Final Report for FNE01-362
Our goal was to investigate the agronomic and economic feasibility of cultivating nine species of medicinal plants that are considered threatened in their native environment due to overharvest and loss of habitat. By using traditional organic row-cropping techniques and equipment, we attempted to demonstrate sustainable and profitable alternative land use methods for farmers in this region. In doing so, we hope to help perpetuate the rural agricultural landscape our region is known for while at the same time ensuring the future of our diverse native medicinal plant populations. Growing these crops will also help to supply the ever expanding medicinal herb market with locally, organically cultivated alternatives to commonly wild harvested species.
Zack Woods Herb Farm was founded in 1999 and is owned by Melanie and Jeff Carpenter. It is located on ten acres of NOFA certified organic land in north central Vermont. The land was formerly a small dairy and vegetable operation that had ceased operating in 1989 and had been fallow during the ten years prior to our purchase. We currently have approximately five acres in production of medicinal herbs, garlic and cover crops. Our upland soils are extremely variable both in texture and drainage and consist of Berkshire Tunbridge fine silty loams. Initially we found the soils to be marginally fertile.
However, after five years of amending the soil with applications of lime, compost, manures, crop residues and cover crops, we have observed marked improvement both in soil tilth and fertility through soil testing. Our land is about 75% open and slopes gently to the southwest. We constructed an irrigation pond in the summer of 2001 and have begun the process of plumbing irrigation to the field crops. We currently have 35 species of medicinal herbs and garlic in production and “wildcraft” another 5 species growing wild on our land.
We start transplants in early April in our 25’x 50’ greenhouse heated with a wood fired furnace. Some species are direct seeded into the field by hand or using seeders. All transplanting is done by hand. We have a small 4 wheel drive tractor with several implements for cultivation including a bucket loader that helps us produce approximately ten yards of compost per season for soil mixes, compost teas, and field application. All of our harvesting is performed by hand using field knives and pruning shears for crops whose aerial portions are harvested and spading forks and spades for root crops.
Our post harvest technique for crops whose aerial portions are harvested involves getting the freshly harvested material into the drying shed as soon as possible after harvest to maintain quality. With root crops, we dig and then immediately wash the roots using an old-fashioned wringer washer (with the wringer removed) and immediately begin drying them to maintain quality. After the crops are dried, we rub the aerial portions of plants over a sieve constructed with ¼ inch hardware cloth to remove stems and debris. Roots are processed after drying, by running them through our electric chipper/shredder.
In the summer of 2001, we built a 12’x12’x12’ forced hot air drying shed that is heated from the same wood furnace that heats the greenhouse. Temperatures are maintained at 85 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit through forced hot air ducts, and herbs are dried in 24 to 48 hours on 4’x4’ removable racks constructed of lath and nylon screening. This facility has proven invaluable in the processing of freshly harvested raw material into a dried, finished, marketable product that is of an extremely high quality.
Our quality assurance philosophy is that the dried, finished product retains the color, taste, smell, and medicinal compounds of its former live state. This product is quite a departure from the “mass market” herbs that are often harvested with machinery and dried in wind-rows in the sun and weather. We store our herbs in cool, dark storage in food grade p.v.c. buckets obtained for free from our local donut shop or purchased from our local recycling store. Our labor force consists of Melanie and myself full-time and part-time help from our interns, family and friends.
Hank Huggins served as our technical advisor. Hank is co-owner of Land Reformers, a business dedicated to restoring native prairie habitats in southeast Ohio. He is also a land consultant and caretaker of the United Plant Savers botanical sanctuary in Ohio. Hank was an invaluable asset due to his many years of experience in the propagation and cultivation of native medicinal plants. He also served as a source for seed and rootstock. Hank traveled from Ohio to spend a few days assisting with our project, including building the shade house for Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) production. Hank was compensated for his travel and time with SARE grant funds.
Matthias and Andrea Reisen served as collaborators. They are the owners of Healing Spirits, a certified organic herb farm in the finger-lakes region of New York. They have served as our mentors for years and provided valuable information and support throughout the process.
