash, moisture content, microbial limits, and heavy metal accumulation. For postharvest handling, tobacco farmers who had drying facilities experimented with different temperature regimes to produce a uniformed dried material. Buyers and growers were then introduced to each other to complete the sale of goods.

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