PCA logo

First Annual Report of the Plant Conservation Alliance Medicinal Plant Working Group

December 2000

FWS logo

At least 175 species of plants native to North America are offered for sale in the non-prescription medicinal market in the United States; and more than 140 native medicinal herbs have been documented in herbal products and phytomedicines in foreign countries (Robbins 1999).  The market for medicinal herbs is significant.  In 1999 the world market for herbal remedies was worth approximately $20 billion, about $3.8 billion of which was spent by American consumers (ICMAP 2000).

Many medicinal plants used in the United States are collected in large quantities from the wild.  For example, an estimated 65 million goldenseal [1] and 20 million ginseng [2] plants were collected from the forests of the eastern United States in 1998.  Unfortunately, the scientific information necessary to assess whether native medicinals are harvested sustainably is almost non-existent.  Leaders in the botanical products industry are increasingly using cultivated plants instead of those collected from the wild.  However, techniques for commercial-scale propagation are still unknown for some species and appropriate economic incentives are lacking for many others.

To address growing concerns for medicinal plant conservation the US Fish & Wildlife Service helped to establish the Medicinal Plant Working Group (PCA-MPWG) under the auspices of the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), a consortium of ten US  federal government member agencies and more than 170 non‑federal cooperators working together to conserve plants native to the United States.  The PCA-MPWG held its first formal meeting September 30, 1999, preceded by start-up sessions in June and July that drafted the group’s organizational structure and strategy.  Membership is open to anyone wishing to participate.  Current membership in the PCA-MPWG stands at more than 240 individuals representing a wide variety of organizations (Appendix A), including federal agencies (21), industry (19), academia (27), non-profits (28), state agencies (11), tribes (3), and international organizations (6).

Strategy

PCA-MPWG members share a common interest in conserving medicinal plants native to the United States.  The PCA-MPWG Evolving Strategy summarizes this direction:

Recognizing that commercial demands may cause overharvesting from the wild, the Medicinal Plant Working Group, which includes representatives from industry, government, academia, tribes, and environmental organizations, aims to create a framework for discussion and action on behalf of medicinal plants.  The group's primary focus is to facilitate action on behalf of species of particular conservation concern as a means to balance biological and commercial needs and, in the long term, minimize regulatory intervention.  Within that framework, there may also be a need to provide public education on Tribal interests and policies as these intersect with the conservation of plants.  The Working Group intends to raise awareness of native medicinal plant issues and needs among partner agencies and cooperating organizations to:

  1. generate and share information regarding species of medicinal and economic importance and conservation concern
  2. promote appropriate conservation measures for native medicinal plants
  3. promote sustainable production of native medicinal plant products
  4. increase participation in native medicinal plant conservation
  5. encourage active participation by tribes and other holders of traditional ecological knowledge pertaining to native medicinal plants
  6. generate financial support for native medicinal plant conservation projects

Organization

The six areas identified in the strategy have determined the organizational structure of the working group.  Six committees, each dedicated to achieving one of the goals identified above, have defined their objectives and developed action plans to achieve them (Appendix B).  Progress made by each of the Committees in the past year is reported here.

Information Committee
Chair: Nan Vance, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon

The goal of the Information Committee is to generate and share information regarding species of medicinal and economic importance and conservation concern.  Information Committee activities during its first year included the following:

Develop a list of plants of medicinal and economic importance that are also of conservation concern

Several PCA-MPWG member organizations, including the Association for Biodiversity Information, the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs, TRAFFIC North America, United Plant Savers, Botanical Liaisons, the USDA Forest Service, and others have already identified species of particular concern.  The Committee is currently working to develop a spreadsheet to display the status accorded by these groups plus state, federal, and international-level protections for over 200 species of native medicinal plants.  This information will be posted on the PCA-MPWG web site when it becomes available, hopefully early in 2001 (www.nps.gov/plants/medicinal).

Assess currently available information as appropriate

The Committee has circulated Medicine from U. S. Wildlands:  An Assessment of Native Plant Species Harvested in the United States for Medicinal Use and Trade and Evaluation of the Conservation and Management Implications, a report funded by the USDA Forest Service and prepared by TRAFFIC North America for The Nature Conservancy (Robbins 1999).  This report is available on the PCA-MPWG website.

Conduct inventory and monitoring of native medicinal plants

The Committee encouraged implementation of the monitoring protocols for American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) developed by Dr. Daniel Gagnon of the University of Quebec with funding from the US Fish & Wildlife Service (Gagnon, 1999).  These are also available on the PCA-MPWG website.

