Essential Oil Crops for Sustainable Agriculture – A Review

Part of the Sustainable Agriculture Reviews book series (SARV, volume 2)


Multifunctionality and diversification of farming systems, integration of agricultural practices with the non-agricultural productive systems operating on the territory, biodiversity safeguards, and reduction in off-farm inputs, are key factors for all modern development strategies in agricultural areas. Such issues are valid worldwide, but are especially true in areas in which the cultivation of the more widespread and “classical” crops is constrained by factors of varying degree and importance. In Mediterranean areas, where many environmental and economic factors often reduce rural areas to marginal conditions, the search for new crop opportunities has become one of the newest topics in agricultural research. In this review, we focus on the state-of-the-art cultivation of essential oil crops, in Mediterranean environments with a special interest in herbs. The following are the major points of our analysis. (1) Growing such crops as specialized cultivations, especially for species native to the selected environments, is the only practical and sustainable way to obtain naturally derived raw matter for both industrial and domestic purposes. (2) Most essential oil crops are suitable for many different uses, and fully adaptable for transformation even by small, local manufacturers. (3) In many cases, they may be grown with environmentally friendly or organic techniques; this enhances their environmental compatibility and also gives them an additional economical advantage, raising their chances to be addressed in the emerging market sector of “natural” products. Our conclusion is that crops grown for the extraction of economically valuable essential oils may be a strategic resource for many environments, even marginal, and that there is scope for farmers to improve the cultivation of such species on arable land. There is room, however, for many agronomic and economic questions to be studied in future experimentation and research.


Medicinal and aromatic plants Crop diversification Non-common crops Alternative crops Alternative farming systems Cropping techniques Wild flora Biodiversity On-farm transformation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.D.A.A.T. – Dipartimento Agronomia Ambientale e Territoriale (Dep. for Environmental and Land Agronomy)Università di PalermoPalermoItaly

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