Medicinal herbs have been traded around the world for many years. The botanical (herbal) raw materials are the plant parts— roots, barks, leaves and stems, flowers, seeds fruits, and resins. These materials are presented in a whole or cut form and sifted to a consistently even particle size.
Market prices are usually determined by supply and demand but generally tend to be stable. Most traded European herbs are priced at source in the range US$2.00 to US$6.00/kg. However, prices paid by end users of raw materials (manufacturers) would vary according to where in the supply chain the material is procured. There could easily be two middlemen between
the source of raw material and manufacturer of raw material. Middlemen can simply be trading herb material sourced from various growers and collectors or in addition can add value by sorting, cleaning, cutting and testing materials for supply to manufacturers. Prices for imported organic medicinal herbs can range from US$10.00 to US$20.00/kg, due to the more limited supply market. Prices for difficult-to-grow or rare herbs, can be US$120.00 (or more) at source.
Leaving aside the essential oil and pharmaceutical drug markets, there are at present in Australia, about six manufacturers directly using dried herbal raw materials for the manufacture of liquid extracts. A number of manufacturers use mostly imported concentrated extracts for the manufacture of tablets, functional foods and personal care products. There are also a number of herbal tea manufacturers using both imported and Australian-grown herbs for various ranges of herbal teas in mass and boutique market channels. An example of the supply chain is provided in Figure 1.
As the expected Australian domestic and export market for herbal medicine develops, opportunities will arise for the development of a primary industry to supply and support the growth of this market. Access to export markets can be facilitated by the clean green image that Australian agriculture presents to the world.
Three other factors, which if considered in conjunction with the increase in demand for herbal medicines, also suggest that there will be future opportunities for the development of an Australian herbal primary industry.
• Wild harvesting is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Until the late 1990s probably close to 70% of traded medicinal herbs (by number of herbs) were harvested from wild plant populations. Some harvesting practices known as "wildcrafting" are defined by accepted harvesting protocols to ensure continuing viability of plant populations. However, many herbs are just gathered, without regard to a sustainable
future supply. In the situation of an ever-growing world demand for medicinal herbs, sooner or later various plant species will become "endangered". Examples of enforceable prohibitions already applied to the trade in wild harvested plant species are: Prunus africanum (pygeum) and Hydrastis canadensis (golden seal).
In supplying a consignment of herb to a manufacturer, a herb grower must follow certain steps, as follows:
• All packaging must be clearly labelled with herb botanical name, batch number, gross/net weight, name of supplier.
Acceptance of a herb consignment by a manufacturer is contingent on the herb consignment conforming to specifications. These typically cover the following:
Identity: Does the herb comply by macro-identification assessment, thin layer chromatography (TLC) fingerprint analysis, or high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) profile?
Purity: Is the level of extraneous matter within specifications?
Efficacy: Determination of the presence and quantification for the active chemical constituents or marker compounds, through analysis such as HPLC, gas chromatography, mass spectrophotometry.
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