Assess the volume, intensity, and ecological impact of harvesting from the wild for selected species

Graduate students at the University of Maryland Conservation Biology Program examined the biological and trade status of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), osha (Ligusticum porteri), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), and slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) with respect to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II listing criteria, drafted a proposal to list Ligusticum porteri, and recommended additional research on the status of Cimicifuga racemosa (University of Maryland Program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology 1999).  Their report is available on the PCA-MPWG website.

Rob Wolkow, a graduate student at the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) of Columbia University, evaluated the biological and trade status of the following species: Aletris farinosa, Aristolochia serpentaria, Caulophyllum thalictroides, Dioscorea villosa, Sanguinaria canadensis, and Trillium erectum.  His final report will be posted on our website when it becomes available.

Identify native medicinal plants of particular conservation concern by ecoregion

Activities to achieve this objective were primarily undertaken by the Conservation and Sustainable Production Committees (see below).

Promote awareness of the concerns and policies of tribes and other groups that safeguard traditional knowledge of native medicinal plants as these pertain to confidentiality of information

Activities to achieve this objective were primarily undertaken by the Ethnobotany Committee (see below).

The Information Committee has also accepted the generous donation of a database from Michael Tims, University of Maryland, which provides Internet-accessible information on medicinal plants and links to other medicinal plant databases via the web.  Plans are underway to make the database accessible through the PCA-MPWG web site.

Conservation Committee
Chair: Trish Flaster, Botanical Liaisons, Boulder, Colorado

The goal of the Conservation Committee is to promote appropriate conservation measures for native medicinal plants.  In its first year, the Conservation Committee accomplished the following:

Develop consensus regarding in‑situ and ex‑situ conservation priorities for native medicinal plants

Based on information provided by the Association for Biodiversity Information, United Plant Savers, Botanical Liaisons, and their own internal discussions, the Conservation and Sustainable Production Committees have identified the following taxa of special concern due to the potential threat of over-collection:

Encourage information sharing regarding selected medicinals to aid decision-makers in making informed decisions

Based on input provided by graduate students at the University of Maryland Conservation Biology Program regarding the status of osha (Ligusticum porteri), the US Fish & Wildlife Service initiated discussion with the government of Mexico and the CITES Plants Committee regarding the status of this species in the wild and the potential effects of international trade (University of Maryland Program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology 1999).

Develop a web page             

Activities to achieve this objective were primarily undertaken by the Participation Committee (see below).

Define methods of sustainably harvesting selected species from the wild

The Conservation Committee, in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and several dedicated volunteers from the Garden Clubs of America, initiated a project to survey black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and to determine maximum sustainable harvest rates for these species in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.  These species were selected for study due to their popularity in the herbal market and because they are not commercially cultivated on a large scale relative to demand.

The first phase of the project was completed in September 2000 (Appendix C).  Plans are underway to continue the work and to initiate a similar project for other understory herbs in West Virginia in 2001.

Facilitate the articulation and use of a wild-crafting ethic

Activities to achieve this objective were primarily undertaken by the Sustainable Production Committee (see below).

Access current and planned ex‑situ conservation activities for native medicinal plants by federal agencies, botanical gardens, Center for Plant Conservation, etc.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has initiated contact with the Center for Plant Conservation to examine ways in which the Center can facilitate research on the status of species of particular concern.

Sustainable Production Committee
CoChair: Andrew Bentley, Rustic Roots Company, Lexington, Kentucky
CoChair: Ed Fletcher, Strategic Sourcing, Boone, North Carolina

The goal of the Sustainable Production Committee is to promote sustainable production of native medicinal plant products.  To achieve this goal, the Committee concentrated on the following activities last year:

Promote research of commercial-scale cultivation and propagation of native medicinals, and encourage sustainable alternative cultivation and propagation techniques.

i. develop a short list of endangered, medicinal plants with ongoing traditional and/or alternative cultivation/propagation research, and current high consumer demand (using work started by other organizations, such as United Plant Savers)

The Sustainable Production Committee collaborated with the Conservation Committee to develop the list of species of concern identified above.  In recommending species for this list, members identified medicinal plants with ongoing traditional and/or alternative cultivation/propagation research, as well as current high consumer demand . 

ii. compile information about the research and production of these plants to be presented via links and other mechanisms on the PCA web site

This Committee also provided a substantial review of the information on specific species during the development of the PCA-MPWG web page.

