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AHPA's 1999 Herb Tonnage Survey: Summary and Analysis


Market Report

AHPA's 1999 Herb Tonnage Survey: Summary and Analysis

by Michael McGuffin

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) recently completed its second consecutive annual tonnage survey. This survey tabulated harvest data for each of the three years from 1997 to 1999 for many of the most widely traded wild and cultivated North American medicinal plants.

While the prior year's survey was concerned only with goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis), the new survey includes goldenseal leaf, as well as American ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius); black cohosh root (Actaea racemosa syn. Cimicifuga racemosa); cascara sagrada bark (Frangula purshiana syn. Rhamnus purshiana); osha root (Ligusticum porteri); saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens); slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra); and wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa). In addition, both root and "herb" (defined as "any and all aboveground parts") are quantified for three species of Echinacea.

The tonnage survey shows a uniform three-year pattern for several high volume herbs, wherein increases from 1997 to 1998 were followed by declines in total harvest from 1998 to 1999. The herbs for which this pattern emerged included black cohosh root, saw palmetto berry, goldenseal root, and almost all root and herb commodities in the genus Echinacea.

How does one explain this consistency over such a variety of plants? One place to look is toward recent market factors. Each of these plants enjoyed significant increases in product placement toward the beginning of this three-year period, so that the 1998 harvest for these came on the heels of large increases in the number of herbal products containing these herbs. As a result, that year's harvest was planned when raw materials had been depleted and buyer confidence suggested the new product "boom" would continue. The anticipated increase in consumer demand for these products failed to meet such an aggressive increase in supply however, and the 1999 harvest fell to former levels and below.

Entirely different factors affected the market for wild American ginseng, as the primarily Asian market for this botanical has reduced its demand because of regional financial difficulties. The three-year record for wild American ginseng appears to reflect the Asian economy, so that the harvest in each of the past two years, while consistent at about 11.5-12 short tons (2000 pounds), is significantly less than the 1997 harvest of 19.5 tons.

Annual harvests of the other surveyed wild harvested species do not exhibit any common pattern. The 1999 data shows stable use of slippery elm bark (between 93 and 132.5 tons in each of the past three years) and wild yam root (between 29 and 31 tons each year). However, the use of cascara sagrada bark spiked in 1998 at 176 tons, compared to 58 in 1997 and 134.5 in 1999. Use of osh‡ also increased to about 6.5 tons in both 1998 and 1999 compared to less than 1.25 tons in 1997.

With the exception of American ginseng, goldenseal and most echinacea species, only modest agricultural production was reported for any of the botanicals surveyed. Reported cultivation of osh‡ was measured at approximately 0.5 ton in 1998 and 1 ton in 1999. Although more than 17.5 tons of black cohosh came from cultivated sources in 1998, this amount fell to less than 1.5 tons in 1999. Finally, although significant harvest of cultivated saw palmetto was reported, this may be more accurately described as managed populations of wild saw palmetto rather than cultivated crops; a fine point of definition.

On the other hand, the 1999 harvest of more than 23.5 tons of cultivated dried goldenseal root represented more than a seven-fold increase from 1998. The proportion of the total harvest from agricultural efforts thus increased from only 2 percent in 1998 to 34 percent in 1999. In addition, the total goldenseal acreage under cultivation was stable in each of the past two years, averaging between 140 and 145 acres.

The 1999 tonnage survey extends the quantitative usage data gathered by the herb industry from only 1 botanical commodity in 1998 to 16 in 1999. Harvest decreases are recorded for certain species that may be due in part to broad market factors. The cultivated portion of certain high volume species such as goldenseal and all species of Echinacea are demonstrating increases. Other plants, such as slippery elm and black cohosh, continue to rely almost exclusively on harvests of wild populations.

The survey itself was administered by a third party, the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson LLP, to assure responders of the confidentiality of sensitive information. It was designed by AHPA staff and the AHPA Botanical Raw Material Committee, and delivered to all active association members and several non-member companies that cultivate or trade bulk raw materials. Nineteen producers replied to the survey.

Michael McGuffin is President of AHPA. The 1999 Tonnage Survey was sponsored in part by the generous financial support of Nutritional Outlook magazine. The full report is available from the American Herbal Products Association, Silver Spring, Maryland, by email: <>.