Rosemary Gladstar served as a collaborator. Rosemary is one of the world’s premiere herbal educators and authors. She founded Sage Mountain Botanical Sanctuary and Herbal Education Center and United Plant Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring native medicinal plant populations. She provided valuable support and networking opportunities throughout the process.
Richard Wiswall is the owner of Cate Farm, a certified organic medicinal herb and vegetable farm in central Vermont. He is a private crop management consultant and agricultural educator. Richard shared his cost of production analysis techniques with us. These techniques provided us a simple method in which to track our profitability.
Kathy Kinter was the director of Vermont Herb Grower’s Association. She provided valuable feedback during the grant writing process and several networking opportunities through the VHGA. Interns: Our summer intern program included students from Johnson State College and the University of Vermont. They were invaluable in the process, especially with data collection.
Our farm is divided into 1/8 acre “beds” 50’ by 100’ with sod paths between each bed. The 100’ lengths make it easier for us to keep track of production numbers. For example, three rows of Echinacea spaced at 12” in the row gives us 300 plants. We plan to use these same field dimensions for this study. We feel that those who may benefit from our research will find it easy to extrapolate the data for their own planning purposes.
The nine herbs we have chosen come from United Plant Savers (UpS) “at risk forum.” UpS is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the future of medicinal plants which are presently in decline due to expanding popularity and shrinking habitat and range. Fortunately, five out of the nine trial species are indigenous to this region. We have demonstrated in small trial beds that the other four species will grow here as well. We will be working closely with UpS during our research. Following is a list of the trial species and cultivation methods we will be employing.
Arnica (Arnica chamissonis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used in homeopathic remedies for the relief of pain associated with mild trauma. We will propagate this from seed and will grow three rows at 12” spacing in the full sun. Plants will be banded with compost at planting to increase soil fertility.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used as a tonic for the female reproductive system. We will propagate this herb from root divisions and grow four rows at 24” spacing. This is a woodland herb but we have found that in this region it grows very well in full sun. We will incorporate compost at planting for additional fertility.
Bloodroot (Sanguinarea canadensis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used in dental preparations to prevent plaque and has been used to treat basal cell skin cancer. We will propagate this herb from root divisions and grow three rows at 6” spacing. Bloodroot is a woodland herb and therefore will be grown under shade cloth, companion planted with Goldenseal, and mulched with straw to help keep weeds down.
Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used to treat inflammations of the lungs. We will propagate this plant from seed and plant two rows at 12” spacing. This will be grown in the full sun and compost will be incorporated at planting to increase soil fertility.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used to strengthen the immune system. We will propagate this plant from seed and plant six rows at 12” spacing. This will be grown in the full sun and likes a soil of minimal fertility so no amendments will be added.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally useful for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral activities. We will propagate this from root divisions and grow eight rows at 6” spacing. Goldenseal is a woodland herb and therefore will be grown under shade cloth, companion planted with Bloodroot and mulched with straw to help keep weeds down
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is an herbaceous annual traditionally used as an anti-spasmodic. We will direct seed six rows of this at approximately 6” spacing. This will be grown in the full sun and likes a soil of minimal fertility so no amendments will be added.
Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) is a deciduous tree whose bark is used for its demulcent, mucilaginous properties. We will plant 100 seeds in a nursery bed and transplant successful germinators into nursery pots to grow on for a year until large enough for planting.
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used for its immune enhancing properties. We will propagate this from seed and will plant two rows at 24” spacing. This will be grown in full sun and compost will be incorporated at planting to increase fertility.
Measurment of results
Seven of the nine species we will grow are perennials. Of these seven, four of the species won’t be harvested until the fall of their third year of growth. This is to ensure that their medicinal potential and marketable sizes are attained. During these three years, we will carefully observe and record any data we feel will be valuable to share. Some examples of the data we plan to collect are:
• Plant health and vigor
• Size attained after each year of growth
• Pest damage with foliage damage ratings two times per season
• Disease susceptibility with foliar lesion ratings two times per season
• Weekly external observations such as: rainfall, irrigation, soil amendments, and general weather conditions observed
• Soil tests
• Yields after each harvest.
We will also be meticulously tracking our equipment, material, and labor expenses. For tracking costs of production, we will use a system designed by our technical advisor, Richard Wiswall, that utilizes tracking sheets for each crop. This is a system that we used successfully in the summer of 1999 to track three species we grew. When we harvest the herbs, we will process and weigh the marketable material.