In addition, wildcrafting guidelines have been drafted, and are being reviewed by the committee. The guidelines should be available on the web page in Spring 2001.

Participation Committee
CoChair: Peter Knop, Ticonderoga Farms, Chantilly, Virginia
CoChair: Ed Fletcher, Strategic Sourcing, Boone, North Carolina

The goal of the Participation Committee is to increase participation in native medicinal plant conservation.  The Participation Committee recorded the following accomplishments in the past year:

Educate policy-makers, consumers, and the general public regarding the conservation status and importance of native medicinal plants to focus attention on this issue and increase its profile.

Outreach efforts on behalf of the PCA-MPWG have been guided by the Participation Committee.  Articles on the PCA-MPWG  and its activities have appeared in:

In addition, members presented information on the PCA and the PCA-MPWG at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore and the "Plants, Medicine, and the Economy" meeting of the South Carolina Sustainable Universities Initiative in Charleston in September 2000. 

The Participation Committee also developed an exhibit introducing the PCA-MPWG for use at trade shows and other conferences.  Many of the photographs used in the exhibit panel were made available thanks to the generous support of the Steven Foster Group, Inc.

Identify, quantify, and publicize trends in the conservation status of native medicinal plants, including cases of unsustainable use, and the benefits of conservation

The Participation Committee developed text for the PCA-MPWG web site, which was approved by the PCA-MPWG at large, and then worked closely with volunteers from Aveda Corporation who designed the site. Posting of the new site is anticipated in January 2001.

Prior to the Aveda-designed site, PCA-MPWG activities were Internet-accessible thanks to Olivia Kwong at the PCA, who designed the site and posted our information at www.nps.gov/plants/medicinals.  Many of the photographs used on the new web page were made available thanks to the generous support of the Steven Foster Group, Inc. 

Ethnobotany Committee
Chair: Trish Flaster, Botanical Liaisons, Boulder, Colorado

Traditional awareness perceives the delicate balance existing between wildness and cultivation, and shows us that in preserving plants we preserve the life of the people.
                   - Leon Secatero, a Navajo elder

The goal of the Ethnobotany Committee is to encourage active participation by tribes and other holders of traditional ecological knowledge pertaining to native medicinal plants.  To achieve this goal, the Committee has accomplished the following:

Preserve indigenous and folk knowledge, culture and biodiversity through education aimed at retaining, reinforcing and revitalizing this knowledge of plants...

i. establish an elder link: this involves inviting elders to participate and set direction for actions

The PCA-MPWG Ethnobotany Committee spent the past six months contacting and holding discussions with tribes concerning the creation of a tribal council of elders to offer advice on medicinal plant issues.  From the beginning, the Committee worked closely with Leon Secatero, a Navajo tribal elder who also facilitated the creation of a tribal council of 15 representatives from tribes across the United States to work on the large-scale issues tribes face.  The Ethnobotany Committee is using this model to pursue the creation of an elder council that will provide guidance to the PCA-MPWG on medicinal plant conservation.  Four elders will meet in early 2001 for this purpose. 

Strengthening ties between the PCA-MPWG and the tribes through a tribal council will enable PCA-MPWG  to support tribal conservation of indigenous plants and plant communities used in traditional medicine, as well as involve tribes as partners in PCA-MPWG conservation efforts.  Such partnership also could provide valuable conservation information about medicinal plants on tribal lands.  Benefit to the tribes include PCA-MPWG support for traditional knowledge; training in conservation and cultivation techniques to help ensure medicinal plant sustainability on tribal lands; and access to new partners interested in supporting tribal sovereignty and projects benefitting medicinal plant conservation and tribal economic development.  The group anticipates a first meeting of elders in early 2001.

Establish medicinal plant centers dedicated to conserving the plants, providing information about their uses, and ensuring a sustainable supply for future extraction, in partnership with the communities.

In October 2000, the US Botanic Garden, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Strategic Sourcing, Sacred Seed Project, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore facilitated the transfer of medicinal and cultivated plants of special value to native peoples from the US Botanic Garden to greenhouses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where the plants will overwinter (Appendix D).  Referred to as "Project Return," the plant collection is expected to continue growing through the addition of regional and tribal-specific plant specimens that ultimately will be considered part of The First Nations Botanic Garden, being discussed by Tribes and proposed for development in 2004 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Collaborate with the other efforts under the Medicinal Plant Working Group to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge within studies that focus on sustaining medicinal plants in the wild and in cultivation.

