The Business of Medicinal Plants

"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture." - Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826, 3rd President of the US)

This page is particularly oriented to growers of medicinal plants, and associated agri-businesses.

The American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (1892-1976), one of the richest men the world has known, had the following formula for success: "Rise early, work hard, strike oil." Always on the search for new ways of making money, Mr. Getty even had pay telephones installed in his English country mansion.

The equivalent of striking oil in agriculture is finding extremely profitable (so-called "green gold") crops. Choosing new profitable crops is a difficult exercise, and advice is given here. However, good business practices are also indispensable, and many common sense business tips are provided on this page. Finally, a guide to resources for locating helpful information is furnished.

Marketplace timing: the most important key to profitability

Relationship of profitability and time for many new patent-free products in a free market economy. Description of this image follows.

The above figure illustrates in a hypothetical fashion the relationship of profitability and time for many new patent-free products in a free market economy (the situation that prevails for most medicinal crops).

Phase 1 is the period of investment in research and development, necessary to bring the new product to the point of profitability (most new products in fact do not survive this foundational period).

During phase 2 the market expands, along with profitability.

Phase 3 is a stable time of profitability, at the end of which decline in profitability occurs (phase 4).

The most common cause of the decline in profitability is copy-cat competition from those who have observed the profitability of the item. The more profitable and popular a given product becomes, the faster competition develops. A frequent consequence of such competition is over-saturation of the market, the generation of surpluses, and business failures of those who remained dependent on the sale of the once-profitable item.

It is extremely important that those who contemplate getting into the business of producing medicinal crops understand this sequence of events, because it is particularly pertinent to such crops, which often have a limited life-span of profitable popularity.

Developing an entirely new crop (phase 1) by oneself, when others are not making the same investment in that crop, is extremely risky, but offers the greatest potential reward, because the inertia from having a large head start may allow one to rapidly capture a large proportion of the potential market, and to hold that market for a long period.

Copying the example of those who started to cultivate the new crop, during phase 2 when the crop is expanding in profitability, is the safest strategy, for although it is somewhat late to get into the game, one has avoided the most dangerous period when most new items simply fail to ever establish profitability.

The most common mistake that is made with attempts to cultivate new medicinal crops is to get into the game late, when sustained profitability has been demonstrated, but producers are beginning to flood the market with the product. Frequently when a medicinal plant is very well known, it is too late to get into high-profitability production of that crop.

Some principal determinants of the commercial importance of medicinal plants

As with all crops grown for the marketplace, a variety of considerations bear on commercial value. Market demand in relation to supply is the most obvious factor, but relative stability of demand and supply are also important, since strong fluctuations can be costly to both producers and marketers. Of course, crops differ in their suitability for given regions and climates, and indeed for markets. Ginseng species are especially illustrative of the fact that crops may differ greatly in terms of domestic production, domestic use, exports, and imports.

American ginseng is Canada's most important medicinal crop, but most of it is exported. Very little of the Asian species is grown in Canada, but a substantial amount is imported. American ginseng also provides an example of how crops change, since domestic consumption has been increasing in recent years (although the current market is stagnant).

Another factor is the relationship of the quantity of material that needs to be grown in order to extract commercial amounts. For example, as noted in the chapter on Pacific yew, a huge quantity of material must be harvested in order to extract a very small amount of the medicinal constituent, taxol.

Ginkgo (from Ginkgo biloba), one of the most popular of medicinal plants, is a very large tree, easily and widely grown as an ornamental, and it might seem that adequate material could easily be obtained from a small number of plants. However, large commercial plantations have already been established (for example, 400 ha in South Carolina) and others are being planted in order to obtain the large amount of foliage necessary.

Many medicinal plants have limited crop value specifically for medicinal products, but are nevertheless valuable as crops because of food or industrial value that exceeds their medicinal worth. For example, alfalfa is considered to be one of the most important of medicinal plants, but because huge quantities are produced as forage, and indeed for seeds for production of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) sprouts, growing alfalfa solely as a medicinal plant is not practical.

Another example is red clover (Trifolium pratense L.), which like alfalfa is widely grown as forage, but happens to be considered a strongly medicinal plant. Extracted flavourings, oils, dyes, and industrial chemicals are the primary economic reason for growing many herbs which happen to have some or even considerable medicinal value, and so growing the crops strictly as medicinal plants is generally not profitable.

