Organic Valerian, Feverfew and St. Johnswort
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Ken and Debby Simpkins
Posted on: January 27, 1999

We are currentley considering growing a variety of herbs. We have organic land and wish to keep up with the organic idea. At the present time we are interested in growing valerian, feverfew and St. Johns Wort. We can not find any info about harvesting these crops. What kinds of yields and how much labour is involved. Regarding valerian does one need special equipment to harvest and store this crop.

I have written previously on Feverfew, St. John’s Wort and Valerian. Feverfew is commercially viable as a field crop, and is now being grown commercially in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Kenya, and elsewhere. Its used in the treatment and prevention of migraine headache, which have been established in clinical studies, attracting considerable attention from industry in recent years.

It is extremely easy to grow in most parts of North America, and is now beginning to suffer overproduction. Many growers have found it to be adaptable to well-drained soils, not requiring much nutrient supplementation. It can be sown in plugs and transplanted to the field or sown directly in the field.

It is harvested as the plant begins to reach the flowering stage in mid to late summer. Harvests can occur even after the first frosts in fall. Requiring only one person, it can be taken like hay, and field-dried into bales. Feverfew in the second year usually will allow two cuttings with yields up to 3 ton per acre (dry-weight).

St. John’s Wort herb is very similar to Feverfew, but requires a smaller header-bar type swather. Because only the top five inches is preferred in the marketplace, care must be taken to cut at precise times, and when the flowering stage just begins (before seed).

Further, it can not be dried in the field, but must be shed dried or somehow dehydrated slowly and in shade (usually at night). Temperatures also seem to be a critical factor on remaining chemistries. A Draper-type swath is often the choice to eliminate labor and contamination from grasses.

Hypericin levels are cut in half when the crop contains 50% grasses, for example. Sunlight and temperatures over 95 degrees F seem to also highly reduce the hypericin levels. To complicate matters further, the markets are not even sure (yet) what is considered important for chemistries. Some markets now want to have hyperiform levels above a certain figure, mostly used for marketing, since no one yet knows how this plant works biochemically in the brain.

Valerian Root is probably the most stable market of the three crops you ask about. It is easily grown in the Great Lakes region of North America. Common valerian contains as its primary active constituents several iridoid compounds called valepotriates. Most act like smooth muscle relaxes, and are used to make the common drug valium. The variety from India also contains valepotriates in the herbaceous part of the plant, making it often the preferred purchase by larger pharmaceutical houses.

It can be harvested with potato diggers and other related farm tools. Yields up to 2,000 lbs. every third year were obtained from my work in Oregon. The tops are trashed with a rotary mower, and then the root is dug with conventional equipment. The need for cultivation is limited since it is the root which must be harvested every three years.

As a final comment, I might say that the three crops you have selected reminds me of K-Mart shopper, following the Blue Concourse. These are the three primary crops in the news today, so of course, everyone will want to consider these first. However, this also means the possibility of over-production, thereby limiting the final sale price (like we are seeing with Ginseng and Echinacea).

I offer Business Plans for the beginning farmer, trying to take into account their soils, capital equipment, and future market needs. I therefore would not recommend these three crops to the new or beginning farm because they are already in production, and have limited niche markets, probably already being met by current production.

Since I have grown these and other crops in previous years (or "incarnations"), I have amassed a number of detailed photos on equipment used and field production protocols. Richters plans to put a number of these slides together as "show and tell" books for those who want more detail on how to establish and cultivate various crops.

Over the last twenty years I have also put together a number of Technical Crop Reports, which include marketing and processing requirements. These will also become available (upon demand) from Richters and other publishing efforts. As you may know, I also a number of titles in print specific for the beginning herb farm. All are available through Richters.

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