Diversify Production Methods of Medicinal Herb Crops with Tissue Culture

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,946.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:


  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: botanical pesticides, compost extracts, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - killed, physical control, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, trap crops, traps, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, public participation, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Consumer demand for high quality medicinal herbs is increasing at a slow, but steady, rate. Many of these herbs are harvested exclusively from stagnant to declining wild populations. Yields from wild populations increase over 37% in the last five or six years. Now, some species of medicinal herbs are added to the federal and state threatened or endangered plant lists each year. A wild harvester can easily wipe out entire populations of a species in an area in a short period of time. Sufficient harvest volumes of medicinal herbs can only be consistently achieved with the incorporation of cultivated material into the supply channel. The medicinal herb market fluctuates in a way that differs from many agricultural markets. It is immature by industry standards and not as well organized as other commodities. It is also under pressure from federal agencies to ensure safe products which has many herbal product companies and regulatory agencies working together to develop standardized quality measurements and procedures. This means that it is an industry in constant flux! This can present an opportunity for a grower or value added entrepreneur, but it also means growers must maintain a level of flexibility that they may not have needed in other industries, for example with traditional commodity crops in the Southern region. The problem for herb farmers is that high quality seed and planting stock can be difficult to obtain and very expensive, especially for organic material. Large quantities of viable seed are not readily available commercially. Many of the medicinal herb seed dealers collect from the open field. The herb seeds are wild-crafted and the seed is extremely variable. Germination rates have not been tested. This leads to sporadic plantings in the field. Many medicinal herb seeds have very specific and long stratification requirements. Germination can be very slow and erratic. Rootstock can be difficult to obtain and store and some decay easily. Plugs or transplants are a more viable way to insure crop uniformity but there is an extreme shortage of nurseries providing large volumes of medicinal herb planting stock. In order for herb farmers to be successful in providing a cultivated supply of quality herbs for the increasing public demand, diverse propagation methods need to be explored and utilized to provide them with sufficient volumes of quality planting stock. Tissue culture has a number of advantages over traditional plant propagation techniques. This method produces disease-free plants, it produces rooted plantlets ready for growth, rather than seeds or cuttings, it has an extraordinarily high multiplication rate, producing thousands of plant starts in the same time it would take a conventional technique to produce tens or hundreds, it is a good way of multiplying plants that produce seeds in uneconomical amounts (if at all), and it often produces more robust plants, leading to accelerated growth compared to similar plants produced by conventional methods, thereby shortening the long periods of stratification time required by some medicinal herb seeds. Growing plants in tissue culture has steadily been gaining acceptance in the horticultural and the agricultural commodity industry, but very little research has been published concerning the tissue culture protocol for medicinal herb plants. I will begin by experimenting with 4 different herbs to obtain the best plant specific protocol for tissue culturing each species. The 4 herbs I have chosen are Sambucus nigra, Chamaelirium luteum, Scutellaria lateriflora L., and Echinacea angustifolia. These species are chosen because of their difficulty to germinate, their popularity in value added formulations and their higher market value at harvest. Seed and stock plants will be purchased for each of the 4 species. The seed for each species will be planted as a control group by conventional methods according to the herb production information sheets provided online courtesy of the Mountain Horticultural Research Center and Extension Service of Fletcher, NC. Stock plants will be tissue cultured in 6 separate nutrient medium recipes for stage one shoot multiplication and shoots from the medium with the best multiplication rate will be sub cultured into 6 different stage two medium recipes for root development. The medium recipes showing the best growth in tissue culture will be chosen as the test group, with protocol documented, and used to measure results. 1) Measurements for production will be taken from each group and compared. For example; Cost (of seed or stock plant, organic soil amendments or medium nutrients, soil substrate, etc.) divided by quantity of plants produced equals cost per plant. 2) Growth times for each group, according to species, to produce a rooted plant that is ready to harden off will also be compared and recorded. I will offer 2 workshops for interested farmers in late fall of 2007. Each workshop will last 4 hours with a sign up limit of 25 farmers for each class. Each farmer attending these workshops will be provided with the supplies necessary to experience medicinal herb tissue culture firsthand. They will also be provided with an instruction manual to keep and information about the website, supply purchase and list serve. I will give a tour and demonstration of the project to participants of the 2007 Farm Tour which is being offered through the NC Extension Service by Rob Hawk, Haywood County Extension Agent. Information about this exciting method and published papers will be made available to the Mountain Horticultural Research Center and Extension Service as they are leaders in researching the medicinal herb industry. I want to make micro propagation an affordable process and bring the lab to the farm by simplifying the current method of tissue culture and designing and producing a laymen's instruction manual and tissue culture kit for the home. This will enable herb farmers to perform tissue culturing in their own kitchens without expensive equipment or chemicals, thereby reducing start-up costs to explore this option of propagation.

    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.