Sometimes, however, different cultivars may be more appropriate for medicinal use than the type of plant that is widely raised as a crop. For example, large quantities of catnip (from Nepeta cataria L.) are grown for cats, but lemon-flavoured catnip is popular in some medicinal teas. The general point to be emphasized is that wide availability of plant species (or at least varieties of those species) strongly tends to lower their profit potential specifically for medicinal purposes, and vice-versa.

The key considerations are price and volume - i.e., whether a good-sized crop can be grown profitably specifically for medicinal purposes. Nutraceuticals that are extracted from crops may have most of their value determined by the process of extraction and market preparation, and those who engage in these aspects of the medicinal industry are not limited by the fact that the source crops may be widely and commonly available at low prices.

Medicinal plants - just one category of chemical crop that can be grown profitably

Motives for growing different categories of plants vary. From an agri-business viewpoint, those who contemplate raising medicinal crops should be aware that this type of crop is very similar in numerous respects to other types of crop (which also tend to be potentially high-value, labour- and (or) knowledge-intensive, niche-market crops harvested because of valuable chemical constituents, often grown on small acreages and marketed in low volumes). Such crops, therefore, may be equally or even more suitable for particular growers, and before choosing medicinal crops, the other types should also be considered.

A comparison of merits based on personal or corporate preferences, as well as economic and business considerations, should determine whether or not to pursue medicinal crops preferentially.

To help choose the type of new crop to grow, we suggest a perusal of the general literature and Web sites provided. The choice includes:

  • "aromatic plants" (which supply extracts to the flavouring and perfume industries),
  • culinary herbs and spices (i.e., plants consumed in small quantities for flavour),
  • "tea crops" (such as catnip, rose hip, lemon balm, and chamomile, which are equally both culinary herb and medicinal plants),
  • "bioactive" crops (for example, producing pesticides or hormones), and
  • nutraceutical or functional food crops which, as explained in the Introduction, includes an extremely wide variety of preparations from plants that have health benefits.

Industrial crops is a vague category that could include the above-mentioned plants, but typically refers to high-acreage crops producing oils and other chemicals of industrial value. Below, we list some possible alternatives to growing the medicinal crops we discuss in detail in this work.

Some potentially high-value niche-market crops that can be grown in Canada for chemical constituents

Aromatic (essential oil) crops

(All of these are used medicinally, although the crops are primarily used for food, flavoring, or ornament.)

  • Bergamot (Mondarda didyma L.)
  • Caraway (Carum carvi L.)
  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria L.)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens L.)
  • Hyssop, anise (Agastache foeniculum (Pursh) O. Kuntze)
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita L.)
  • Spearmint, Scotch (Mentha x gracilis Sole)

Insecticidal crops

  • Pyrethrum (Tanacetum cineriifolium (Trev.) Schultz-Bip.)

Nutraceutical or functional food crops

Common name Scientific name Purposes for which the crop is widely grown Medicinal crop purpose
Wheat Trititicum aestivum L. cereal bran extract
Oats Avena sativa L. cereal, fodder bran extract
Sunflower Helianthus annuus L. edible oil, birdfeed high oleic edible oil (a high monounsaturated oil with low levels of both saturated and polyunsaturated fats)
Rapeseed (canola) Brassica napus L. edible oil extracted phytosterol (skin moisturizer and transdermal barrier transport agent)
Fenugreek Trigonella foenumgraecum L. Fodder, spice extracted sex hormone precursors (for making birth control pills)
Flax Linum usitatissimum L. lineseed oil, flax fiber seed oil is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially the essential alpha-linolenic acid; rich sources of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that some suspect of anti-cancer activity
Hemp Cannabis sativa L. fiber high-GLA (essential fatty acid) edible oil from seeds
Borage Borago officinalis L. ornamental high-GLA (essential fatty acid) edible oil from seeds
Garlic Allium sativum L. culinary herb garlic extract (used in tablets consumed for health benefits)
Horseradish Armoracia rusticana P. Gaertn., B. Mey. & Scherb. culinary herb horseradish is grown in Canada to extract the enzyme peroxidase, used for diagnosis of the AIDS virus
Psyllium Plantago psyllium L.; P. ovata Forsk. (blond psyllium) no other uses widely used laxitive from seeds

Some non-native medicinal plants that might be grown profitably in Canada

(Also see the above list of Nutraceutical crops, all of which are of foreign origin; most can be grown profitably in Canada.)

