Currently, the demand on international markets for aromatic and medicinal plants is constantly growing, and Moldova can become an important player in this sector. Our country has favorable conditions for their cultivation in terms of soil and climate, and the diversity of their species is an important source of plant materials for pharmaceutical, cosmetic or food industries. About 350 species of aromatic and medicinal plants are believed to grow in the Republic of Moldova, but most of them are found in the spontaneous flora. Despite the fact that these plants can be grown on large areas, and can provide significant profits, very few local agricultural producers are involved in this sector.
In order to understand why this sector must be developed, we can list some of the advantages of growing aromatic and medicinal plants:
- resistance to drought, frost and hail;
- development of ecological agriculture;
- small investments for storage and transportation;
- shelf life up to 12 months;
- growing demand for exports;
- The high price of the main or processed product compared to other crops.
The branch of aromatic and medicinal plants developed rapidly during the Soviet era. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in the 80s the planted area was 15,700 hectares for aromatic plants and 1760 hectares for medicinal plants, and after 30 years, in 2018, we only had 5421 hectares for aromatic plants and 11 ha for medicinal. However their share in the spontaneous flora is much higher. Nevertheless, we see that the interest of local producers in these crops is growing, since in the 2000s, the area reserved for aromatic plants was only 500 hectares.
Currently, there are approximately 50 producers of aromatic and medicinal plants in Moldova, but this is an approximate number. The main problem is that the industry has been forgotten. Several decades ago, we had processing plants and large areas where these species were grown, but now mainly lavender and sage for foreign enterprises are cultivated.
The use of aromatic and medicinal plants:
- cosmetics and perfumery (essential oils, flower water, numerous applications in body care, hair care, in the production of detergents and cleaners, in aromatherapy);
- Pharmaceuticals (about half of the world's pharmaceuticals are based on medicinal plants or have active substances derived from them);
- food products (teas and spices. It is believed that the best natural preservatives are aromatic plants: coriander, rosemary, oregano, etc.). It should be noted that in Moldovan cuisine, celery, sorrel, marjoram, parsnip, melissa, hops, mustard, black wormwood, mint, thyme, rosemary, etc. have been used for ages;
- Production of vegetable dyes;
- Production of natural fertilizers that can be used in organic farming.
The development of this sector in Moldova
In 2016, the Lavender Producers Association was established in Moldova, which currently has 20 members, of which 19 are producers of lavender and other aromatic plants, as well as the Institute of Genetics, Physiology and Plant Protection. The purpose of this association is to bring together producers and facilitate access to foreign markets. Alexandru Badarau, executive director of the Association, believes that the biggest obstacles for the development of this industry are related to labor shortages, limited range and outdated technologies. Therefore, aromatic plants growers require subsidies, in particular, when creating a nursery for the production of planting material, as well as to increase the competitiveness of the local product.
Victor Melnic, a scientific researcher in this area, said that this sector should be further expanded and developed. In addition to lavender, in Moldova you can grow many other aromatic plants: hyssop, oregano, fennel, tarragon, cilantro, rosemary, etc. Soon we will grow Italian immortelle, which is very expensive, its essential oil is sold at a price of 1,500 euros per kg. From medicinal plants, such crops as rose hip, marigold, chamomile, plantain, dandelion, millennials, wormwood, elderberry, celandine and many others can be adapted from the wild flora.
The adaptation of these crops from spontaneous flora is important as it may lead to an increase in the value of uncultivated land and to the formation of an uniform, well-proportioned crop. This is an industry with small investments and high returns. Such crops are resistant to drought, they grow on a wide variety of soils, some of them can be planted even on degraded soils or on slopes. However, the big problem is the lack of institutions involved in the adaptation and testing of different varieties of medicinal or aromatic plants in Moldova.
It should be noted that the state-owned Moldsilva agency is the largest producer of medicinal plants in the country, but the use of the potential of medicinal plants that grow in our forests is fragmented. Authorities say that the procedure lacks transparency and the introduction of government programs in this area is necessary. However, some of these plants are still exported to Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, usually through intermediaries, in particular, rose hip, meliisa, marigold, celandine, etc.
Recently, the First Conference on Aromatic and Medicinal Plants in Moldova was held in Chisinau, organized with the goal to familiarize producers and the general public with the benefits of growing these crops and the current situation in the industry.