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In summer 2020, SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with researchers from the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) launched the study on commercial propagation of endangered medicinal and aromatic plants by using tissue culture method. This approach will provide an opportunity to cultivate endangered species in organic farming.


Along with the increased pharmaceutical, cosmetology, and food industry demand for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), populations of many wild species are decreasing. Therefore, researchers are eager to study the cultivation of endangered plant species in organic farming. This solution will reduce pressure on wild populations, as well as ensure a sufficient amount of high-quality plant-based materials for different industries.

Three endangered wild medicinal plant species with high market potential were selected for this research – Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus Maxim.), common yew (Taxus baccata L.) and sea holly (Eryngium maritimum L.). During the 3-year period, IES researchers will develop efficient and economically viable propagation methods of these plants for commercial use in organic farming.

In the following interview, IES leading researcher Dr Ieva Mežaka highlighted the progress and the importance of this research.



IES: Why is it necessary to do this research?

Dr Ieva Mežaka (I.M.): 90% of medicinal and aromatic plants are harvested in wild and only 10% are cultivated. Increasing harvesting of MAPs in the wild, along with the loss of natural habitats, bring a heavy burden on wild populations, therefore, many of them are endangered. Meanwhile, the human population is growing and so is the market demand for MAPs. In this research, we are looking for ways to grow medical and aromatic plants more effectively – by cultivating them in organic farming. Another important challenge is to seek for the growing technologies that could provide the highest harvests and concentration of active compounds in plants.



 

IES: Why did you choose these 3 MAPs – Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus Maxim.), common yew (Taxus baccata L.) and sea holly (Eryngium maritimum L.)?

I.M.: The main reason was the high market demand for these MAPs due to which their wild populations are endangered. During this research, we will develop technologies for cultivation of these endangered MAPs in organic farming, thus decreasing the pressure on wild populations. Additional factors for selecting these plants were their unifying vulnerabilities – prolonged seed germination, low seed production and slow rooting of cuttings.

IES: You mentioned that the selected MAPs have a high market demand. Where exactly one can use active compounds of these plants?

I.M.: 60% of all produced pharmaceuticals contains active compounds extracted from medicinal and aromatic plants. Wild Siberian ginseng, common yew and sea holly have a high concentration of different active compounds widely used in pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics industries. For example, common yew is used for the development of anti-cancer drugs. Moreover, research shows that Siberian ginseng has a stimulating and anti-depressive effect, but Sea holly is used for liver and kidney disease cures.

IES: Please explain this plant tissue culture propagation method?

I.M.: It is a biotechnology method that allows us to propagate plants by using tissue cultures. We grow these plants in laboratory test tubes, but we do not change their genetics. This method can be divided into four steps:

First step. We start with seed germination then we grow a plantlet.

Second step. Then we do micro-propagation. We take that plantlet that we grew and cut it in pieces. From these pieces, we can re-grow new plantlets and continue this process in geometrical progression.

Third step. Rooting of the plantlets propagated in the second step.

All this process is done in controlled and sterile conditions. Micro-propagation and rooting require adaptation of each medium composition that we are providing to the plantlets. This includes the composition of micro-and macro-elements, vitamins, growth regulators, various other additives, and their concentrations. This is an important process because it determines the growing conditions of the plant and plantlet development.

Fourth step. Adaptation of plants grown in laboratory conditions to conventional growing conditions in the soil. Plants that are propagated in these circumstances where we provide a suitable environment – nutrients, humidity, suitable temperature etc., are relatively fragile to external impact factors.

 

IES: Why did you choose this method instead of other easier approaches?

