Best Cultivation Practices for At-Risk Medicinal Herbs

Final Report for FNC00-316

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $11,138.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $33,737.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


This project was initiated in the fall of 2000 with five producers evaluating the effects of soil amendments, pH levels, aspect, irrigation levels, root size classes and tilled vs. non-tilled soils on Goldenseal (Hydrastics canadensis) and Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa) in a wooded setting. A harvest and drying study will also be conducted upon harvest of the crops.

Before receiving this grant all of the growers involved were practicing cultivating these crops naturally without any chemicals. Charlie Hambel was the only grower involved to have been certified organic, a practice that Charlie continues today.

The objective of this project was to set up experimental plots for demonstration of best practices for forest based medicinal herb cultivation and production. By involving a variety of growers and species we were able to share our mistakes, experiences and results with others who are producing woodland medicinal herbs. Before any planting was done a series of planning meetings were held to determine the best research methods. An Ohio University graduate student who was already doing some goldenseal research was brought in to share with the group her experiences, methods and to offer some suggestions about how we approach it. Realizing that her approach was a bit to technical for our time and energy we pulled pieces from her suggestions to formulate our own strategy and methods for the project.

The lead grower for this project set up 6 beds to test the effect of different inputs on the growth rate of goldenseal. Within each bed different soil amendments were added, including: composted cow manure and hay as well as composted sawdust. A harvest and drying time study was also performed at a grower field day held on September 30, 2000.

Another grower set up three beds to determine optimal inputs and pH levels for the production of Goldenseal. Soil analysis was taken on each of the three beds before they were planted. Other research being performed includes evaluating tilled vs. not tilled soils for goldenseal and black cohosh, evaluation of different sized root divisions for goldenseal and black cohosh. And another is looking at varying amounts of irrigation and its effect on goldenseal and black cohosh.

In the first year of the project all growers were able to plant their crops after having soil tests and making proper adjustments for pH and fertility. Charlie constructed a root dryer in 2000 as well as modifying an old clothes washer into a root washer. Also in the fall of 2000 we held two grower field days at Charlie Hambel’s farm. Charlie hosted a group of about 20 on September 30th, 2000 including a cooperative development specialist, a local Ohio State University Extension Agent and several medicinal herb growers. The group enjoyed presentations from Greg Duskey, Robin Stephenson, Colin Donahue and Charlie Hambel. Charlie also provided the group with some hands on exercises including different root washing techniques, sharing his design and experience in constructing the root dryer and a size comparison of goldenseal roots that had been cultivated in a variety of different ways.
Charlie also hosted a visit from Edward Fletcher of Strategic Sourcing Inc. in North Carolina. Strategic Sourcing is North Americas leading supplier of cultivated botanicals for medicine. Ed was visiting as a consultant to share some of his experience in working with growers/producers. At Charlie’s Farm, Ed took some soil samples and discussed disease control, cultivation and planting techniques and other herbs that we could be growing. Ed was impressed with Charlie’s operation and the overall health and vigor of his goldenseal.

The second field day was held at Diane Stafford’s Farm, she is another participant in the SARE Producers Grant. The day was spent touring her woodland plantings and identifying potential sites for Ginseng. We also helped prepare the ground for planting goldenseal as part of the SARE grant. Following the work and tour of the property was a Roots of Appalachia Growers Association Meeting, attended by 15 people.

Throughout 2000 we had several growers meetings where grant participants heard presentations from experts on a variety of topics including composting and disease control. Most notably in 2000 the growers group decided to form an Association and has since incorporated RAGA (Roots of Appalachia Growers Association) officially. The small growers group of about 10-15 growers that began meeting in 1998 has now become a growers association with over 60 paying members.

All beds were laid out, amended and planted by the fall of 2001.

Unfortunately three producers needed to drop out of this project in the first year for personal reasons; Lyda Gunter who was evaluating irrigation levels and Maureen Burns who was evaluating aspects and Ann Murrell who was evaluating the growth of different sized root divisions all discontinued their studies. We were however able to find 2 more producers to replace them, but had to change the experiments from the originals as well as having to push the research back one year in order to give new participants time to plant.

Steve Barnett joined in the project to replace Lyda Gunter in looking at the effects of different irrigation levels on goldenseal growth. In the fall of 2001 Steve planted 3, 5’x20’ beds with 3 lbs of goldenseal each. One bed will receive no irrigation, the second will receive 1” of water every 2 weeks (if rain is unequal to) and the third bed will receive 2” of water every 2 weeks (if the rain is unequal to).

Chris and Kathy Cooper took Ann Murrels place in the research and will be evaluating the growth of different sized root classes (small, medium and large) on both goldenseal and black cohosh. These beds were planted in the fall of 2001, four beds were planted (small, medium, large and misc.) The total root weight was taken for each bed before planting and will be re-evaluated in the fall of 2003, and again in the fall of 2004.

There were no growers to fill Maureen Burn’s place, so the evaluation of aspect on the growth of goldenseal and black cohosh had to be discontinued.

Because we had to bring in new growers and lost one growing season on two of the experiments, we decided to add another set of 3 beds on Diane Stafford’s property in the fall of 2001 as well. These beds will complement her existing project of evaluating different amendments and pH levels on the growth of goldenseal.

