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

December 2001

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Executive Summary

In its second full year of operation, the Plant Conservation Alliance-Medicinal Plant Working Group consolidated and emphasized three primary aspects of its overarching strategy (Appendix A). Significant accomplishments in 2001 advanced the goals of PCA-MPWG committees in the areas of medicinal plant conservation, sustainability, and ethnobotany. Funds made available through grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, matched by PCA-MPWG in-kind and financial donations, enabled members of this all-volunteer consortium to:

Membership in PCA-MPWG averages approximately 260 individuals who represent a variety of conservation, industry, state, and federal organizations. As PCA-MPWG approaches its third year, a growing need exists to:


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 native to 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 not comprehensive.  Leaders in the botanical products industry are increasing their use of 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 175 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 260 individuals representing a wide variety of organizations, including federal agencies, industry, academia, non-profits, state agencies, tribes, and international organizations.


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

2001 Changes In Organizational Structure

The six areas identified in the strategy determined working group organization, with six committees structured to achieve the goals identified above.  Progress made by each committee in 2000 was outlined in the annual report for that year. In 2001, the PCA-MPWG adjusted its committee structure to focus its primary resources on the work of  three of the six committees. It was agreed that:

The Finance, Participation and Information Committees have achieved results in 2001, and have functions critical to advancing medicinal plant conservation. However, additional active volunteers are needed to assume key responsibilities on these committees once the core functions of the PCA-MPWG (conservation, sustainability, and ethnobotany) are fully operational (i.e., have successfully produced results during several funding cycles, demonstrating that they are self-sustaining). Currently, outreach and budgetary activities are being conducted on a project-by-project basis, rather than orchestrated under existing committee structure.

Committee Reports

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. Activities initiated to achieve this goal follow:

Under this goal, the committee provided much needed consolidation of conservation medicinal plant information previously existing as disparate lists. The committee combined and cross referenced lists, collating  the status of plants based on rankings established by various federal and non-federal organizations. Plants listed included species identified by:  1) Robbins (1999), Table. 1 Medicinal Plant Species in US Commerce Identified as Priorities for Further Study by TRAFFIC and The Nature Conservancy; 2) NatureServe (formerly The Nature Conservancy) Prioritization of Species at Risk due to Wild-collection; 3) the United Plant Savers "At Risk" and "To Watch" lists; 4) the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs' "Critical to Cultivate" list; and 5) the priorities of the PCA-MPWG Conservation and Sustainable Production Committees.  For species identified by these sources, CITES, Endangered Species Act, Forest Service Region 9 sensitive species status, and state rarity level from Kartesz (1999) were provided. This draft document went to PCA-MPWG listserve members for further additions and changes. (Appendix B).

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. Activities initiated to achieve this goal follow.

Among its other activities in 2000, the Conservation Committee conducted initial monitoring of black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and dedicated volunteers from the Garden Clubs of America, to determine maximum sustainable harvest rates in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.  This species was selected for study due to its popularity in the herbal market and because black cohosh plants are not commercially cultivated on a large scale relative to demand. In 2001, the committee received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to continue and expand this project.

The project proposal outlined two main objectives:

  1. To generate baseline data on the status of selected native medicinal plants of conservation concern, as identified by the Medicinal Plant Working Group’s Conservation Committee, and potential threats from commercial-scale collection activities to share with federal and tribal land managers and decision makers.  To address this objective, we will:
  1. To empower local communities to assess the status of their medicinal plant resources and to make sound conservation decisions regarding their utilization.  To address this objective, we will:

Medicinal plant inventory & monitoring

As of December 30, 2001, the Sustaining Green Medicine project used a total of $18,812 to carry out activities calculated to achieve the objectives outlined above. The project:

This activity helps to meet Objective 1 in that it initiated development of a protocol for use by volunteers, and tested it at one site. It helped meet Objective 2 also, in that it fostered partnerships between land managers and project volunteers, who took the information from the project back to their communities.

As the second site identified in the grant, it helps meet Objective 1 in that it helped test and refine the protocol for use by volunteers at a second test site. It helped meet Objective 2 also, in that it fostered partnerships between land managers and project volunteers, and helped build awareness in local communities of the conservation concern surrounding some native medicinal species.

This effort helps meet Objective 2, which identifies the need for partnerships. It also provides training identified in the grant as a requirement for work with tribal people.

This activity tested the protocol developed in North Carolina to determine how effectively it could be transferred to tribal land in Virginia. As the third site identified in the grant, it helped accomplish Objectives 1 and 2. The project demonstrated the usefulness and applicability of the protocol to other sites, and tested the eastern edge of the range for these plants.  However, because of the absence of targeted plant communities, a second field season is not scheduled for this site.