I.M.: All three of the researched plants under normal propagation conditions germinate slowly and unevenly. It takes up to 18 months to sprout Siberian ginseng seeds and they need stratification – a simulated set of environmental effects in controlled conditions which accelerate seed sprouting. For example, by subjecting seeds to cold treatment we simulate the period that seed experiences under natural conditions during winter. Plant tissue culture method in the propagation process allows us to exclude the long seed sprouting procedure. We sprout the gathered seeds once at the beginning of the research and afterwards, we work only with plantlets and micro-propagation. This process is much faster than other more traditional propagation methods, therefore more suitable for commercial cultivation. Additionally, this method allows us to do a chemical analysis of plantlets, thus allowing us to understand which plants have a higher concentration of active compounds. Then we can choose which ones to propagate for commercial use.


 

IES: Is it planned to propagate populations harvested in Latvia?

I.M.: In Latvia wild populations of common yew and sea holly can be found but wild Siberian ginseng is common in Russia and China. For the last few decades, private farmers have proven that it is possible to cultivate Siberian ginseng in natural conditions of Latvia. Within this research, we were interested to gather wild population samples as well as ones that are grown by farmers from Latvia and other natural distribution areas of these plants.

We launched this research in summer of 2020. So far, we have already implemented sampling campaigns where we collected different parts of plants (leaves, branches, roots) and seeds. In Latvia, these plants are endangered, therefore we needed to get special permission approved by the Nature Conservation Agency. We have gathered samples of all three species found in Latvia (wild species and samples from private growers). We also carried sampling expeditions to Saaremaa and Kihnu islands in Estonia. Also, for these expeditions, we needed to get special permission from the Environmental Board.

We were planning to carry sampling campaigns in other natural distribution areas of these plants, but our plans were disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic. We adapted to this situation and found other solutions for the collection of samples. In seed exchange programs we were able to gather several samples from the collections of national botanical gardens, universities and private growers from Latvia and other countries.

 

IES: What have you planned for the next research periods?

I.M.: Sample gathering campaigns are concluded. We have started the work with seed stratification and introduction of seeds to plant tissue culture. Researchers in the laboratory began the assessment to find the best approach of chemical analysis for all three researched MAPs. We are developing a methodology and preparing extracts for chemical analysis. That will help us understand what kind of active substances are in the researched plants and how they differ between populations. Thus, we hope to find out which of the researched populations are the most valuable ones.

Research on plant tissue culture application for commercial propagation of endangered medicinal plants is developed as a part of the European Regional Development Fund programme 1.1.1 “Improve research and innovation capacity and the ability of Latvian research institutions to attract external funding, by investing in human capital and infrastructure” 1.1.1.1. measure “Support for applied research”, Nr. 1.1.1.1/19/A/083.

More about the project here.

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In summer 2020, SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with researchers from the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) and SIA “Alternative Plants” launched the study to develop high added value bioactive cosmetic ingredients from by-products of medicinal plant processing and plant cell cultivation.

The growing human population also creates an increasing demand for natural resources for food, medicine, pharmacy, and other industries. The use of underutilised industrial by-products could help Europe’s leading industries to develop high added-value products, meet the growing demand and move towards more sustainable processes.

For this research by-products of medicinal Chamomile (Matricaria) processing and in-vitro cell culturing of Dragonhead (Dracocephalum), European gooseberry (Ribes) and Juniper (Juniperus) were chosen because researchers saw a potential in them to develop high added-value products.

In the following interview, IES leading researcher Dr Ilva Nakurte highlighted the progress and importance of this research.



IES: Why is it necessary to do this research?

Dr Ilva Nakurte (I.N.): Most by-products coming from agriculture, cosmetics, food and drink, as well as chemical industries are not utilized and end up in municipal landfills, thus causing serious environmental, economic, and social problems. Currently, by-products are handled as waste, while they could be used as resources to create new revenue streams and open doors for new niche markets. Spinning the mindset and business approaches towards using more innovative, science-based solutions for by-product utilization will have a positive impact on the transition towards a sustainable economy.

Medicinal and aromatic plants have active compounds that are highly demanded by pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and food industries. While active compounds can be artificially synthesised, considering increasing demand, the focus should be on compounds extracted from natural resources. Therefore, during this research, we will obtain active compounds from different industry by-products and waste to develop bioactive cosmetic ingredients.

