Medicinal Forest Garden Trust

Sustainable cultivation and harvest of medicinal trees and shrubs
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PLEASE NOTE: Since November 2020, we have established a website for the Medicinal Forest Garden Trust and material on this web page is for historical interest only!

The Medicinal Forest Garden Trust aims to promote education and research towards sustainable cultivation and harvesting of medicinal trees and shrubs. We can offer advice and support for sustainable design of medicinal aspects of forest gardens. Through courses and projects we seek to support the establishment of sustainable cultivation and harvesting of medicinal trees and shrubs.

A market for non-timber forest products from medicinal trees and shrubs?

Market surveys such as the Fintrac Market Survey (2001) spotted increasing demand for medicinal herbs back in the 1990s. Yet, one study that considered traditionally managed and wild harvested plants in England and Scotland concluded that ‘the overall picture is that wild plants do not support many livelihoods today’ (Sanderson and Prendergast, 2002), p. 89) The most important habitats identified in this study were woodlands, hedgerows and wetlands. Other surveys have identified a buoyant market for medicinal herbs but a lack of home production for a variety of reasons. Chamberlen et al (1998) noted the potential for non-timber forest products and the large size of the European and US markets for medicinal plants but reported that there was little information on managing forests for edible, medicinal or floral products. There is a need for national networking and sharing of information about the potential of woodlands for producing herbal medicines.

Studies have also noted the variable availability of some herbal products affecting prices, and pointed out the preference of both consumers and practitioners for high quality products, noting that continuing demand in the UK for medicinal herb is largely met by imports (Milliken and Bridgewater, 2001). The lack of domestic production in the UK is largely due to problems of low prices for raw materials and high labour costs of harvesting, and these problems could be counteracted by identification of more efficient cultivation methods, cooperative processing, and organic premiums. There is a need for research into potential demand for UK forest-grown herbal medicines, as well as cultivation methods and sustainability issues.

The possibilities of commercially exploiting under-used forest species and their by-products have been explored in the US context (Vance and Thomas, 1997). In the USA there were numerous possible connections between markets for natural forest products in floristry and cosmetics as well as medicinals, so ways of combining cultivation and harvest with other activities could provide an economic return. Manufacturers may also be willing to pay a premium for certified products from sustainably managed forest systems, and so previous  waste products such as tree barks might have market value. In addition to native medicinal trees and shrubs, many US medicinal plants are readily grown in the UK as ornamental garden species, and could be further developed as cultivated products. Research is needed exploring the potential for managed woodland sources of both native and introduced medicinal trees and shrubs in the UK.

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Recent activities have included:
  • Advising a new woodland owner about medicinal trees and shrubs
  • Planning and design of a new medicinal forest garden
  • Enabling herbal practitioners to harvest medicinal tree barks
  • Running a day course for Forest School leaders in Devon
  • Compiling information sheets on particular medicinal tree species.
Benefits of more sustainable and local harvesting of medicinal non-timber forest products

There are many concerns about the sustainability of world-wide wild-harvested sources of supply of medicinal plants (Hamilton, 2005). Development of domestic production of medicinal trees and shrubs could contribute to sustainability of medicinal tree sources, through reduction of wild-harvesting, and the quality of forest products, through accreditation systems.  Quality standards are well advanced for organic production, wild-crafting and the management of woodlands, and these need to be considered in the context of potential for UK medicinal trees and shrubs. However, information on managing particular medicinal trees and shrubs is not always well co-ordinated and much more experimentation is needed to identify coppicing, pollarding and other suitable means of cultivation and harvesting in a sustainable manner.

Many coniferous woods in the UK are reaching maturity and, potentially, could be replanted again as conifers for easier and speedier returns, despite the market problems of over-supply of softwoods. In the UK, the Forestry Commission and other organisations such as Landlife are pressing for increasing biodiversity and benefits to the environment. This is reflected in preferential funding rates of grants for establishing native broadleaf woods. The inclusion of medicinal trees and shrubs in planting schemes could provide additional benefits such as additional income from non-timber forest products and enhancement of biodiversity. Many more medicinal trees and shrubs could be introduced in woodland areas in the UK if the information was readily available and young plants easily sourced. For landowners, farmers, smallholders and market gardeners there would be further benefits if cultivated produce could have added value and sold as artisanal produce. A range of information is needed by the commercial grower regarding sourcing and propagation, cultivation, harvesting, processing and marketing


More about medicinal trees and shrubs

Medicinal tree information sheets