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March 26, 2009   Email to Friend 

Mike Reeves
(256) 612-7588
March 26, 2009

Auburn professor Dennis Shannon, shown here in a photo from AU's Ag Illustrated, says a wide range of plants, both native and exotic, with medicinal value that can be grown in Alabama.
COLUMBIANA, Ala. -- The age-old practice of growing and harvesting medicinal plants to use as pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements is alive and well today, and the Alabama Medicinal Plant Growers Association says medicinal plant production could be a new income source for Alabama landowners.

The mission of the fledgling association is to develop a medicinal plant industry in Alabama. The group will hold an organizational meeting -- open to all interested parties -- Saturday, March 28, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the USDA-NRCS Conference Room in Columbiana.

The meeting will include presentations on American and Baikal skullcap production, traditional Native American and Chinese medicines, medicinal uses for Alabama plants of promise, starting a medicinal plant farm and developing value-added products.

Gene Hopper, who is helping lead the association's formation, said the AMPGA hopes to educate growers about production, management, harvesting and marketing methods for medicinal plants, which includes everything from ginseng to mushrooms. The association will be a source of information on medicinal plant species and varieties best suited for Alabama, cultural methods, disease and pest management, organic production and appropriate harvesting, processing and storage methods and guidelines to meet quality standards.

In addition, the group will promote exchanges of plants, plant materials, seeds and rhizomes and will serve as a clearinghouse where medicinal plant growers can learn of marketing opportunities, connect with potential buyers for their crops and, along with buyers, access educational and research resources to assist them in their business efforts.

Interest in medicinal plant production has been growing in Alabama since 2006, when funding from the Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance launched a collaborative medicinal plant research project in which faculty at Alabama A&M, Auburn and Tuskegee universities began identifying medicinal plants that fit Alabama's growing season and climate.

It was at a 2008 workshop in Birmingham on economic opportunities in forest medicinal plants and mushrooms that the plan for forming a growers association began.

"There are a wide range of plants, both native and exotic, with medicinal value that can be grown in Alabama, some of which grow in forests and others that grow in open fields," said Dennis Shannon, one of the Auburn researchers involved in the initial grant. "But we want to focus especially on those plants that have potential for generating revenue for Alabama farmers and landowners."

Shannon said some medicinal plants are understory species that can be grown in Alabama's forests and woodlands in conjunction with other land use strategies, such as hunting and tree farming. These plants could be a boon for landowners, particularly for under-resourced landowners and farmers looking for high-value crops to grow on their forest or wooded land.

Many native medicinal plant species are considered endangered or threatened, Shannon said, and cultivating them may help protect wild populations of them. In addition, cultivation of exotic species locally can protect the public from imported products that may be contaminated with harmful contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals and other materials, while providing income to local growers.

For more information on the meeting, contact Gene Hopper at genehopper@bigplanet.com, (205) 533-6096 (home) or (205) 382-0669 (cell), or regional Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent Mike Reeves at (256) 773-2549 or reevemd@aces.edu. The meeting has a $10 registration fee that will go toward meeting and meal expenses.

To register, send your name, contact information and the registration fee to Thomas McDaniel at 54 Kelley Lane, Columbiana, Ala. 35051.

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