 

IES: What do you consider as the main valuable resource that you will obtain from by-products?

I.N.: When people hear the word waste, the first association in their mind is household waste. In this research we will work with two groups of organic medicinal plant processing by-products:

– Medicinal and aromatic plant processing by-products from medicinal chamomile essential oil extraction provided by organic farming experts of SIA “Field and Forest”.


– Plant tissue cultivation by-products of cosmetic production provided by SIA “Alternative plants” company.

 

Before the start of this research, we already knew that these medicinal and aromatic plant processing by-products contain high concentration levels of valuable compounds. Within this research, we will develop technologies for bioactive compound extraction (with suitable biorefinery methods) from above-mentioned by-products. After extraction active compounds will be categorized and further used in the development of different valuable product prototypes for the cosmetic industry.

IES: Please explain what is biorefinery and how it helps to extract active compounds from medicinal and aromatic plant processing by-products?

I.N.: A biorefinery is defined as the optimised processing of biomass for extraction of new raw materials.

We are convinced that in our research selected by-products materials contain bioactive compounds. Therefore, the main task of the biorefining processes used in our project is to understand what and how much active substances they contain, and how to extract them in the most effective ways. The processes of the biorefinery method that we will implement in this study can be divided into three main steps:

First step. We are going to search for the most suitable method for the extraction of bioactive compounds. We have chosen the most environmentally friendly and, at the same time, efficient active compound extraction method – the supercritical fluid extraction method.

Second step. Reuse of waste is an environmentally friendly action. In this research we are trying to find the most environmentally friendly extraction reagents. We found it inappropriate to use chemical reagents for extraction that are harmful to the environment and human health. For the supercritical fluid extraction method use only carbon dioxide (CO2), in combination with ethanol and/or water. To extract the highest concentration of active compounds from each group of by-products, it is important to find the most suitable combination of these three reagents.

Third step. Fractionation of polar and non-polar compounds. All active compounds that we extracted from the by-products need to be divided into fractions. As a result of extraction, we will obtain the whole set of biologically active substances, and there is no unique method that would be able to separate them from each other in one go. The supercritical fluid extraction method allows us to systematically divide this group into fractions, such as carbohydrates, proteins, antioxidants, fatty acids, volatile substances. Fractionation allows us to understand which groups of bioactive compounds we were able to extract and how high are the concentrations of these groups. If we understand the value of each of the active compound groups, we can assess whether the size of the class is large enough to make its extraction economically viable.

IES: What are the next steps after the extraction is done and active substances are divided into fractions?

I.N.: Once the extracts have been divided into fractions, the next step is the chemical characterization of extracts and fractions. The chemical characterization will be done in IES laboratory using state-of-the-art analytical equipment and extracts will be classified in such groups as sugars, amino acids, glycosides, tannins, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, etc.

An assessment of the microelement composition of the obtained fractions and extracts will also be performed, as we are interested not only in the bioactive substances contained in these medicinal plant by-products but also in the microelements, which is a very hot topic nowadays.

IES: What will you do with the biologically active compounds that you will acquire?

I.N.: Next step will be the assessment of the acquired bioactive compounds. During discussions with all research partners, we will decide which compounds and from which by-products have the highest potential in cosmetic product development.

Our research partners SIA “Alternative Plants” have extensive and long-term experience in cooperation with various cosmetic manufacturers, therefore they will start the combination of biorefinery fractions and extracts to generate a composite of high-value cosmetic ingredient. This ingredient will be tested on human skin cells to assess the impact. If human cell tests will show positive results, we will continue the development of a product prototype for the cosmetics industry.

IES: Is it planned to produce an actual product within this research?

I.N.: No, we have not planned to develop a product for the cosmetics industry during this research. The outcome will be intellectual property that will belong to all three project partners. Our research activities will certainly not stop. Research on natural resource-based by-products for the development of new product prototypes can be interesting for the organic cosmetics industry, as well as many others.