After pricing the crops according to market value, we will factor the results of our input to obtain profitability results. Lobelia is the only annual we will grow for the research. Therefore, results from it will be available in the fall of 2001. Arnica, bloodroot, and black cohosh will be harvested after two seasons of growth. Goldenseal, pleurisy, indigo and Echinacea harvested after year three. The slippery elm trees will not be harvested during the research period but will be observed and data will be recorded each year for cultivation potential.
We are fortunate to have many wonderful opportunities to share our results. I am currently on the board of directors for the Vermont Herb Growers Association. We publish a quarterly newsletter to which I will submit articles based on our research. VHGA also holds a fall conference that was attended by over 75 people this year. This event will be a good forum for us to share our research.
The association hosted a “farmer to farmer” tour at our farm last season that was open to the public and was very successful. We plan on offering this tour again this season where we hope to share our research. NOFA-VT also hosted a farm tour open to the public at our farm last season. This was very successful and we look forward to the possibility of sharing our research during this event next season.
My wife’s mother, Rosemary Gladstar who is also one of our collaborators, is the president of United Plant Savers. She holds many workshops both in Vermont and throughout the Northeast on the plight of our native species. These will also be good forums to share our research. We also plan to submit articles in UpS quarterly newsletter, NOFA-VT’s quarterly newsletter, and the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s newsletter “Cultivating Connections.”
Last year my wife Melanie, spearheaded the 1st annual Hyde Park Herb Festival at our farm. This was attended by 35 people and numerous herbal educators, and will also be a wonderful forum in which to share our research. We are also looking into the possibility of having a local agricultural television show called “Across the Fence” film a segment on our farm where we will highlight our project.
The nine species of herbs chosen for our research come from United Plant Savers (UpS) “At risk forum” UpS is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the future of medicinal plants which are presently in decline due to expanding popularity and shrinking habitat and range. Five of the nine trial species are indigenous to this region. These species were also chosen for their marketability. All nine species are currently in high demand on the medicinal herb market. Our fields are divided into 1/8 acre beds measuring 50’x100’ with sod paths between each bed. The 100’ rows made it easier to keep track of production numbers. For example, three rows of Echinacea spaced at 12” in the row gives us 300 plants.
We factored our costs of production for each crop by tracking all labor, equipment and material inputs, factoring their dollar value and subtracting this from sales to equal the gross profit. We also collected data on plant health and vigor, pest damage, disease susceptibility, size attained, soil tests, and external observations such as rainfall, irrigation, soil amendments and general weather conditions. Following is a list of the trial species including a brief description of their medicinal use, native habitat, the cultivation methods used to grow them, the plant part used, and time of harvest.
Arnica (Arnica chamissonis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used topically in oils and salves, and internally in homeopathic dosages for the relief of pain associated with mild trauma and muscle soreness. It is native to the alpine meadows of the mountainous west and seemed to feel right at home in our fairly acidic native upland soils. We propagated Arnica from seed into flats in the greenhouse and transplanted at a 12” spacing into 200 row feet in full sun. Compost was banded into the row at transplant to increase soil fertility. Arnica spreads via rhizomes and quickly formed a dense mat approximately two to three feet wide. The blossoms are harvested and sold either fresh or dry. It started blooming in late July of the first season but wasn’t harvested for sales until the second and third year of production.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used as a tonic for the female reproductive system. It is native to the woodlands of the eastern half of the United States including Vermont.
Wild Black Cohosh is usually found growing in the shade of hardwood forests but is very adaptable. We propagated this herb by planting 2 year-old root divisions at 16” spacing into 200 row feet in the full sun. Compost was banded into the row at planting. The root is harvested after the 3rd year and is sold both fresh and dried.
Bloodroot (Sanguinarea canadensis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used in dental preparations to prevent plaque and has been used to treat basal skin cell cancer. Bloodroot is native to the woodlands of the northeastern United States and is commonly found growing wild in Vermont. It prefers a soil high in organic matter and grows in the full shade. We propagated bloodroot from root divisions and planted approximately 325 plants at a 6” spacing under the shade of a large maple tree. Compost was incorporated into the bed prior to planting. The root is harvested after the 3rd year and is sold both fresh and dried.
Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used to treat inflammations of the lungs. Pleurisy is native to the prairies of the Midwest but is very adaptable. We propagated this herb from seed into flats in the greenhouse and transplanted at a 12” spacing into 400 row feet in the full sun. Pleurisy prefers a fairly alkaline soil so the field was limed prior to planting at a rate of 1.5 tons of lime/ash per acre bringing the soil PH up to 6.5. The root is harvested after 3 years of growth and is sold both fresh and dried.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used to strengthen the immune system. It is native to the prairies of the midwest but is fairly adaptable. We propagated this herb from seed into flats in the greenhouse and transplanted at a 8” spacing into 200 row feet in the full sun. Echinacea prefers a fairly alkaline soil and was planted into the same field as the Asclepias tuberosa. The two species are often found growing together in their native habitat. Echinacea root is harvested after 3 years of growth and is sold both fresh and dried.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral activities. It is native to the hardwood forests of the northeast and was once a common woodland plant in Vermont. We propagated Goldenseal by root divisions and planted approximately 4200 2 yr. old roots at a 6” spacing into 4 beds approximately 42”x 50’ . Since goldenseal prefers humusy soil in full shade, we constructed a shade house with cedar posts and shade cloth which provided the plants with 80% shade. The bed was prepared by liming at a rate of 1.5 tons per acre to increase the soil PH to 6 and copious amounts of organic matter was added in the form of hardwood leaves and compost prepared using sugar maple bark and hen manure. Goldenseal is harvested after 4 years of growth and is sold both fresh and dried.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is an herbaceous short lived perennial traditionally used as an anti-spasmodic. It is native to the southern, central and eastern U.S. We propagated Lobelia from seed into flats in the greenhouse and transplanted into 100 row feet at a 6” spacing. Lobelia prefers to grow in the full sun in poor soil so the soil was not amended at all prior to planting. The aerial portions of Lobelia are harvested after one year of growth. It is sold both fresh and dried.
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a deciduous tree whose inner cambium layer is valued for its demulcent, mucilaginous properties. It is native to the central and eastern U.S. but is under threat from Dutch Elm disease. We attempted to propagate Slippery elm from seed into woodland beds, however none of the seed we planted germinated so research on this species was discontinued until we source more seed.
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) is an herbaceous perennial traditionally used for its immune enhancing properties. It is native to the prairies of the midwest. We propagated this herb from seed into flats in the greenhouse and transplanted at a 24”spacing into 200 row feet in the full sun. Wild Indigo prefers a fairly alkaline soil and was planted in the same field as the Pleurisy and Echinacea. It is commonly found growing with these species in its native habitat. Wild indigo root is harvested after 3 years of growth and is sold both fresh and dried.
We have gained a wealth of information from this research. The species that performed the best were those that are native to this region. Attempting to replicate the habitat that the prairie dwelling species prefer proved to be difficult. Pleurisy was the only native prairie plant that adapted well to our soil and climate. I believe that poorly drained soil was the main nemesis of the other prairie dwelling species, however I also believe that they are not suited for the “mono-culture” conditions they experienced by being row cropped alone in single rows. We will continue to experiment on a small scale with companion planting these species together similar to the way they grow in their native habitat along with native prairie grasses. Most of the 35 species of plants that we grow are non-hybridized and wild by nature. Although it is easier for us from a production standpoint to row-crop them, they seem to want to grow in “patches” along with their native companions. We will continue to experiment with replicating native habitats and growing conditions to improve yield and plant health. One of the most surprising results to come from our research is the success of our live plant sales. When we seed for transplanting we always plant more than we think we will need to make up for potential losses. As a result of this, after transplanting we usually end up with a surplus of transplants. By potting these extra plants up into used nursery pots obtained for free from our local garden center and using our own compost-based soil mix, the profit margins on these nursery plants is very high. We will continue to expand on this value-added approach to transplant production. Sales of freshly harvested herbs have also been very successful. By harvesting the herbs, chilling them for an hour or two in coolers to remove field heat, then shipping over-night, we have eliminated processing costs which in turn increases our profit margins. We also intend to investigate selling seed collected from our crops. Following is a list of the species researched along with our observations on cultivation, processing and pricing.
