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Victoria M. Anderson, Douglas D. Archbold, Robert L. Geneve, Dewayne L. Ingram and Krista L. Jacobsen

Organic and low-input production systems are increasingly of interest in medicinal plant production, such as Calendula officinalis, a medicinal plant grown for essential oils. However, in these systems the effects of nutrient availability and water stress may act singularly or in combination to affect plant growth and medicinal compound production. This study investigated the effects of organic and conventional fertility sources and drought stress effects on four calendula cultivars. Soil nitrogen (N) status, plant growth, productivity, and essential oil quality and quantity were measured. The plant growth response to increased N availability varied by cultivar, indicating that some cultivars may be better suited to low-input fertility regimes. Fertility source did not significantly affect essential oil quality or quantity. Drought stress reduced plant growth but increased the quality of essential oil, as indicated by the concentrations of specific constituents, although it did not reduce total oil yield. These results indicate that organic and low-input farming systems may significantly reduce plant growth, but may not necessarily affect essential oil yield or quality. As such, the sustainability of medicinal plant production systems may be improved by reductions in water and conventional fertilizers without significant reductions in medicinal compound production.