Common name Scientific name Predominant medicinal use
Burdock Arctium lappa L. Used as over-the-counter traditional herbal treatment for various disorders
Calendula (pot marigold) Calendula officialis L. Used to relieve minor skin conditions
Chamomile, English Chamaemelum nobile (L.) All. A general anti-inflammatory, anti-infection herbal remedy
Chamomile, German Matricaria recutita L. A general anti-inflammatory, anti-infection herbal remedy
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium (L.) Schultz-Bip. Used to treat fever
Milk thistle Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. Used to treat liver conditions
Nettle Urtica dioica L. Used to treat a variety of maladies, including prostate problems and inflammation of mucous membranes of nose
Peony Paeonia species Used in Chinese herbal medicine, and seems to be arousing interest in Western medicine
st. John's-wort Hypericum perforatum L. An anti-depressant
Valerian Valeriana officinalis L. A sedative

Why are indigenous Canadian plants economically important?

Our focus on indigenous medicinal plants reflects our belief that they offer Canada the most obvious crops deserving attention and development. True, there are also numerous foreign medicinal plants that can be grown as crops in Canada, and these will be the subject eventually of a separate guide.

As noted by the asterisks in the following list, three of the top-selling medicinal herbs in the United States are native plants of Canada (dealt with in this work).

Cultivating medicinal herbs as a small enterprise

Top six medicinal herbs in US (sales for 1995) - Cited by P. Brevoort, 1996, Herbalgram 36 (Spring): 54. (The asterisks indicate three of the top-selling medicinal herbs in the United States that are native plants of Canada.)

  • Echinacea*
  • Garlic
  • Goldenseal*
  • Ginseng*
  • Ginko
  • Saw palmetto

The supply of Saw palmetto berries (Serenoa serrulata (Michx.) Hook. f., a palm), popular as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for prostate problems, is largely obtained by harvesting wild stands in Florida, although there is some cultivation. Goldenseal also is mostly obtained from wild supplies, although increasingly it is cultivated. Medicinal supplies of the remaining species are derived mostly or entirely from cultivation.

Most major medicinal herbs are marketed by "big business," but much of the cultivation is by small enterprises. Large processing companies often contract the cultivation and harvest of medicinal herbs to private growers or simply bid on the open market.

Popular medicinal crops (such as echinacea, valerian and St. John's wort) may be grown on large (for example, 10 ha or more) acreages. Plants grown for gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid lacking in perhaps 15% of humans), which includes borage, evening primrose, and hemp, can also fall into this category of large-acreage crop.

Aromatherapy (the external application of essential oils for healing, pleasure, and stress reduction) employs plant essential oils, most of which are grown as large crops, especially in hot climates. However, many medicinal plants are grown in quite small acreages.

Notwithstanding the economic importance of corporations, small entrepreneurs are of special importance to the future development of the medicinal herb industry in North America. There are opportunities for small private enterprises, including the cultivation of medicinal herbs as part of the spectrum of crops raised by farmers. Many medicinal herbs are well suited to small scale production because of the relatively limited volumes of produce and the specialized growing conditions required. The relatively high crop values also contribute to the fact that they can frequently be grown economically on small acreages without sophisticated machinery or at least with machinery that can be adapted. Some medicinal herbs are rather weedy, and can be grown on marginal land, although generally medicinal herbs require good land like other crops.

Preparation of extracts and dried products is specialized, competitive, and often requires large investments. Dehydrating, processing, and extracting generally demand considerable knowledge and experience, machinery and equipment. Dehydration or extraction normally is carried out immediately after harvesting, and in close proximity to the area of cultivation.

Large firms have established high quality and processing standards, and tend to dominate the market. However, there are companies specializing in transforming a medicinal crop into saleable products (for example, tinctures, elixirs and capsules) on behalf of the grower, who then markets the product, either at the wholesale or retail level. This can be very advantageous to the grower, since farm gate prices for medicinal crops can be quite low, while the profit on products can be quite high.

Moreover, liability insurance for marketing medicinal preparations may be obtainable only within such an arrangement where there is demonstrable pharmacological expertise. For some medicinal crops, growers can retain profits that would otherwise go to market intermediaries, by acquiring necessary extraction, processing, and marketing skills. Several body care products such as soaps and salves can be produced relatively easily by small producers, who can directly market by means such as mail order and craft fairs.

Risks and problems for the grower

Risk is particularly high for medicinal crops. The degree of risk associated with a particular medicinal crop decreases as the associated industry and market infrastructure develop. At the same time, competition often increases significantly and profit margins sometimes decline as the crop becomes less risky.