This activity helps achieve Objectives 1 and 2 in that it assisting with the collection of important data concerning the cultivation of black cohosh, which will assist in the conservation of this plant. It also strengthens the PCA-MPWG partnership with tribes for the conservation of medicinal plants important to those tribes as well as to identified land-managing agencies. Black cohosh has long been a significant medicinal plant for the Cherokee and other eastern woodland tribes who historically encouraged its propagation, and who have expressed interest in collaborating with land managers in its conservation.

Evaluation of the project’s success is ongoing. The North Carolina site will be in its third field season in FY2002, and will be evaluated at that time for the usefulness of the data it generates, and the ability of land managers and federal regulators to extrapolate results to other federal and tribal lands. As an interim trend indicator, however, the Forest Service Regional Botanist continues to express full support for the project and the partnerships it has fostered, as well as to assist in its expansion to other National Forests in his region. In addition, a final report at the conclusion of each year’s field work summarizes the accomplishments and identifies areas needing improvement. The West Virginia site is still in the early stages of project development, and will be evaluated at the beginning of its third field season.

Activities have been identified for FY2002 that, using the remaining funds, will substantially expand plant inventory and harvest survey sites for black cohosh: 1) three additional sites in North and South Carolina, using college students to collect data; 2) rich coves in George Washington Forest; 3) Forest Service sites in Colorado to extend the collection protocol to osha (Ligusticum porteri) and lomatium (Lomatium dissectum). As indicated, projects in West Virginia and North Carolina will continue for a second and third time, respectively, and include bloodroot.

Outreach to disseminate results of the Conservation Committee activities for selected medicinals has been conducted through attendance at meetings and through the development of printed materials. The Chair developed a presentation delivered at:

Building Bridges with Traditional Knowledge, May 2001, University of Hawaii:  presentation summarized the formation of the PCA-MPWG and the goals of its committees, with particular emphasis on the accomplishments of its Conservation and Ethnobotany Committees (Appendix D). This was shared with other scientists, ethnobotanists, and educators working with international indigenous plant materials. The Conservation Committee presentation helped fill in the map, so to speak, with information concerning United States medicinal plants.

American Society of Pharmacognosy, September 2001, California: presentation summarized the Pisgah National Forest cohosh harvest study for scientists unused to relating the chemical components of a substance to the plants from which those substances originate. Scientists expressed desire for more information and indicated willingness to collaborate. The link between the conservation of specific medicinal plants and the products developed from them became more clear to this scientific audience.

Printed materials also carried Conservation Committee messages. Jane Henley, GCA liaison to PCA-MPWG Conservation Committee, published a major article in the June/July 2001 GCA Bulletin. This outreach helped to double the number of volunteers as well as GCA clubs represented at the Pisgah National Forest project in August 2001.

In addition, Wayne Owen, Forest Service Regional Botanist in Atlanta, shared project summaries of  PCA-MPWG Conservation Committee activities with upper level Forest Service managers who expressed support and approval of this partnership and of the plant conservation it accomplishes.

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

The goal of the Sustainable Production Committee is to promote sustainable production of native medicinal plant products. In 2001, this committee provided support, resources, and organizational direction to the development of an educational symposium highlighting industrial leadership in the conservation of medicinal and aromatic plants, scheduled for February 2002. The symposium will draw together the research of the Information and Conservation Committees, as well as the indigenous component provided by the Elders’ Circle of the Ethnobotany Committee.

"Industrial Leadership in the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants," scheduled for February 26 and 27, 2002, in Philadelphia,  has been funded and organized by health care products industry representatives from the PCA-MPWG. Preparations began in January 2001 when a core group of volunteers representing the Sustainability Committee, along with other key committee representatives met in Washington to discuss efforts taken by industry to improve sustainable use of medicinal plants and to plan a way to communicate these efforts to the larger plant conservation community. Participants at that first meeting represented Aveda, American Herbal Products Association, Bristol Myers Squibb, Missouri Botanical Gardens, the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Plants, and Frontier Natural Products. A theme was chosen, and participants agreed to propose speakers and agenda topics. As the agenda developed, Botanical Liaisons joined the discussions, playing a key role in proposing and soliciting speakers

Conference planners also sought the participation of the PCA-MPWG Council of Native American Elders. This group of 10 representatives of various tribes has endorsed this project, and been part of the planning process from the beginning. Symposium sponsors plan to make the symposium an annual event.

