Back to top

Developing Quality Chinese Medicinal Herb Production in the Northeast

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Project Description: 

"Increased consumer interest in complementary and alternative healthcare in the United States has led to rapid growth in the practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) in the Northeast. As part of their patient care, AOM practitioners frequently prescribe Chinese medicinal herbs (CMH), nearly all of which are imported. These imports currently face questions regarding quality and purity. Local production of CMH represents an opportunity for growers to produce cash crops for an untapped market and to provide of safe, secure, and quality herbs for AOM practitioners. To ensure the production of quality Chinese medicinal plants, an evaluation of plant development and constituents of these plants produced under Massachusetts cultural and environmental conditions is needed. Such a study can provide local growers with the agronomic information necessary for successful production of quality Chinese medicinal plant materials.

Due to the limited cropping season, small size of farms, operational costs, and development pressures, Massachusetts growers often struggle to maintain profitable farming operations. Most medicinal and aromatic plants are grown on small farms due to the relatively small quantities needed to meet current market demand and the specialized management and production techniques required to produce the high quality, marketable plant material. In general, growers with small farms in Massachusetts want sustainable, environmentally friendly, part-time farming operations. The growth of medicinal and aromatic plants is readily adaptable to this type of agricultural system.

The primary value of all medicinal and aromatic plants results from the bioactive constituents associated with the tissues (Craker and Gardner, 2003). Such bioactive constituents within plants are known to vary due to environmental stresses and plant cultivars, limiting the acceptability of the medicinal and aromatic plant material in the marketplace. AOM practitioners are accustomed to using plant material imported from China, although many complain about the poor quality of plants supplied by Chinese traders. Development of local production and post-harvest practices could assist Massachusetts farmers to produce high quality Chinese medicinal plants with uniform levels of bioactive constituents. Such local production would ensure the type of plant material desired by AOM practitioners for proper treatment of patients, benefiting growers, practitioners, and those in need of healthcare. The establishment of Chinese medicinal herbs in Massachusetts could provide an income source for small farms and help maintain rural farmland."