Echinacea Extinction?

Mike Hagen mhagen at
Mon Aug 10 18:52:19 EST 1998

This issue has come up for nearly every wildcrafted species I've yet
heard of, and bears directly on agroforestry.  The progression from 
discovery of the herb, to popularization, then eradication in the
wild, then cultivation seems to be the rule.  The next step,
production of the synthetic active ingredient comes if there's demand
Beargrass, for example, is being removed in live form for
domestication in Europe.
Mike H.

dwheeler at wrote:
> 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
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