Aveda, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and other volunteers have contributed an estimated $100,000 of financial and in-kind support to this project. AHPA generously made the services of its conference planner available to support symposium development. Aveda’s Public Affairs and Art Department supplied much of the graphics and press outreach for the event (Appendix E)

    1. identify potential partners for the creation of a pilot medicinal plant production cooperative (i.e., 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

Christopher Robbins, TRAFFIC North America, a PCA-MPWG member, conducted a workshop in Asheville, North Carolina, with local experts in attendance, to discuss the pros and cons of a pilot project for third-party certified, wild-collected ginseng. Prior to and following that workshop, the Sustainability Committee provided comments on Robbins’ project, along with follow-up actions. PCA-MPWG members Gary Kauffman (Forest Service), Ed Fletcher (Strategic Sourcing) and Robin Suggs (Yellow Creek Botanical Institute) were of particular assistance to Robbins on this project.  The TRAFFIC project would help to accomplish the tasks/activities identified above by the Sustainability Committee, with the anticipated end result not only being a third-party certified program for wild-collected ginseng but also potential development of other third-party certified programs for popular wild-collected medicinal plants.

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

The goal of the Participation Committee is to increase participation in native medicinal plant conservation.  The responsibilities of the Participation Committee were shared among all members in 2001, with individual project leaders and committee chairs organizing outreach and education efforts appropriate to their projects and committees.

In 2001, the PCA-MPWG exhibit panel outlining the goals and objectives of the PCA-MPWG was used at the Building Bridges Conference in Hawaii (see Conservation Committee). The panel attaches to a light-weight aluminum frame by magnetic strips. Easily assembled, it is stored in a heavy-duty plastic traveling case for easy shipment to trade shows, meetings or similar gatherings. The medicinal plant images featured on the panel were generously provided by the Steven Foster Group. The panel is available to any organization willing to pay for shipping.

Special thanks to PCA’s Olivia Kwong for her contributions to the outreach efforts of PCA-MPWG. Using information from PCA-MPWG’s web site, she created a brochure for distribution at conferences (first used at the Building Bridges Conference), as well as a logo for the group. Planned use of the logo includes its application to baseball caps used to recognize the extraordinary efforts of  the GCA volunteers.

Additional publications and outreach during 2001 include:

April/May/June 2001 issue of Fish and Wildlife News, featuring article on the formation of the Ethnobotany Committee

Lyke, J.  2001.  "Conservation status of Cimicifuga rubifolia, C. americana, and C. racemosa" in Medicinal Plant Conservation:  Newsletter of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, v.7, pp. 22-24. (Appendix F)

Henley, J. June/July 2001. Wildcrafting and Medicinal Plants: Overharvesting Threatens Natives in the Wild" in Garden Club of America Bulletin.

Holland, D. April 2001. "Chief Rudy Hall Selected to International Tribal Board" in Accohannock News.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chief Financial Officer’s Report: Shared Commitments to Conservation, published in 2001 but referencing activities in 2000; the report contained references to PCA-MPWG

Expo East: Expo is the largest dietary supplements trade show; it is held in the spring in California and in the fall in Washington. Given the proximity of Expo East to PCA-MPWG headquarters, members attended the show to make available PCA-MPWG brochures and other information about plant conservation.

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

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:

After months of planning, the Ethnobotany Committee supported the first meeting of The Elders’ Circle of the Plant Conservation Alliance Medicinal Plant Working Group (PCA-MPWG), April 5 - 6, 2001, at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Arlington, VA. With the establishment of this group, the committee took the first steps toward achieving one of its primary goals. The Elders’ Circle is comprised of Native American tribal representatives from across the United States–the first step in linking to individuals and groups that preserve indigenous and folk knowledge, culture and biodiversity for the benefit of plant conservation.

The Elders’ Circle is committed to protecting and preserving indigenous plants and plant communities used in traditional medicine. During its first meeting, the Elders’ Circle identified their mission and goals, selected the site and time of their next meeting, and endorsed a group of projects, among them the symposium developed through the Sustainability Committee. Elders in attendance included: Leon Secatero, Canoncito Navajo; Tis Mal Crow, Hitchiti Cherokee; Chief Rudy Hall, Mary Hall, and David Holland, Accohanock; Jane Dumas, Kumeyaay; Cecelia Mitchell, Mohawk; John George, Catabwa; Susan Burdick, Yurok/Karuk; and Chief Ray Couch, Applachian Cherokee.

The Circle defined its mission, goals and objectives as follows:

Mission: To preserve and protect plants of cultural significance to tribes in their natural habitat and ecosystems for the future, so that these plants may be available to future generations carrying out traditional practices.

Goals: Consult with tribes to ensure the protection of medicinal plants and their habitats in ways that reinforce and revitalize plant knowledge among tribal people. Upon request, work with tribes to facilitate training and education workshops. As appropriate, engage in plant restoration.  Also, educate non-natives to understand the significance of protecting native tribal plants, so that they can assist tribes in plant protection and restoration.


