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

Eric P. Burkhart, Michael G. Jacobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-453
Number of pages17
JournalAgroforestry Systems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science

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