On September 27th, 2003 Charlie Hambel hosted another field day at his farm, over 20 participants came out to the field day despite the rain. The field day began with introductions and quickly moved into the woods for a tour of Charlie’s herb beds. Charlie talked in depth about goldenseal cultivation and the SARE producers project. Charlie then gave an overview and tour of the root dryer he constructed and gave a demonstration on root washing techniques. The day ended with some discussion about growing goldenseal, ginseng and black cohosh as well as the issue of these crops being poached. Several participants at the field day joined the growers association (RAGA Roots of Appalachia Growers Association) and one even became the Vice President of the association in 2004 after being introduced to the group at this field day.

Participants were able to experience the process of harvesting, washing and drying goldenseal roots. SARE materials were available for participants and SARE was verbally recognized for making this project possible. This event was documented through video and photographs.

In the fall of 2003 Charlie Hambel, Ross Harms and Steve Barnette conducted a harvest of their experiments.

The two remaining experiments; Diane Stafford’s and Chris and Kathy Cooper’s were harvested in October and November 2004, respectively.

Charlie Hambel: effect of different inputs on the growth rate of goldenseal; composted cow manure and hay as well as composted sawdust and leaves.

Average Yield Gain:
Leaves: 2.49 g
Sawdust: 2.33 g
Manure: 2.38 g

Steve Barnette: effect of varying irrigation amounts on goldenseal and black cohosh

Irrigation Level, Yield from bed in lbs
0” irrigation/week, 1.78 lbs
1” irrigation/week, 1.68 lbs
2” irrigation/week, 1.87 lbs

** Inconclusive due to lack of time and poor quality planting stock (suggested that this needs to be looked at over a 5-7 year period)

Black Cohosh
0” irrigation/week, 11.52 lbs
1” irrigation/week, 11.75 lbs
2” irrigation/week, 12.62 lbs

Ross Harms: compare growth rate of goldenseal and black cohosh in two different growing environments; tilled beds vs. non-tilled or “wild simulated” beds.

Total % Gain:
Goldenseal tilled beds: 2%
Goldenseal wild simulated beds: 0.08%
Black cohosh tilled beds: 0.31%
Black cohosh wild simulated beds: 0.06%

Diane Stafford: evaluating optimal pH levels for the growth of goldenseal and black cohosh

Baseline pH on all beds was 4.9

Bed #1:
100# of agricultural lime added
1.75# of goldenseal planted
1.75# of goldenseal harvested
Final pH: 7.6

Bed #2:
Control bed, no amendments
1.87# of goldenseal planted
½# of goldenseal harvested

Bed #3:
400# of biodynamic compost added
1.56# of goldenseal planted
1# of goldenseal harvested

Chris and Kathy Cooper: optimal root size classes for planting goldenseal and black cohosh. Roots were individually weighed and divided into four different groups/treatment (based on weight) prior to planting.

Treatment, 0-2g, 2.1-3.8g, 3.9-5.5g, 5.6+g
Planted, 751.275g, 1873.935g, 1031.95g, 935.55g
Harvested, 822.85g, 1332.45g, 948.8g, 198.6g
Gain/loss, 71.575g, 541.485g, 83.15g, 736.95g
% change, 9.527g, 28.896g, 8.058g, 78.772

Black Cohosh:
Treatment, 0-2.9oz, 3-5oz, 6-9oz, 9+oz
Planted, 4lb 2oz, 9lb 6oz, 15lb 7oz, 14lb 1oz
Harvested, 6lb 15oz, 27lb 0oz, 30lb 9oz, 24lb 7oz
Gain/loss, 2lb 13oz, 17lb 10oz, 15lb 2 oz, 10lb 6oz
% change, 68.182, 188.0, 97.976, 74.107

Project Impacts
Despite the high poverty and environmental degradation by the area, Appalachian Ohio also has significant assets. The area possesses a high degree of biodiversity, which presents opportunities for sustainable development of wood products and non-timber forest products such as the medicinal plants in this study. Substantially underutilized forested and agricultural land and a moderate climate with ample rainfall also make this area ideally suited for development of substantial and sustainable cultivation of non timber forest products.

Mechanisms must be found to encourage sustainable practices among the individual landowners who control the majority of the woodlands in Appalachian Ohio. Otherwise, the woods could be stripped bare of economically valuable timber and non-timber species, with unknown consequences to the entire ecosystem.

Through the efforts of this project, several landowners in the region have become involved in the cultivation of these herbs. The demonstration and field days allowed prospective growers to learn firsthand the ins and outs of herb growing in a forested setting. The project also allowed landowners and growers to receive a variety of resources from guest speakers and project participants.

The project provided an opportunity for participants and others to learn more about the methods used to grow these medicinal herbs an why organic cultivation of these herbs is so important both economically and ecologically. The information gained through the research performed as well as the events held will further the success and understanding of both new and existing growers in this region.

Outreach for this project took place in a wide variety of ways. The Roots of Appalachia Growers Association was kept abreast of the project and its status throughout the 4 years it was being undertaken. Through newsletters, mailings and events the broader community was informed about the project and how they can become involved.

At the field day that were held, SARE materials were distributed and an explanation of the SARE Producers Grant Program was given to participants. Over 55 people were involved in the various demonstrations and field days that were held specifically out of this grant, many others were informed about the project through newsletter mailings.

The results of this study will first be shared with the participating growers and then disseminated to the RAGA Growers Association. A comparison of the results will be made to the research results of The National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs and another citizen science project that was initiated in 1999. Results from all of these studies will eventually be compiled into a briefing report for growers.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.