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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on the production and marketing of medicinal herbs?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on production and marketing of medicinal herbs. Please refer to the ATTRA publication Herb Production in Organic Systems, which provides a detailed overview of medicinal herb production and marketing as of 2005. It includes research summaries. Also see the publications Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Native Roots.

Production/Marketing of Medicinal Herbs

The latest figures we have on sales of specific types of herbs are from 2005, published in a 2006 Market Report in the American Botanical Council’s trade publication, HerbalGram.

You will note that mass market sales are down for all types of medicinal herbs—with four exceptions: cranberry (a functional food), milk thistle, ginger, and green tea. Table 1, [Medicinal] Herb Sales in All Channels (including Internet, direct marketing, health food stores, etc., as well as mass marketed products) shows a sudden leveling off between 1998 and 1999, with greatly diminished market expansion after that. Even sales of garlic, the top herb seller since 2000, have been diminishing. Sales of ephedra (Ma Huang)—formerly the number one herbal best seller—evaporated after it was banned by both USDA and FDA around the year 2000. Results of a Stanford University garlic trial, published in Archives of Internal Medicine and reported in HerbalGram (February 2007, 74:6) provide “significant evidence” that “commercial garlic dietary supplements do not have a clinically significant cholesterol-lowing effect.”(1) Publication of such findings usually has a negative effect on sales of such products in subsequent years.

Other recent HerbalGram reports include the following:

• Appeals Court Sides with FDA in Ephedra Ban Case
• UK Expert Committee Upholds Kava Ban
• FDA Denies Medicinal Value of Smoked Marijuana
• FDA Rejects Proposed Health Claim for Cardiovascular Benefits of Green Tea
• Australian TGA Publishes Liver Warning Policy for Black Cohosh
• European Health Agencies Recommend Liver Warnings on Black Cohosh Products
• Canada Issues Advisory on Black Cohosh

• FDA Approves Special Green Tea Extract as a New Topical [external] Treatment
• Intravenous Milk Thistle Compound Used to Save Victims of Poisonous Mushrooms

While scattered local niche markets may exist, the dream of a decentralized network of U.S. herbal practitioners dispensing locally raised botanicals remains largely unrealized. Mass marketing of nutriceuticals has raised huge problems of safety, efficacy, quality control, environmental concerns, and government regulation. Most raw materials for such products are now wild-gathered outside the U.S. or raised cheaply in low-wage countries.

Listed below is an article describing difficulties that long-established Marathon County, Wisconsin, ginseng growers are experiencing due to foreign competition.

For a membership in the American Botanical Society, including a subscription to HerbalGram, call the toll-free number 800-373-7105 or 512-926-4900. Personal membership is $50/year.


1) Oliff, Heather S. 2007. Trial Finds No Benefit in Raw Garlic or Garlic
Supplements for Hypercholesterolemia. [Review: Gardner, CD, Lawson,
LD, Block, E., et al. Effect of raw garlic vs. commercial garlic supplements
on plasma lipid concentrations in adults, with moderate
hypercholesterolemia; a randomized clinical trial. Arch. Int. Med.
2007;167:346–353.] HerbalGram No. 75, p. 27.


Blumenthal, Mark, Grant K.L. Ferrier, and Courtney Cavaliere. 2006. Market Report: Total Sales of Herbal Supplements in United States Show Steady Growth: Sales in Mass Market Channel Show Continued Decline. HerbalGram No. 71. p. 64–66.

Cavaliere, Courtney, and Mark Blumenthal. 2007. Wisconsin Ginseng Farmers Fight to Protect Product Reputation. HerbalGram No. 75. p. 54–59.



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