United Plant Savers (UpS) is a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to saving “at-risk” native medicinal plants. United Plant Savers: P.O. Box 420, E. Barre, VT 05649 (802)-479-9825
Arnica (Arnica chamissonis) proved to be very easy to grow. It spread quickly, filling in the row and attempting to fill in the paths as well. Tractor cultivating 2 times per season kept the paths somewhat manageable. It was difficult to weed however, as the weeds seemed to work their way up between the woven rhizomes. We later realized that trying to dig the weeds out between the plants proved futile and that the Arnica was quite happy growing along with a few companions. We irrigated Arnica only two times during the first week after transplant. After the plants became established, they proved to be very drought tolerant. We found no pest or disease problems with this herb. The biggest challenge we found with harvesting and processing was that the blossoms head to seed as soon as they are dried no matter how early the blossom is picked after harvest. Initially, we felt that this dried, seedy product didn’t seem marketable but later learned that this is Arnica’s nature and that everything we saw on the mass market looked similar. The blossoms of this plant are very small and harvesting is labor intensive. Blossoms dried in approximately 24 hours in the drying shed. Most of the Arnica we sold was marketed fresh and sold for $17.00 per lb. Dried Arnica blossoms sold for $50.00 per lb. 5” square nursery pots of live Arnica plants sold for $5.00. We determined this crop to be profitable, especially due to live plant sales, and we will continue production of this species.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) was very successful. The two-year old root divisions we planted became quickly established and grew rapidly. Tractor cultivating with a one row cultivator and hand hoeing were very effective for weed control early in the season. Later in the season the plants aerial portions grew to 6’ tall, which limited a second tractor cultivation. Weeds were easily kept in check with a second hand hoeing in late august. We irrigated Black Cohosh only one time at transplant and the plants became fairly drought tolerant once established. Those that became drought stressed went into early dormancy yet seemed to recover the following year with no noticeable deficit. We noted no pest damage. The only disease observed was a bit of botrytis on plants preceding their early dormancy. Harvesting the roots was fairly easy with a spading fork as they form a fairly shallow mat. Cleaning the roots was accomplished by quartering them followed by spraying them on screens to remove most of the soil, then running them through the wringer washer one time. They dried easily in 48 hours. Fresh, cleaned, whole Black Cohosh roots weighed an average of 2.3 lbs. with a few individuals tipping the scales at over 4 lbs. We sold it fresh for $9.00 per lb.and dried for $25.00 per lb. Live plants in 10” round nursery pots sold for $10.00. Black Cohosh proved to be very profitable and easy to grow. We will continue production of this species.
Bloodroot (Sanguinarea canadensis) was right at home here at Zack Woods Herb Farm. We discovered a large patch growing under the lilac hedges in front of our home when we moved in. By removing approximately one third of the roots from this wild patch we were able to replant these root divisions into a more manageable bed with paths surrounding it for access. The new plantings became quickly established and required one hand weeding followed by a straw mulch application the first season. The second season, the foliage formed a dense umbrella, out-competing most weeds. Bloodroot is a spring ephemeral and therefore starts to go dormant around early august. It is after this early dormancy that a second, carefully performed hand weeding is helpful. We never irrigated this bed and the plants seemed to be fairly drought tolerant under the shade of the mature maple. However, we did notice early dormancy during the dry summers of 2001 and 2003. We noted no pest or disease issues with bloodroot. We will wait to harvest this crop in the spring of 2004 as we have learned that early spring dug roots have the highest concentrations of the alkaloid sanguinarine that makes this herb so effective. We did dig and sell a small amount fresh for $11.00 per lb. and dried for $30.00 per lb. Live plants potted into 10” round nursery pots sold for $10.00 each. It is our belief that this crop will be profitable and we will continue production of this species.
Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa) was very successful. It proved to be very easy to germinate and grow in the greenhouse in flats and tolerated transplanting very well. Once pleurisy became established, weed control was very easy with 2 tractor cultivations and 2 hand hoeings per season. We irrigated it only one time a few days after transplant. After this initial irrigation, the plants proved to be extremely drought hardy. The only pests we saw associated with Pleurisy were the monarch butterfly larvae that feed solely on this and other members of the milkweed family. These larvae dined sparingly on the leaves of the plants and showed no deleterious effects. We noted no disease issues at all. Harvesting pleurisy root required a moderate amount of effort using spading forks to free the roots from the soil. Cleaning the roots was performed by quartering them followed by 2 passes through the wringer washer. Drying was accomplished in 48 hours. Fresh cleaned roots weighed an average of 9 ounces each. We sold Pleurisy fresh for $7.00 per lb. and dried for $20.00 per lb. Live plants potted into 5” square nursery pots sold for $5.00 each. This crop proved to be profitable for us to grow and we will continue production of this species.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) was very challenging to cultivate. The seed germinated readily and grew well in flats in the greenhouse. However, it became extremely slow growing and struggled to become established during the first year of growth. Weeding was very difficult and the slowly growing Echinacea plants became dwarfed by the quickly growing weeds. We nursed the plants through the first season with losses of 10% to 20% per row. The second season dawned with a very rainy spring, which interfered with weeding and threatened to drown the Echinacea plants, who prefer a dry, very well drained soil. We managed to cultivate and hand hoe later in the summer but by then the weeds had already become well established and were difficult to remove. By the third season we decided not to hoe for fear of damaging the small plants by pulling large weeds. A pass with the tractor cultivator kept the paths discernable from the rows but once again the Echinacea plants had trouble competing with the pernicious weeds. We noticed no pest or disease issues with this species. By digging a few of the largest plants, I determined that the size of the roots was not big enough to justify the labor to dig them. Live plants potted into 5” square nursery pots grew well and sold out fast at $7.00 each. We will take this species out of our row crop production and focus on another species of Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) that is much easier to grow, is medicinally interchangeable, and has proven to be quite profitable. However we will continue to sell live potted Echinacea angustifolia plants in the future. We will also experiment with companion planting Echinacea angustifolia with several species that it grows with in its native environment.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) was very successful. The dormant 2 year-old roots we planted in the fall emerged the following spring with no noticeable losses. During the first season, we hand weeded once in late June to get at the newly emerging weeds early and once later in September to get at the later emerging weeds. This weeding proved to be quite labor intensive, kneeling in the paths and reaching into the beds with hand cultivators. The close spacing of the plants prevented us from weeding from a standing position with hoes. By the second season, the plants had formed a nice canopy and out competed most of the annual weeds. We hand cultivated once in August to remove the perennial grasses that tried to grow in the beds. The third season required one “maintenance” weeding in late June. We never irrigated the goldenseal bed as the plants seemed to be quite drought tolerant in the humusy soil under shade. We have noted from other grower’s research however, that irrigation during dry spells increases yields. Therefore we will install drip irrigation in the future. The only pests we saw associated with Goldenseal were the wild turkeys dining on goldenseal seeds in the late summer of the third season. The turkeys did no noticeable damage to the plants but definitely decreased our seed harvest. The only disease we noted occurred in September of the third season when Botrytis seemed to affect about a third of the crop. I attributed this to very droughty conditions associated with high humidity and calm winds. The affected plants entered dormancy approximately 2 weeks earlier than their non-affected neighbors. Upon harvesting the roots, I noticed no difference in quality or yield between those with the botrytis and those without. Harvesting the roots was moderately difficult, as the rhizomes grew together to form a dense mat that had to be literally peeled back with the spading fork, pulled apart and shaken free of soil. Cleaning the “spidery” rhizomes was labor intensive and consisted of an initial hose rinsing on screens followed by two quick passes through the wringer washer. Since the highly effective alkaloids berberine and hydrastine are water soluble, care must be taken not to soak or excessively rinse the roots. Fresh, cleaned goldenseal roots weighed an average of 1.2 oz with some large individuals tipping the scales at over 5 oz. Plants grown on the southwest edge of the shadehouse that received little if any protection from the full sun were noticeably larger than those grown under the shade cloth. We sold Goldenseal root fresh for $40.00 per lb. and dried for $150.00 per lb. Live plants potted into 10” round nursery pots sold for $10.00 each. Goldenseal proved to be profitable for us to grow and we will continue production of this important crop.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) was very challenging to grow. The seed is extremely tiny and difficult to sow in an evenly spaced manner. We broadcasted the seed into open flats of soil and “pricked out” the seedlings that germinated into cell-packs to grow until transplanting. The seedlings are very slow growing and sensitive to over watering. We irrigated the lobelia at transplanting only and cultivated once with the tractor along with 2 hand hoeings. The plants became quickly established but grew slowly. We noted no pest or disease issues with this plant, though the plants did appear to suffer some setback during droughty conditions. Harvest was easily performed with field knives and the herb dried in 24 hours in the drying shed. We sold Lobelia fresh at $9.00 per lb. and dried at $26.00 per lb. Live plants potted into 5” square nursery pots sold for $5.00 each. Though live plant sales of this crop were profitable, field grown yields were so low that we determined row-cropping Lobelia using this single row method was not profitable. However, we will continue to experiment with this crop and attempt to intensively direct seed using the stale seedbed method next season.