IES: Is this extraction of active compounds from plant processing by-products an innovative approach?

I.N.: Of course, we are not the first ones that have thought about the extraction of bioactive compounds from plant processing by-products that, otherwise, would go to waste. However, In Latvia, we are one of the pioneers that focus on large-scale medicinal plant by-product repurposing.

In scientific literature, we can find similar examples of organic plant by-product extracting even with the same supercritical fluid extraction method. But researchers usually do not share specific techniques that are vital in the research process.

Within this study, we will evaluate the extraction methods and adapt them to each group of by-products in order to find the most suitable and effective solutions.

 

IES: This research was launched in July 2020. Which activities have you already started?

I.N.: We have started to test the first water and ethanol extracts from six SIA “Alternative Plants” different lyophilized plant cell culture by-products and from SIA “Field and Forest” chamomile processing by-products – white petals, pollen (pulp) and distillation waste. We have started testing the reagents of the supercritical fluid extraction method. For each group of by-products considered in the study, it is necessary to find the right combination of carbon dioxide, water and ethanol, as well as the most suitable extraction temperature and time. We try to find out these factors in a series of experiments, to get the most effective extraction results.

Experimental extraction of non-polar fractions from distillation by-products with non-polar liquefied gas – florasol extraction – was also performed. For both non-polar and polar fractions, a qualitative assessment of the effect of distillation time on the separation of fractions from distillation by-products has been performed. We can already conclude that the hypothesis put forward in our project has proved to be true, and high concentrations of various bioactive substances can be found in the production by-products tested so far.

IES: What have you planned for the upcoming research periods?

I.N.: We will continue to adapt the extraction method for each group of by-products. We will continue the fractionation of the obtained polar and non-polar compounds and the characterization of these fractions. That will allow us to find out which fraction contains the most valuable bioactive compounds and which of them would be worth researching further.

Research “A biorefinery approach for the development of bioactive cosmetic ingredients from by-products of medicinal plant processing and plant cell cultivation” (1.1.1.1/19/A/075) is developed as a part of the European Regional Development Fund programme 1.1.1.1 measure “Support for applied research” and specific objective 1.1.1 “Improve research and innovation capacity and the ability of Latvian research institutions to attract external funding, by investing in human capital and infrastructure”

More about the project here.

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In August 2019, the Latvian organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest” and the largest Estonian household chemical company “Mayeri industries” AS started joint work on the development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products. They will be based on herbal water as a natural fragrance. The project will result in the creation of four prototypes of new products – liquid soap, universal cleaner, laundry softener and dishwashing detergent.



Joint industrial research is being carried out to develop new product prototypes. In the period from August till the end of July 2020, SIA “Field and Forest” purchased a vacuum fractionation equipment and carried out herbal water distillation experiments to produce refined floral waters.  Chamomile, spruce, pine, and peppermint raw floral waters were vacuum distilled in the fractionation column to obtain refined floral waters with increased content of active ingredients. Different distillation methods were developed to optimize distillation conditions and to obtain the highest quality refined floral waters.


The certification procedures of Ecocert Cosmos and GACP (Good Agriculture and Collection Practice)  guidelines were finalised were finalised. As a result, the herbal waters produced by SIA “Field and Forest” are now certified as 100% organic according to the Ecocert Cosmos standard. The GACP guidelines cover crop production technologies on field, training for employees, monitoring methodology of alkaloids and allergens on field, a batch identification, and other standardised procedures to ensure quality and traceability of botanical raw material from seed-to-crop.


Development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products based on herbal water as a natural fragrance was co-funded by the Interreg V-A Estonia-Latvia Cross Border Cooperation Program (project identification number EST-LAT 128, Herbal Waters).

This article reflects the views of the author. The managing authority of the Interreg V-A Estonia – Latvia programme is not liable for how this information may be used.