Commercial-scale medicinal plant production for certain herbs (for example, ginseng) may involve relatively high capital investment (for example, for planting stock, machinery, and drying equipment). For many species, only limited information may be available on appropriate production practices and quality standards. Markets may be uncertain, seed supply sources may provide stocks that are unsuitable for one reason or another, and regulations concerning pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides may not have been established. Overproduction or shortages can dramatically affect prices, which can drop or escalate overnight. Markets for a particular medicinal crop can disappear almost immediately should it be deemed unsafe for consumption.

Still other undesirable possibilities are the chemical synthesis of a chemical produced by a given medicinal plant, or discovery of another species that more productively produces that compound. This could make growing the medicinal species on which one has specialized suddenly obsolete (for example, see bloodroot).

Many plant species can only be cultivated practically in tropical areas. However, hundreds of medicinal plants can or could be grown in Canada as crops. Perhaps for the majority of these, traditional expertise for their production has been developed in foreign countries.

Europe has a long history of supplying world medicinal plant markets, and it is difficult to compete with such entrenched competition. Of all factors restricting profitability of medicinal crops, overseas competition is the most significant, and this can make it extremely difficult for the enterprising small entrepreneur to break into the market.

Countries around the Mediterranean Sea, eastern Europe, Latin America and India are the world's major suppliers of medicinal herbs. Very low labour costs often mean that medicinal herbs are placed on the market at low prices.

However, lack of purity of much of the foreign supply and lack of certification that the material is "organic" or pesticide-free provides a very large advantage for domestic growers. Pharmaceutical companies often look to domestic contract growers to provide a certified organic crop.

Still another problem particularly associated with the medicinal plant industry is the irregularity of market demand. This makes it essential for a small private entrepreneur to establish a close working relationship with a buyer or company purchasing the product.

The production of seeds of medicinal plants is another very problematical subject. Imported seed and seed of major herbs produced by bulk North American suppliers once again tend to make this area of the herb business difficult for the small entrepreneur. Germination rates of many common herbs are rather poor and, coupled with poor seed production by many species, the profitability of seed production can be marginal.

Unfortunately, for many medicinal plants there is an urgent need for production of high-quality, reliably identified seed that is often not met by suppliers. Imported seeds may be mixtures of cultivars or contaminated by weed seeds. Growers need to be especially sensitive to the issues of quality, purity, and identity, since the success of their crops depends on these factors. It may be necessary to produce one's own seed to ensure the crop is successful.

Research and information needs

Research of various types is needed for most medicinal herbs:

  • Collecting germplasm, characterizing its variation, and protecting it in nature and in storage facilities
  • Evaluation of phytochemistry
  • Pharmacological testing to establish effectiveness and safety
  • Screening and breeding of more productive varieties adapted to local conditions
  • Investigations of cultural and post-harvest requirements, including weed and pest control, soil nutrition, planting densities, packaging, and critical storage temperatures
  • Greenhouse cultivation.

Greenhouse production deserves special consideration. For some high-value medicinal herbs, this is a very important subject in Canada, where low temperatures and short seasons limit productivity. Obviously it is expensive to maintain a greenhouse, but under some circumstances this may be justified by the savings realized in avoiding importation.

Greenhouses allow excellent regulation of temperature, moisture, humidity, diseases and insects, and indeed serve to avoid most insects and weeds, as well as birds, dust, and atmospheric pollution. A major issue is whether or not particular herbs can be grown in such artificial conditions and still produce the desired chemicals.

It is well known that in many plants environmental and cultural conditions can alter the concentrations of economic constituents. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Greenhouse & Processing Crops Research Centre at Harrow, Ontario, is the largest centre of greenhouse crop research in Canada, and medicinal plant cultivation is a current concern.

Advice regarding medicinal crops that was circulated in Canada more than half a century ago

The following set of recommendations (last revised in 1947 by W.J. Cody and H.A. Senn) was distributed as a mimeographed sheet for many years, in reply to inquiries about medicinal plants, by the Botany and Plant Pathology unit of the Division of the Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa (a precursor of our organization, the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre).

Although more than half a century old, the advice is sufficiently relevant to today that it is worth noting here. This also provides an interesting opportunity to analyse recent changes.

