Canada's Medicinal Plant Industry
A medicinal plant is a plant that is either cultivated or wildcrafted (collected from the wild) for its medicinal value. Plants have been used in treating human ailments for thousands of years and are the source of a large proportion of medicines. It has recently been estimated that there are about 400 000 species of vascular plants globally, with somewhere between a quarter and a third of these plants having been used for medicinal purposes by indigenous societies Footnote [Note 1]. The greatest market for medicinal plants, both in terms of manufacturing and consumption, are in Europe and Asia, as the only countries in the world with prescription sales of herbal medicines are Germany, Japan, China, and India, which in some cases are covered by medical insurance plans.
Medicinal plants have a long history of use in Canada. Hundreds of species were used by The First Nations Canadians in traditional medicine, with the potential for many of these plants to be valuable in modern medicine. North American ginseng is Canada's most important medicinal crop, while other major crops include Echinacea, ginkgo biloba, liquorice, and St. John's Wort.
Canadian production of medicinal plants is small compared to world production. In Canada, medicinal plants are generally grown on small plots of land due to the large amount of maintenance and highly specialized growing equipment required. Production may also require relatively high capital investment. Information regarding production requirements is limited and varies from crop to crop.
Although there are a vast number of medicinal plants, few are cultivated commercially on a large scale. Wildcrafting can often be done profitably as a result of low investment costs. The majority of the world';s supply of medicinal plants is collected from the wild with over half of Canadian medicinal plants being wildcrafted. However, the commercial success of certain medicinal plants may lead to their over-collection from the wild and thus cultivation becomes more feasible and necessary. Cultivation may often be preferable due to the advantage of growing certain varieties, the proximity of supply, and quality considerations. Cultivation offers the possibility of not only preserving economically important wild crops in their natural habitats, but also providing farmers with new crops.
Medicinal herbs play an important role in the natural health product industry. Natural health products include vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines, probiotics, and other products such as amino acids and essential fatty oils.
On January 1, 2004, under Health Canada's Natural Health Products Directorate, the Natural Health Product Regulations came into effect. Previously, natural health products were classified as either foods or drugs under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, as there was no separate category under which they could be classified. The regulations include provisions for definitions, product licensing, site licensing, good manufacturing practices, clinical trials, and labelling and packaging requirements.
Medicinal plants are finding a new, expanding market as herbal components of health foods and preventative medicines, especially under the terms functional foods and nutraceuticals and natural health products. They can be processed into a wide range of products including tablets, capsules, teas, tinctures, creams, oils, and liquids. The most popular herbal remedies tend to be those that address the same ailments as over-the-counter medications such as laxatives, weight-loss remedies, immune system enhancers, anti-aging remedies, and products to relieve anxiety and stress. The medicinal plant over-the-counter industry has experienced reduced sales over the past three years due to bad publicity arising from quality issues. However, the opportunity for increased demand is currently present due to trends such as dissatisfaction with western health care, increasing costs of western health care, cultural, spiritual, and religious needs, interest in returning to a more natural lifestyle, growing public willingness to take responsibility for their own health, and increased acceptance that food has therapeutic value.
A large amount of risk is associated with the production of medicinal crops. Attaining commercial significance is difficult and there is little production, marketing, and regulation information available. The degree of risk can decrease for a certain medical crop as an associated industry and market infrastructure develops. However, markets are uncertain as they can disappear almost immediately should the plant be deemed unsafe for consumption and are subject to irregularity of demand.
Medicinal Plants Statistics
For the latest market analysis and information available from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, please consult the following publications:
Please note that the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association is the secretariat for the National Herb and Spice Coalition. For more information, please contact the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association.
Alberta New Crops Network (ANCN)
Upper 5303 - 91 Street
B.C. Herb Growers Association
Aldergrove, British Columbia
President: Greg Evans
Canadian Herb Society
VanDusen Botanical Gardens
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Co-Chair: Allison McCutcheon
Fédération de l'agriculture biologique du Québec (in French only)
Affiliated to Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA)
555 Boul Roland Therrien
Contact: Jacqueline Audy-Halde
Filière des plantes médicinales biologiques du Québec (in French only)
C.P. 43, Magog, Quebec
Contact : Alain Rioux
Flower and Herb Growers Association of Alberta
244034 Range Road 32
Southern Alberta: Ken Wright 403-686-4434
Peace Region: Mary Ann Wilson 403-538-1429
Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Association of Manitoba
PO Box 20024
President: Bob Shearer
Newfoundland Herb Association
55 Springdale Street
St. John's, Newfoundland
President (Email): Diane McLendon
P.E.I. Medicinal Plants Association
C/o Island Root Company
President (Email): Julius Patkai
Western Canadian Organic Herb and Spice Association
PO Box 16
Contact: Fran Lequire
The Economic Potential of Medicinal Plant Production with Particular Reference to Quebec, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Commercial Medicinal Herb Enterprise
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Natural Resources
- Footnote 1
The Economic Potential of Medicinal Plant Production with Particular Reference to Quebec, by Ernest Small.
Return to footnote 1 referrer