Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 437–453 | Cite as

Transitioning from wild collection to forest cultivation of indigenous medicinal forest plants in eastern North America is constrained by lack of profitability



The forest flora of eastern North America includes many herbaceous plant species traded in domestic and international medicinal markets. Conservation concerns surrounding wild-collection exist and transitioning to cultivation in agroforestry systems has potential economic and ecological benefits. Costs and revenues associated with adopting forest cultivation were modeled for eight North American medicinal forest plants. Sensitivity analysis examined profit potential in relation to (1) discount rates; (2) propagation methods; (3) prices; (4) growing period; (5) production costs; and (6) yields. Results indicate that intensive husbandry of six of eight species would be unprofitable at recent (1990–2005) price levels. Exceptions are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.), and under certain circumstances (e.g., maximum historic prices, low production costs) goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.). Direct marketing to consumers and retailers might improve grower profits, but is undermined by the availability of cheaper, wild-collected product. We suggest that the North American medicinal plant industry could play a key role in facilitating any transition from wild to cultivated product, perhaps through development of a certification and labeling program that brands “forest cultivated” products. This could generate price premiums, to be passed along to growers, but must be accompanied by aggressive consumer education. A “forest cultivated” certification and labeling program has potential to benefit industry and consumers if assurances regarding product identity and quality are a central feature. Plant species that are not viable candidates for commercial cultivation due to limited consumer demand (i.e., species with “shallow,” erratic markets) are best addressed through proactive government and industry initiatives involving targeted harvester education programs.


Financial analysis Forest farming Medicinal plant conservation Non-timber forest products Plant husbandry Specialty forest products 



This analysis and paper benefited greatly from the contributions of Marc McDill, Jim Finley, Rich Stedman, Lee Newsom, Stephen Turchak, Joel Messner, David Thompson, Larry Harding, Jim Kirsch, Wayne Weigle, Barry Wolfe, John Steiner, Edward Fletcher, Floyd Huggins, Dennis Millin, Allen Lockard and American Botanicals, Michael McGuffin, Matthew Albrecht, Amy Brush, Chip Carroll, Erica Renaud, Chris Firestone, and two anonymous reviewers. This research was supported in part by the Wild Resources Conservation Fund (WRCF), administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Shaver’s Creek Environmental CenterThe Pennsylvania State UniversityPetersburgUSA
  2. 2.School of Forest ResourcesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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