Marketing Roman Chamomile, Comfrey, St Johnswort
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Ray and Linda
Posted on: November 8, 1999

I am interested in several alternative crops to be grown as a commercial crop such as roman chamomile, comfrey, and St johns wort. I intend to test each of these crops on 2 acres each with possible expansion later. However, in my research I have been having a difficult time finding out where to sell a crop. Could you point me in the right direction?

The three crops you suggest all have interesting futures. Marketing for both Roman chamomile flowerheads (oil distillation) and comfrey leaf (pellets and cubes) have unbelievable futures in marketing. St. John’s Wort (herb tops) is another matter. The market for this is off my almost 300% from last year, and shows no upward trends at this time. Read previous comments on this crop.

If Roman chamomile (perennial) is taken for steam distillation of the oils, the markets look bullish for the next several years (cosmetic industry). Of course, this is not the chamomile which enjoys the largest market in the world as a botanical. That is reserved for German chamomile (annual), used in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and even as a dried floral (potpourri).

The problem with German chamomile is that it needs a special automated flowerhead harvester, not yet invented. I have several working prototypes which might work, with the addition of optical (infrared) scanners. A basic problem results in marketing if any part of the stem remains on the flowerhead. This is why I do not yet recommend this crop with futures. It is still harvested by hand in most of the world.

Comfrey is what I believe to become the largest selling botanical in the world in the next ten years. Why? Comfrey, when added to alfalfa, becomes a "whole food" for cattle. It contains essential amino acids not contained in Alfalfa alone. From a feedlot point-of-view, the futures for this crop are uncalculable.

It is impossible not to be able to grow comfrey. Anyone can do it almost anywhere. The big question becomes how do you handle and dry it? If your land requires 3 cuttings with alfalfa, comfrey will require at least 5 cuttings. Logistics can get out of control the first year alone in production. Hogs can work, but then you get grasses in with your crop over the next two years.

Comfrey Leaf becomes a problem in drying. It will rot with field drying techniques. It will rot using pellet mills and other forms of high tech bulk drying (jet engines). Imagine what it would be like to have to handle 100,000 lbs. of "wet washcloths" per acre? It is almost impossible, but I did develop a proprietary way to do this. It is now possible to consider this crop.

While current prices are up (with limited availability) to $2.50/lb. [U.S.], the correct price for comfrey Leaf will eventually settle out at $500/ton (or $0.25/lb.) As an animal feed supplement, I believe a total annual world demand could exceed 50,000 acres worldwide, with most productions occurring within North America (for export). We have the technology to do this now.

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