The Ethnobotany Committee plans to review the list of taxa of special concern identified by the Conservation and Sustainable Production Committees, and to provide input with respect to species of particular concern to tribes in 2001. 

Finance Committee
Chair: Beth DeCarolis, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Washington, D.C.

The goal of the Finance Committee is to generate financial support for native medicinal plant conservation projects.  The Finance Committee focused outlining an action plan, and on the following activity in its first year:

Identify potential funding sources for coordinated projects

A proposal was submitted to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation  for a PCA grant to fund inventory projects for medicinals on National Forests and Tribal lands in the southeastern United States. Proposals also have been submitted for funds from American Spirit Tobacco Company, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the PCA-MPWG realized the following monetary contributions, which (except for Forest Service dollars) were held in an account by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to facilitate PCA-MPWG activities:

Project: Black Cohosh Survey, Asheville, NC
USDA Forest Service:  $2,000
Strategic Sourcing, Inc.:  Donation of Ed Fletcher’s time to lead the team of volunteers
Garden Clubs of America: 12 volunteers

Project: Elder Council
Donation:  $5,000

Project: Black Cohosh Survey, West Virginia
Garden Clubs of America:  $2,000

Project: Medicinal Plant Working Group Support
USFWS Donation:  $5,000

In addition to financial donations, the PCA-MPWG has benefitted from the extraordinary efforts of its members who have shared their time and energy to work for plant conservation.

American Botanicals donated 1,000 copies of "Digger’s Guide to Medicinal Plants," retailing at $10.00 a copy.  The PCA-MPWG is distributing these guides to Garden Club groups volunteering to assist with survey work.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $10,000

Trish Flaster, CEO of Botanical Liaisons in Colorado, consistently sets aside part of her work day for volunteer projects.  She chairs the Conservation Committee, and co-chairs the Ethnobotany Committee.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $30,000+

Ed Fletcher, Head of the Botanical Division for Strategic Sourcing, a Pennsylvania company specializing in providing cultivated medicinals for the botanicals industry, served as coordinator of the Asheville project to survey black cohosh and bloodroot, working out details with the Conservation Committee, the Garden Clubs, and the Forest Service.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $20,000 +

Steven Foster, Steven Foster Group, Inc. generously donated photographs for the PCA-MPWG web site and exhibit.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $20,000+

Jane Henley, former Chair of National Affairs  for The Garden Clubs of America, organized garden clubs in the Southeast region to inventory black cohosh in the Pisgah National Forest.  Her efforts brought volunteers from as far away as Atlanta.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $10,000+

David Hircock, Medicinal Plant Consultant, facilitated Aveda’s sponsorship of the PCA-MPWG web site.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $40,000+

Michael McGuffin, Executive Director of the American Herbal Products Association participates on the Sustainable Production Committee.  His organization funded a tonnage survey for goldenseal in 1998 - the first time the industry come together to tally how much goldenseal, both cultivated and wild, they were using–and a second tonnage survey in 1999 that updates the previous years’ figures for goldenseal, and adds plants such as Echinacea and ginseng.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $10,000 +

Michael Tims, University of Maryland instructor and long-time plant advocate, donated his plant database for inclusion in the PCA-MPWG web site.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $20,000+

Chairs of the six Committees have donated more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time.
Value to PCA-MPWG:  $100,000+

Numerous additional contributions have been made by people like Kara Dinda, former Education Director of the American Botanical Council, who provided advice on everything from plant lists to web pages; Robyn Klein, Andrew Bentley, and Dana Hurlburt, noted herbalists and researchers who, by sharing their knowledge, have made PCA-MPWG products more accurate and educational; Nan Vance, USDA Forest Service, and Mark Widrlechner, Department of Agriculture, who have contributed many hours of phone time to help develop plant survey protocols; Beth DeCarolis with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, who generously made herself available to answer those all-important questions about grants; Nick Kulibaba, also an important source of fundraising advice; Dr. Freddie Ann Hoffman and Magdy Abdel-Malik of Pfizer who generously provided scientific advice and additional contacts for the working group; Kelly McConnell with The Nature Conservancy who assisted with database development, and Kathe Koumoutseas, U.S. Botanic Garden, for whom ethnobotany is as much a weekend as a weekday activity.  These and other dedicated individuals have brought the PCA-MPWG to its first birthday.