  1. The successful cultivation of medicinal plants requires considerable care. Equipment for harvesting and preparing the material for market is highly specialized. Consequently, the prospective grower should, if possible, have some experience in the production of drug plants before he embarks on a venture of his own.
  2. Some species and varieties occupy the land for two or more years before a marketable crop is available. Often they require a careful attention during this time.
  3. The idea that high prices are usually paid for medicinal plants seems to prevail in some districts. Although prices for some types did rise considerably during the war, it is seldom that more than a reasonable profit is realized from these crops. Very often the profit is small or a loss is experienced.
  4. The market for medicinal plant products has been very unstable. A grower would be well advised to have a contract with a prospective buyer to insure against having no market for his crop. The wholesale drug companies are not eager to buy from the small collector or producer since they cannot be certain of the continuity of supply or the identity and uniformity of the product.
  5. As a rule the total demand for any of these plant products is very small. Thus a small acreage usually will suffice to supply the market. If a high price were obtainable for any particular plant, the probability is that many people would grow it. Thus the market would be flooded; a consequent fall in price would result, and only the most favourably situated producers would be successful in making a profit.
  6. The present high cost of labour in Canada makes profitable gardening of any sort more expensive than formerly. Almost everywhere labour is very difficult to obtain. Moreover, now that the war is over, Canadians will not likely be able to compete with the much cheaper labour and expert culture of countries where plants have been normally produced.

The above recommendations, while pertinent to current circumstances, need to be viewed in the light of recent developments.

Herbal remedies have become extremely popular in health food stores, drugstores, and supermarkets, and this is quite unlike past times. Consequently, much of points 3 and 5, regarding market size and profitability, are less of a concern.

Although farm gate prices for many botanicals remain low, growers now have the option of personally adding value to their crop to take advantage of the much higher profit margins available to sellers.

Point 6, cheap foreign labour, is also not as important as formerly, because quality control and organic cultivation give domestic producers a strong advantage.

Current demographic trends also suggest a promising future for medicinal crops: the population is aging, becoming much more concerned about health issues, and turning to over the counter medicinal products as a supplement to conventional medical treatment.

Advice regarding growing medicinal crops today in Canada

Probably the best advice that can be given to those contemplating getting into the business of medicinal herbs is to spend about a year doing research. Libraries can be good sources of information. Although travel is expensive, attendance at market-oriented conferences can provide key ideas and contacts. Marketing publications, agricultural departments of government and universities, and established growers can provide invaluable information and can save you from mistakes.

A personal business plan should be created (for advice on business plans, see for example Dove 1990, Dove 1994, Hankins 1994), and as much expert help as possible sought in preparing this. Keep in mind the grower's motto "find your market before you sow your seed." The following points may help those considering getting into the production of medicinal crops.