  1. Develop methods to determine information and education needed by tribes for plant conservation. Begin the process of collecting and making information available on a broad scale. (This cross-cutting objective ties into the Conservation Committee objective to develop a list of plants of conservation concern.)
  2. Establish priorities and determine effective ways to work together to preserve medicinal plants.(This objective relates to ensuring adequate representation on the Elders’ Circle so that all regions and medicine plant practices are represented as appropriate.)
  3. Notify other groups of the PCA-MPWG Elders’ Circle and its purpose. Solicit their assistance as appropriate. (With this objective, the Circle established its interest in networking both within and outside of the PCA-MPWG to build a coalition of support for medicinal plant conservation.)

A second meeting of the Circle occurred September 27 to 30, 2001, at Akwesasne, Mohawk Reservation, hosted by Cecelia Mitchell. Topics of discussion included:

The Elders’ Circle has played an integral role in planning for the February 2002 symposium in Philadelphia. The Circle opened the conference and participated actively throughout. The Elders’ Circle, representing the importance of safeguarding traditional knowledge and native plant materials, met with industry to forge a strong bond for native medicinal plant conservation.

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.  In 2001, the Finance Committee redefined its purpose and proposed standards of operation as follows:

Committee Purpose: The purpose of the Finance Committee is to (a) help generate and disburse the funds necessary for the PCA-MPWG to operate and (b) to help generate funds supporting individual projects.  This includes not only grantmaking but also leveraging support for projects that other organizations may be better-placed to fund or implement.

Toward that end, the following guidelines have been proposed:

Resource Identification:  The Finance Committee is developing a list of foundations and other funding sources whose stated mission or giving history matches various aspects of the PCA-MPWG mission.  The Committee has assigned  high priority to soliciting information about unrestricted funds, (i.e. funds that can be used to support the general operating expenses of PCA-MPWG as well as particular projects).  At the same time, Finance Committee members eventually hope to be able to coach committee chairpersons and PCA-MPWG collaborators on techniques for developing and packaging proposals to fund individual projects.

Grant Development:  Every funding effort requires teamwork.  Members of the Finance Committee are prepared to:

MPWG participants developing projects should be prepared to:

Fund Disbursement: PCA-MPWG has not yet established formal guidelines for fund disbursement. Instead we have proposed–and PCA-MPWG  committee chairs have endorsed–a simple process by which committee chairs and co-chairs vote on funding proposals that are presented.  As PCA-MPWG funding grows, we look forward to instituting a more formalized set of guidelines and evaluation criteria.

Budget: In 2000, the PCA-MPWG operated primarily on the volunteerism of its members, for a total in-kind donation in excess of $250,000. During this initial start-up phase of PCA-MPWG, the organization needed members to develop a strategy, outline tasks, and devise appropriate projects–all activities that could be conducted by members willing to expend volunteer hours. In 2001, volunteers continued to provide extensive in-kind contributions of time and expertise. However, the organization also funded specific projects through a small grant provided by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and identified under the Conservation Committee above. Volunteer hours in excess of $180,000 also generously were provided in 2001 to keep the work of the committees going and accomplish the administrative details of the symposium.

Grant Summary:

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: $46,000 (1:1 match–awarded for plant conservation inventories–see Conservation Committee)

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: $37,000 (1:1 match–awarded for the work of the Elders’ Circle, to be made available in 2002–see Ethnobotany Committee)

PCA-MPWG members also facilitated a letter of support from PCA to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for a $100,000 grant project that subsequently was awarded to the Native American Land Conservancy, helping to purchase a large tract of the Old Woman Mountains in California on behalf of local native tribes. This effort helped ensure medicinal plant conservation for species used traditionally by native peoples in the western United States, especially in a region that annually grows more populated.

As reported by the Conservation Committee, grant projects in 2001 totaled $18,812 (NFWF), matched by its equivalent in-kind donation for a total of $37,624. The estimated total for conservation grant projects to be undertaken in 2002 is $25,000, matched with its equivalent as an in-kind donation.

Expenses for two meetings of the Elders’ Circle totaled $9,864, which covered travel and per diem.

Medicinal plant photo.Future Activities

In 2002, the PCA-MPWG anticipates a full range of activities that include:

Appendix A

Medicinal Plant Working Group Evolving Strategy

Appendix B

Medicinal Plant Working Group Powerpoint Presentation

Appendix C

Report from North Carolina

Appendix D

Medicinal Plants Native to the United States: Indicators of Rarity and Threat

Appendix E

Symposium Agenda

Appendix F

Summary of the Conservation Status of Cimicifuga ssp. (Cimicifuga rubifolia, C. americana, and C. racemosa)

[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.

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