Future Activities

In 2001, the PCA-MPWG is looking ahead to a full range of future activities that include:

Establishment of a tribal council to advise the PCA-MPWG.  Nominations are currently being accepted for representatives to the council.  A first meeting is anticipated in winter 2001.  Plans are underway for two days of meetings, the first day for private meetings among tribal elders and the second for them to meet with interested local PCA-MPWG members and others concerned about medicinal plants in the Washington area.  A second meeting is anticipated near the end of 2001, and as well as tribal council participation in the conservation symposium also being planned for 2001.

Industry-sponsored conservation symposium.  The botanicals market is changing as pharmaceutical companies enter the medicinal plant arena.  Pharmaceutical companies have much to offer in the areas of quality control, research protocols, and related topics.  However, their connections to raw bulk medicinals are different than those of smaller companies whose relationship to the plants can be traced back several decades.  To assist in the exchange of information among pharmaceutical companies and conservationists concerned about plant sustainability, the PCA-MPWG plans to facilitate an industry-sponsored conservation symposium in Fall/Winter 2001.  The symposium focuses on areas of mutual interest to conservationists and industry, with the goal of furthering the sustainability of medicinal plants currently in trade, as well as safeguarding the sustainability of future plants in trade.

Black Cohosh and Bloodroot Inventory Project, West Virginia. The Conservation Committee plans to work with the Forest Service and with Garden Club volunteers to inventory wild populations of black cohosh and bloodroot on Forest Service lands in West Virginia.

Support for the 2001 Planting the Future Conference, sponsored by United Plant Savers, Rural Action, and the National Center.  The conference focuses on cultivation and preservation of native medicinal plants, and features instruction in areas ranging from sustainable herbal practices to biodiversity and bioregional herbalism.  To be held at the United Plant Savers botanical sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio in June 2001, it offers an opportunity for PCA-MPWG members to teach sessions as well as to meet  together in person for the first time.

Appendices

A. List of Member Organizations

B. Evolving Strategy, September 1999

C. Report on Pilot Inventory Study of Black Cohosh

D. UMES Press Release

References

Arthur Andersen LLP.  March 1999.  1998 Goldenseal Survey Results.  Prepared for: The American Herbal Products Association.  11pp.

Fish & Wildlife Service.  2000.  Memo: Chief, Office of Scientific Authority to Chief, Office of Management Authority re. Convention Permit Applications for Ginseng.

Dr. Daniel Gagnon. A review of the ecology and population biology of Goldenseal, and protocols for monitoring its populations. Prepared for: Office of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999.

International Council for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.  2000.  "European Herbal Market Update."  In ICMAP News, No. 7, June 2000.

BRNutrition Business Journal.  1998.  "Annual Industry Overview," 3(9), p.5.

Robbins, C.  1999.  Medicine from U.S. Wildlands: An Assessment of Native Plant Species Harvested in the United States for Medicinal Use and Trade and Evaluation of the Conservation and Management Implications.  The Nature Conservancy:  Washington, DC, 28 pp.

University of Maryland Program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology.  1999.   Review of Four Species for Potential Listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix II. 14 December 1999.

Appendix A

Plant Conservation Alliance
Medicinal Plant Working Group Member Organizations
September, 2000

Industry

Non-Profit Organizations

Academia

State Agencies

Federal Government

Tribes

International Organizations

Appendix B

Plant Conservation Alliance
Medicinal Plant Working Group
Evolving Strategy
May 2000

Recognizing that commercial demands may cause overharvesting from the wild, the Medicinal Plant Working Group, which includes representatives from industry, government, academia, Tribes, and environmental organizations, aims to create a framework for discussion and action on behalf of medicinal plants.  The group's primary focus is to facilitate action on behalf of species of particular conservation concern as a means to balance biological and commercial needs and, in the long term, minimize regulatory intervention.  Within that framework, there may also be a need to provide public education on Tribal interests and policies as these intersect with the conservation of plants.  The Working Group intends to raise awareness of native medicinal plant issues and needs among partner agencies and cooperating organizations to:

Generate and Share Information Regarding Species of Medicinal and Economic Importance and Conservation Concern

