Echinacea Extinction?

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Mon Aug 10 12:01:44 EST 1998


The following article is from The Oregonian, 8/10/98, pA8

Experts worry Echinacea boom will wipe species out

	The plant, whose roots are thought to bolster the immune system, is being
illegally removed from land in Montana

The Associated Press

	GLASGOW, Mont. - Federal and state land managers are stunned, and
officials of two reservations are worried, by the craze for a wild plant that
flourishes in northeastern Montana.	The plant is Echinaca, or purple
coneflower, which Native Americans call blackroot and have long used for
medicinal purposes. Now it’s one of the hottest items in the health food
stores, and swarms of “diggers” are prowling the countrysides to cash in.   
They can sell the roots for $7.50 a pound. When it’s washed and dried,
pharmaceutical companies pay $18 to $20 a pound. Commercial retailers sell it
in bulk for $135 to $150 a pound.  The Great Falls Tribune recently found a
buying operation in Wolf Point with a warehouse holding thousands of pounds
of roots that were being cleaned and dried for shipment to pharmaceutial
companies.	  Echinacea, traditionally used to fight colds and the flu
and long familiar in health food stores, is now thought to bolster the body’s
immune system. Echinacea tablets, capsules and skin creams now can be found
in virtually any drug store and supermarket.	     Public land managers say
tens of thousands of plants have been illegally ripped out of the ground in
Montana. Officials of the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations are worried
because Echinacea has been one of the most important medicinal plants of the
Plains tribes.	Botanists warn that overharvesting the slow-growing plant
could wipe it out in just a few years. United Plant Saves, a Vermont-based
ecological group, has listed Echinacea on its at-risk list, along with
American Ginseng and Goldenseal.    Echinacea has largely disappeared from
Nebraska and Kansas. It’s a problem across the Northern Plains and is
becoming an issue on reservations where poverty is the greatest.   Curley
Youpee, director of cultural resources on the Fort Peck Reservation, says to
dig or not to dig is a tough call on a 2.2 million-acre reservation where
unemployment tops 50 percent.	  “Which is more wrong, feeding our families
or annihilating a medicinal plant that can be used for our people in the
future?” he said.   The practice of yanking a living plant out of the ground
for its roots is known as wildcrafting.        “I believe that the commercial
wildcrafting of native species, like Echinacea, poses a serious threat to our
native flora,” said Wayne Phillips, president of the Montana Native Plant
Society.	 An article in the society’s newsletter estimates that as of
this spring, 100,000 pounds of Echinacea root have been harvested in eastern
Montana. “If seven average wet roots equal a pound, then we have lost 700,000
plants,” it said.	 Workers at the unmarked Quonset hut in Wolf Point
estimated that they had 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of Echinacea root that day
being dried and stuffed into 50-pound boxes for shipment to pharmaceutical
companies in Maryland and North Carolina.	  They said that by mid-June,
they had bought as much root as they had the entire previous year.  The Fort
Belknap Tribal Council has passed a resolution limiting the harvest of
Echinacea on their reservation for traditional, personal uses only. But it’s
a big reservation, and George Shields of the tribal tourism office said that
enforcing the resolution isn’t easy.  “Once people know where it is, they’ll
go out and harvest it,” he said.	 The state Department of Natural
Resources and Conservation has considered leasing some of the land it manages
to tribes or to commercial Echinacea harvesters at a rate that would make the
state some money.   Hoyt Richards, who manages about a million acres in seven
counties for the department, said he has seen a lot of illegal digging.

Demand for this plant indicates a need for cultivation, possibly on a
wide-scale basis. The plant grows in my back-yard flower border, and requires
about a square foot per plant. It may be an ideal plant for cultivation
between wide-row nut trees, but prefers full sun for optimal growth. Seed
should be available from several commercial flower growers such as Park's,
Burpee, etc. The plant is slow growing, and takes 2-3 years before blooming
from seed, in my experience.

Commercial demand for such wildcrafted items, and the loss of uncontrolled
harvest, is one reason my company began cultivating truffles in 1986.

This article was posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com

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