About the companies:

Mayeri Industries is the largest manufacturer of washing and cleaning products in the Baltic States. The target market for our products is the Nordic region. We believe that washing and cleaning products can be produced without affecting the natural environment negatively. Mayeri Industries AS has the biggest laundry washing product portfolio with EU Ecolabel in Europe.

SIA “Field and Forest” is a certified organic agriculture company operating since 2005. It cultivates, harvests and processes organic crops, medicinal and aromatic plants. SIA “Field and Forest” is one of the largest organic chamomile growers and producers in the Eastern Europe. The company’s research activities are aimed at increasing genetic diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants, development of new plant cultivation methods and added-value products, and collection of traditional knowledge through ethnobotanical expeditions.

More about the project here.

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The wild medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are known to have a high potential for organic cultivation for further use in medicine, food and cosmetics. Agriculture experts and organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) as well as Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis research a potential of 9 wild spring MAPs to develop innovative technologies for organic farming.

The researchers have selected the following MAPs for this research – cowslip (Primula veris), woodruff (Galium odoratum), mezereon (Daphne mezereum), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), pasqueflower (Pulsatilla pratensis), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), greater celandine (Chaledonium majus) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp).

IES spoke to leading researcher Dr Arta Kronberga, who showcased the latest conclusions and described further steps of the research. Read the interview below.




IES: We know that in the previous research periods the team of researchers focused on work in experimental field preparation. On what did you focus during Summer and Autumn research seasons of 2020?

Dr. Arta Kronberga (A.K.): During Summer and Autumn seasons of 2020 we continued to test the most suitable technologies for cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plats in organic farming.

“All of the researched MAPs are different. There is no such thing as one technology that would fit to all the species. We are looking for the most suitable approach for each researched plant species.”

We are carrying out different activities: firs, testing of accelerated seed sprouting; second, researching of sowing for some species and planting of others; third, trying out different times of sowing and planting; fourth, testing of different types of shading systems and plant growing under the agricultural film, then evaluating differences of gathered populations and effects of organic fertilisers.

IES: Plant growing under agricultural film – why this method is used in this research?

A.K.: It is a growing technology when a plant is planted, and the surface of the soil is covered with a special agricultural film that provides moisture absorbency and help plants to fight weeds. We use this technology for slow-sprouting plant species because it slows down sprouting of weeds and increases the competitiveness of plants. One of the plants we wanted to grow in the film was the ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which would help to harvest the plant. This plant grows low to the ground and are covered with soil.

IES: Why did you do the tests for organic fertilizers?

A.K.: Organic fertilizers are relatively new in agriculture. There is insufficient information on fertilizers and their effects, particularly on medical plants. We don’t know how effective they are and how often should they be used? As a part of this study, we assess their effects and try to answer these questions.

IES: You mentioned that accelerated seed sprouting tests were done within this research. What conclusions can you draw from them?

A.K.: We conducted test cycles to accelerate seed sprouting of slow-sprouting plants. For example, in natural conditions lily of the valley seeds takes up to two years to sprout, because the seed needs to go through the maturity period. Such a long period of sprouting is not suitable for commercial cultivation. Therefore, we have developed a method that simulates natural conditions under controlled conditions. For example, we simulate a cold period in a laboratory as cold weather naturally occurs in winter, thereby accelerating stratification. This method has shown successful results and we are preparing to present them in scientific journals.

IES: During the 2019 research season, it was concluded that the seeds of mezereon (Daphne mezereum) have been sprouting for up to two years. Have you found the most suitable method for propagating this plant?

A.K.: We have concluded that wild mezereon produces a low number of seeds that sprouts very slowly. Therefore, the propagation of this plant with seeds is not suitable. We have started a new test trial for this plantlet rooting with in vitro methods. We use the information available in scientific literature to test different environments, plant hormone effects and combinations of these two factors. Plantlet rooting with in vitro method is a widely applied approach for commercial cultivation, where, under controlled conditions, a plant fragment which lacks a root is rooted.