Promote Appropriate Conservation Measures for Native Medicinal Plants

Promote Sustainable Production of Native Medicinal Plant Products

  1. develop a short list of endangered, medicinal plants with ongoing traditional and/or alternative cultivation/propagation research, and current high consumer demand (using work started by other organizations, such as United Plant Savers)
  2. compile information about the research and production of these plants to be presented via links and other mechanisms on the PCA web site
  3. develop a pilot research grant mechanism to encourage alternative production practices that allow natural ecologies to be reclaimed as sources of economic value to communities, and to provide a mechanism for farmers to find sustainable economic alternatives to large monocrops such as tobacco and wheat
  1. develop a short list of ways in which the organic industry built consensus for their value-added approach to marketing products
  2. approach dietary supplement manufacturers, commodity brokers and retailers about how to create added value through sustainable produced bulk medicinal plant material.
  3. develop list of individuals/groups interested in promoting sustainable production of medicinals
  1. identify potential partners for the creation of a pilot medicinal plant production cooperative (ie, university research facilities, extension agents, growers, manufacturers)
  2. identify the inherent hurdles to cooperative information sharing and production: a) what are the incentives that would pull together varied community institutions; b) who are the target audiences that would be interested in these market driven incentives; c) what are the problems that would stop involvement
  3. identify community development grants available for a  pilot project

Increase Participation in Native Medicinal Plant Conservation

The number of groups interested in native medicinal plants is growing. Participants ranging from consumers to policy makers, farmers, and school children  that could be brought into the discussion through concerted outreach and education.  The goal is to 1) expand awareness of native medicinal plant needs among those who could assist with their conservation, and 2) ensure that future generations grow into fuller awareness of the value of these plants.  

  1. Develop medicinal plant fliers that farmers could distribute to publics visiting their farms
  2. Develop stories for the web that demonstrate successful cultivation techniques
  3. Centralize a collection of free publications for distribution to interested publics
  4. Meet with Master Gardener program, Extension Service, Joint Ventures such as AECS and others to reach farmers and offer models demonstrating the benefits of public
  5. Encourage funding
  1. Develop flier for public dissemination that lists what the general public can do to promote medicinal plant conservation
  1. Determine how to foster development of a certification program for sustainable use of medicinal plants
  2. Seek out partners to support certification program

Encourage Active Participation by Tribes and Other Holders of Traditional Ecological Knowledge Pertaining to Native Medicinal Plants

Ethnobotany is multi-disciplinary. To discover the practical potential of native plants not only requires knowledge of plants, but an understanding and sensitivity to the dynamics of how cultures work. By observing the intimate and harmonious relationship of indigenous cultures to their environment, their accumulated knowledge of the biodynamics of the natural world, and their traditions of stewardship that sustain fragile ecological balance, scientists, ethnobotanists, and others can gain insight into the management of land reserves, plant communities, and the biodiversity they sustain, so as to help maintain a balanced ecosystem for future generations. Conserve indigenous plants and plant communities used in traditional medicine, ceremony, ethnobotany, and the natural products industry.

  1. establish an elder link: this involves inviting elders to participate and set direction for actions
  2. establish regional centers as loci for farming and education as these tie into plant communities
  3. encourage regional ethnoconference sponsorship that would bring together tribal and non-tribal knowledge on the subject of medicinals

Generate Financial Support for Native Medicinal Plant Conservation Projects

The development of reliable, sustainable financial support is the lynchpin upon which the work of the Medicinal Plant Working Group depends.  Without such financing, projects fall back on the time and energy of volunteers for completion, a condition that would make it difficult to fulfill the range of activities critical to the mission of the group.  Funding generated to support projects would be made available for cross-cutting efforts bringing together researchers, educators, businesses and others in support of plant conservation. Identify potential funding sources for coordinated projects

  1. Develop a list of organizations providing grants for plant-related projects
  2. Identify federal agencies interested in plant conservation                      
  3. Develop an intra-governmental effort outlining the roles and interests of agency members pertaining to medicinal plant conservation; determine availability of funding
  4. Develop a packet of information for dissemination to potential donors
  5. Meet informally with potential donors to provide information on the importance of medicinal plant conservation
  6. Hold a formal donors meeting and develop an action plan out of the meeting   
  1. Make the funding guidelines of pertinent donor organizations available in a centralized location, possibly via the Internet
  2. Develop a mechanism to assist with project proposal coordination among working group member organizations
  1. Survey membership to determine who has financial/legal expertise and could assist with contacts/ideas
  2. Outline steps necessary to establish a conservation trust fund for medicinal plants                                         
  3. Develop a mechanism to involve lawmakers in a such a discussion
  4. Mesh pertinent steps for this goal with steps being taken under Goal 4
  5. Research possibilities associated with product branding that could designate a percentage of profits to medicinal plant conservation

Appendix C

Pilot Inventory Study of Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa L.) in a Southern Appalachian Mesophytic Forest