Tips and questions for the potential grower of medicinal crops

  • A definite plus is high enthusiasm, indeed a love for herbs and plant cultivation in general and medicinal plants in particular. Do you have this kind of motivation?
  • While medicinal plant production can be a satisfying hobby or sideline, generally this requires a substantial commitment in time, energy, and resources, acceptance of risk, and business talent. All of these requirements also apply to farming enterprises in general, but are more demanding with medicinal plant crops because of higher levels of risk. Does this fit in with your personal situation and abilities?
  • In practice, farmers who already own a farm and have equipment and experience growing crops are in the best position to undertake the growing of medicinal crops. Well-recommended established farmers, preferably organic, are most likely to obtain contracts to grow particular crops. Does this describe you?
  • Consider your own grower experiences and preferences, and size up the competition. Would you benefit from partnership with another, more experienced grower?
  • Carefully consider the benefits of hiring a professional processor/manufacturer to convert your crop into marketable commodities that you take responsibility for selling. Farm gate profitability of most medicinal crops can be very low, while retail profits can be very high.
  • Consider the advantages of organic production, and learn what is necessary for certification. Consider weed and pest control strategies consistent with organic production. It is important to avoid areas where chemical residues are present, where spray drift occurs, and where hard to control weeds are established.
  • Consider the maxim "Don't put all your eggs in one basket!" New crop ventures are always risky, and the market for medicinal plants is known to be very variable; therefore there is wisdom in trying several promising possible medicinal crops rather than just one.
  • Acquire as much information as you are able on crops you decide to grow. Consult other growers, and provincial and federal government and university advisory personnel. If unknown pests appear or diseases develop, who will be able to identify these and provide advice?
  • Government (both federal and provincial) and university crop research specialists in your area regularly conduct studies on such aspects of crops as physiology, soils, genetics, and development of mechanical harvesters, sorting machines, dryers, etc. Find out what crop research is going on, and whether aspects of this research can benefit your planned enterprise.
  • Elected local politicians (municipal, provincial, federal) can be particularly valuable allies in starting up new ventures. To be taken seriously, do lots of research before contacting them, and try to be specific in your requests for assistance (for example, for names and addresses of contacts, for letters of introduction, even for assistance in developing your business). Be persistent - politicians are there to serve you.
  • Successful producers of new crops often spend more time marketing than growing their crops. Because of the necessity of devoting time to production and processing during the summer, market development may best be conducted during the off-season. Make market contacts, including alternative health providers who use herbs, local processing companies, brokers, manufacturing companies, and health food stores. Remember, targeted personal contacts are more effective than mailed advertisements.
  • Consider the suitability of your location (including distance to processing facilities and market), climate, soil (including drainage), rotation of the medicinal crops with complementary crops, topography (suitability for machinery), windbreaks (for tall herbaceous crops that could be damaged by wind), winter snowfall accumulation (which may be essential for survival of perennials), availability of water for irrigation, and available acreage.
  • Carry out small-scale pilot studies of cultivation and harvesting. Consider testing several seed sources for suitability. If necessary, experimental plantings can be used to determine optimal conditions. Fertilization is known to decrease concentration of desired chemicals in many medicinal plants. Have chemical analysis performed to test market suitability of samples from your pilot study.
  • Take a course in how to run a small business.
  • A business plan is wise, and may be indispensable if financing is sought. Conventional lenders such as banks will recognize that new crop enterprises are high-risk ventures. Therefore, before attempting to borrow money, it is a good idea to have achieved initial productivity and market success. A recent market study may also be desirable. Seek professional financial advice if necessary.
  • Consider the cost and (or) adaptability of required harvesting equipment, a drier and drying shed, sorting or processing equipment, and storage facilities.
  • Plan out a schedule of activities, including seedbed preparation, seeding, fertilization, weed control, harvesting, storage, and processing.
  • Consider market demands, timing of supply, volumes required, prices, and labor costs and availability. Trade groups and market newsletters can be invaluable for this kind of information (check the reference material cited at the end of this chapter).
  • Determine product specifications of the market. If chemical or other types of professional analysis are required, who will do this?
  • Production budgets are unavailable for most minor medicinal crops, and an attempt should be made to estimate probable costs. Factors to be considered include input costs, labor requirements, expected yields, number of years to harvest, and probable prices. By comparing opportunity costs for the money you would invest in the medicinal plant enterprise, and for use of the land, as well as your own labor, you can get a rough idea of how worthwhile the project is.
  • Remember, the suitability of planting stock is critical to success. Many medicinal plants are completely wild (undomesticated) and special seed treatment is necessary for commercial planting. If seeds are unreliable or in very short supply, vegetative propagation may be necessary.
  • Focus on long-term goals. Several years may be required to establish consistent and reliable crops and develop profitable markets.
  • Consider concentrating on crops with similar specialized growth or preparation requirements. Many native Canadian medicinal plants are shade-loving and slow-growing, and can be grown in the same type of artificial shade. Culture under the natural canopy of woodland, the traditional method of growing many shade-loving species, is an alternative where considerable forested land is available. Crops that can be grown in greenhouses are one possible venture (although presently requiring research). Crops marketed as a tea (and therefore requiring drying facilities) is another possibility.
  • Invest in a computer and a software programs appropriate to your needs. Basic accounting programs will allow you to keep track of expenses and sales. Other software will enable you to economically produce a newsletter and advertising circulars, and labels for products. Color sells, and a color printer may be a smart investment.
  • Access the World Wide Web. "There's a new Web site every 4 seconds" (Steven Calcote). The amount of information on all aspects of medicinal crops and indeed on all kinds of agricultural and business endeavours is staggering, and you will surely find much that is useful.
  • Join organizations that represent your interests. There is strength in number, especially in attempting to influence governmental policies with respect to restrictive regulations concerning the manufacture and sale of herbal medicines.
  • Treat employees honestly and fairly; they will return the favour.
  • Strive to build a favourable reputation. Buyers are loyal to suppliers of a consistent, clean product that is available at the right time, place, and price, and meets industry standards and specifications of quality.
  • Try to develop new markets. Political instability, crop failures, and contamination of products that happen to competitors are opportunities to acquire new clients.

Additional Information

The Economic Potential of Medicinal Plant Production with Particular Reference to Quebec

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