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) was a crop failure due to difficulty procuring quality seed. We will continue to attempt to produce this species in the future.
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) was very challenging to grow. Like its prairie dwelling counterpart Echinacea angustifolia, Wild Indigo also germinated and grew well albeit slowly in the greenhouse. After we transplanted it torrential spring rains set it back severely while weeds grew rampant around it. When the field finally dried out enough to cultivate, we discovered losses of approximately 50%. The plants that survived were weeded and finally became established but grew amazingly slowly during the first season, only reaching 5” in height. The following season only a few plants emerged per row in the spring and once again the weeds threatened to out-compete the plants. Those plants that made it through the 2nd season emerged and grew well the third season but our total losses at that point were about 80%. We noted no pest or disease issues with Wild Indigo, and the plants showed excellent drought tolerance. We decided not to harvest the roots this year and will instead, dig the remaining plants in the spring and pot them up for nursery sales. Live plants that we potted into 5” square nursery pots and sold for $7.00 did very well in the controlled environment of the nursery. It is our determination that Wild indigo prefers to grow in a setting more like it’s native prairie home than in our fields. Therefore, we will not continue field production of this crop but will continue to market it as a live, potted plant.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
We took advantage of several opportunities to promote our SARE grant research to the public. In June of 2001, The Stowe Reporter, one of our local weekly newspapers, published a feature article on our research including photographs entitled “Sowing the Seeds of Medicine”. That summer we also hosted several farm tours highlighting our research including groups from Sterling College, Sage Mountain, Rooted Wisdom School for Herbal Medicine and our local 4-H program. On September 8th, we held the 2nd annual Hyde Park Herb Festival as a fundraiser for the Vermont Herb Growers Association. Over 130 people attended this event, which included 3 farm tours highlighting our SARE research. I published 2 articles in the Vermont Herb Growers newsletter discussing the beginning stages of our research. Lynn Rae, our summer 2002 intern from Johnson College played a key role in collecting data for the project, which she included in her final presentation for her BS in environmental science. In 2002, Ellen Ogden wrote a feature article for Vermont Magazine on the medicinal herb industry in Vermont in which we were the featured herb farmers. This article mentioned our research on threatened species of herbs though neglecting to cite SARE specifically. That summer we held several more farm tours highlighting our research including a NOFA sponsored tour based solely on our grant project. Our summer intern Michelle Lapoint, an environmental science major at the University of Vermont included our research in her independent studies project. At the United Plant Savers summer conference held at Sage Mountain, I taught a class entitled “Row Cropping of Threatened Medicinal Herbs For Market in the Northeast” We hosted two groups of approximately 40 people from Sage Mountain, and 10 people from Purple Shutter Herbs in Burlington. On September 14, we held the 3rd annual Hyde Park Herb Festival as a fundraiser for United Plant Savers. Over 150 people attended this event, which included 2 farm tours highlighting the grant project. Rosemary Gladstar was the keynote speaker and presented a class entitled “Creating a Botanical Sanctuary” where she discussed our research. Our website, www.zackwoodsherbs.com, as well as our catalog also promote our SARE grant.