Pat Ford, USFWS Botanist

Nov. 2, 2000

The Plant Conservation Committee of the Medicinal Plant Working Group, in coordination with the USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Garden Club of America combined efforts on September 25 and 26, 2000 to census black cohosh Actaea racemosa L. (Cimicifuga racemosa N.).  Twelve enthusiastic "Partners For Plants" volunteers representing six garden clubs from Garden Club of America, botanists Gary Kauffman and Allison Schwarz with the Forest Service, Pat Ford from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ed Fletcher from Strategic Sourcing, Inc., representing the Plant Conservation Committee came together in Asheville, North Carolina to collect population data on the occurrence of black cohosh on the Pisgah National Forest.  All of the participants found common interest and mutual benefit in the pilot study, and advanced the group’s collective objective of quantifying the occurrence of black cohosh in the wild and to begin to assess sustainable harvest levels and conservation for this native medicinal herb.

Black cohosh was selected because of the rapid increase in the commercial demand for this species in the medicinal herb market.  In 1998, black cohosh was identified as one of the fastest growing herbal products with an annual increase of over 511 percent from sales in 1997 (Breevort, 1998), of which 98 percent of the black cohosh root supplied for the herbal market is collected from wild populations.

Black cohosh is a long-lived herbaceous perennial found in eastern deciduous forests in the United States.  It has native occurrences in 25 states and 2 Canadian provinces and is currently ranked as secure (G4) throughout its range (Natureserve 2000).  However, there is little demographic information on the abundance and distribution of black cohosh throughout its range, and sustainable harvest levels are unknown.  An increase in the harvest of wild roots may affect native populations and threaten the viability of the species.  An example of over harvest of black cohosh root has occurred in the state of Illinois, which has resulted in ranking populations in the state as critically imperiled (Natural Heritage Network, 2000). 

Black cohosh occurs in rich habitats identified as cove forest communities.  Cove habitat is identified as a mixed mesophytic forest type, and are fairly common throughout southern Appalachian.  Black cohosh typically makes up 5 to 10 percent of the understory vegetative cover within the cove.  Reproduction is primarily by seed, which, like American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.), requires a 1.5 year dormancy period.

The specific objectives of the pilot study were to census a population and to assess the spatial variability within the population in order to calculate the number of permanent plots needed to adequately detect change in a population over time under a harvest regime.  Gary Kauffman designed the randomized sampling procedure, which consisted of a series of transects 25 meters apart, for each transect line 2x5 meter plots were randomly placed.  Within each plot, all Actaea racemosa plants were counted, individual plant height was measured in the following increments: 0 to 10 cm., 10 to 20 cm., and greater than 20 cm.  The presence of inflorescence and or seed set was recorded.  The same inventory procedure was used for the second cove, however, the number of plots were increased to more accurately assess the clumping distribution of black cohosh throughout the cove.

The two coves sampled varied slightly in moisture content and total species richness, nevertheless they are considered indicative of the habitat variability found within mesophytic forest communities across western North Carolina.  Preliminary data from the inventory indicates that the distribution of Actaea racemosa was sporadic in the two coves,  and plants tended to occur in clumps.  Of the two coves sampled, Actaea racemosa  had a vegetation cover of 5 to 10 percent in the first cove, and a 1 to 5 percent cover in the second cove.  Many plants had not produced inflorescence or set seed, and there was little evidence of plants in the 0 to 10 cm. size class.

Further analysis of the data will continue to refine the sampling procedure.  The pilot study will continue in 2001, and include the harvest of roots so that we can begin to assess the affects of harvest on the sustainability of these species in the wild.  Due to the similarities of Actaea racemosa and A. americana and the potential lack of discrimination between the two species by harvesters, both species will be included in the 2001 study.  Actaea racemosa and A. americana roots are known to be wild-collected and sold as black cohosh.  Additionally, the spring flowering plant, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.) will also be included in the study.  Typically, both Actaea’s and Sanguinaria canadensis occur within the same cove forest communities.

Bloodroot
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.)

Volunteers
Hardy Garden Club volunteers at work

Black Cohosh
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Appendix D

UMES Press Release
Documenting Medicinal Plant Transfer From U.S. Botanic Garden

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
11/9/00

UMES Shelters Rare and Traditional Medicine Plant Collection For Native American Tribes

Princess Anne -- The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) will serve as the temporary repository for a collection of medicinal and cultivated plants of special value to the Native American peoples of North America.  "PROJECT RETURN" is part of an  ethno-botanical collection funded by the Sacred Seeds Project (SSP) in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency’s Medicinal Plant Working Group (MPWG).   The collection is expected to grow with additional regional and tribal-specific plant specimens from Turtle Island (the Native American name for the continental United States) to become a public interface for inter-tribal and inter-cultural learning and exchange, which will contribute to the preservation of global indigenous and traditional knowledge, language, and culture.   The First Nations Botanic Garden is slated for 2004.

Mary Maruca from the Fish and Wildlife Agency’s MPWG is facilitating the transfer of this collection, from the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington DC to a greenhouse under the direction of the Department of Agriculture in the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at UMES for safe-keeping during the winter.

Administrators at UMES agreed to harbor the collection while a permanent home is being developed.  It will occupy space in the university research greenhouse, adjacent to the hydroponic greenhouse project partnership with Bell Nurseries.  This new collaboration is the result of medicinal plant research demonstrations being conducted by the Small Farm Institute with industry partners like Strategic Sourcing, Inc. of Reading, PA. The thrust of UMES research is the development of alternative crops to diversify the income of small family farms without impacting indigenous rare or endangered species.  "We are delighted to be able to learn from as well as be of service to Native Americans with regard to these rare medicinal plants," said Dr. Thomas Handwerker, Associate Professor and director of the Small Farm Institute for UMES and Maryland Cooperative Extension (MCE) specialist.

The first part of the collection arrived Monday, October 16, 2000 and was received by seven members of the Assateague Peoples and the Accohannock Indian Tribe. Michael Hollister, field coordinator of Sacred Seeds Project, will bring additional specimens, many of which are "CITES" (si’ tees), or rare and endangered species that are part of the total collection.  PROJECT RETURN is a heritage preservation and economic development effort of Sacred Seed Project, directed by Native Elders and Wisdom Keepers.  The project is recognized by the First Nations Assembly (which is comprised of representatives of over 400 tribes around the U.S.) under the auspices of Tom Talache, Executive Director of the Eight Northern Pueblos, as being an important part of their heritage.  Once well established and protected, the collection can also be developed and marketed for its potential to promote health.

"The continental U.S. is called ‘Turtle Island’ by Native American people, and the turtle is a sacred symbol of life," said Ms. Mignon Anderson, Assistant Professor of English at UMES. "The seeds that were part of early American Indian life are precious representatives of all that life represents.  The preservation of these seeds is a sacred and honorable obligation that all people should cherish."   Ms. Anderson’s heritage includes Accomac and Cherokee ancestors.

UMES has contacted horticulturists at the Crownpoint Institute of Technology (CPIT) in New Mexico to share information UMES has acquired about developing a network of growers for new and expanding horticultural markets.  CPIT is a 1994 land-grant institution affiliated with the Navajo Nation.  UMES is an 1890 (historically black) land-grant institution.  UMES will have the right to propagate plants from the specimens, and local tribe members will be contributing local medicinal plants to enhance the collection.  For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Handwerker, UMES/MCE at 410-651-7974 or Deirdra Johnson, Acting Director of Community Relations, UMES (410-651-6669).

Larry Medicine Cat
Larry Medicine Cat of the Assateague Peoples tribe welcomes the medicinal plants with a smudge pot in a ceremonial adoption of the collection during its stay at UMES.

Michael Hollister
Michael Hollister, field coordinator of the Sacred Seed Project, unloads part of the collection from the U.S. Botanical Gardens.  (L to R)  David "Longeye" Holland and Chief Rudy "Laughing Otter" Hall, both of the Accohannock Indian Tribe; and Larry Medicine Cat of the Assateague Peoples were among those who gathered to witness the transfer to the UMES greenhouse.

Project group
(L to R) Dr. Mervalin Morant, Chair, Dept. of Agriculture; Chief Rudy "Laughing Otter" Hall of the Accohannock Indian Tribe; Dr. Carolyn Brooks, Dean, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences; and Larry Medicine Cat of the Assateague Peoples tribe were on hand to greet the plant collection.  Dr. Brooks is holding one of the rare and endangered plants used in traditional Native American medicine.


[1] Based on a reported harvest from the wild of 258,842.9 pounds (dry) roots (Arthur Andersen LLP 1998) and an estimated average 250 roots per pound.

[2] Based on a reported harvest from the wild of 65,941 pounds (dry) roots (FWS, in lit., 2000) and an estimated average 300 roots per pound.