“When we started this research, we knew that there is a lot to learn about these MAPs. It was important to find the weak points for each of the species and find smart solutions. Now, we are finding solutions that will allow us to cultivate these plants in organic farming. For example, if it is not possible to propagate mezereon with seeds, then we have to move forward and find other approaches.”



IES.: You are also carrying out an evaluation of plant development in the experimental fields. What conclusions can you share?

A.K.: During the whole research we are evaluating how each of the species develops in experimental fields in Priekuļi municipality in Latvia. We can observe differences between species and different populations within the same species. There are populations that adjust better to field conditions. We assess these differences by visual inspection of the plants, but for more precise and detailed data collection we use drone technologies. Drone overflights and data collections are carried out approximately once every two weeks at a specified height. Data is processed automatically by a specially designed algorithm capable of calculating the number of plants in each field, vegetation development and plant development capacity compared to weeds.

IES: Have you noticed any effects of climate change (e.g. rising temperature during Winter) on the development of the plants?

A.K.: There is an interesting pattern that we have noticed. Some of the researched spring MAPs are blooming twice in a Spring season and once in Autumn because of the rising temperature. For example, cowslip and pasqueflower are blooming now, during October blooming in experimental fields. This phenomenon can affect the harvest. Plants are simply wasting their energy and are not able to bloom again in the Spring. We reached this conclusion this Spring when plants that bloomed in Autumn 2019 did not bloom in Spring 2020.

 

IES: How does the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (OSI) contribute to this research?

A.K.: Researchers of OSI provide very important input to this research, as they provide an insight into the value of plants grown in experimental fields. OSI researchers are currently conducting 3 major trials:

Chemical analysis of MAPs. OSI researchers are doing chemical analysis of MAPs to evaluate the composition of the active substances. They have already identified plants with the most valuable chemical composition and thus, it would be worth to research them further.

Effects of plant extracts on cells. OSI is currently studying the effects of plant extracts on cells, such as cell growth. Researchers are growing cells of living organisms and evaluating cell development by adding extracts of the 9 MAPs. While we can research the composition of different active compounds in the researched plants, OSI researchers can evaluate if these substances are suitable for further use in medicine, food and cosmetics.

Alkaloid level measurements in MAPs. MAPs contain different alkaloid groups and some of them are poisonous. OSI researchers are assessing the levels of alkaloids in the researched species to evaluate if they are useful for further use in medicine, food and cosmetics.

IES.: What kind of preparations do you intend to do before the Winter?

A.K.: At the end of the vegetation season, we will carry out an accurate inventory of plants in all the experimental fields so that we can compare differences before and after the Winter season. These data, combined with the recording of metrological conditions, will provide information on how wild plants survive Winter in commercial farming conditions.

 

The research is a part of the project “Innovative solutions for growing technologies and applications of spring medicinal and aromatic plants” (Nr. 1.1.1.1/18/A/043). It is supported by European Regional Development Fund, as a part of Measure 1.1.1.1 “Industry-Driven Research” of specific objective 1.1.1 “To increase the research and innovation capacity of scientific institutions of Latvia and their ability to attract external funding by investing in human resources and infrastructure”.

More about the project here.

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In August 2019, the Latvian organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest” and the largest Estonian household chemical company “Mayeri industries” AS started joint work on the development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products. They will be based on herbal water as a natural fragrance. The project will result in the creation of four prototypes of new products – liquid soap, universal cleaner, laundry softener and dishwashing detergent.

Joint industrial research is being carried out to develop new product prototypes. In the period from April till the end of July 2020, SIA “Field and Forest” obtained raw floral waters from four plant sources inter alia chamomile, spruce and pine. The raw floral waters were analyzed in the laboratory to assess chemical composition and organoleptic properties. Taking into account the obtained results, the partners decided that the pine floral water will be used as the main raw material in further vacuum fractioning experiments.

In the reporting period, SIA “Field and Forest” initiated COSMOS and GACP (Good Agriculture and Collection Practice) certification procedures.

Development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products based on herbal water as a natural fragrance was co-funded by the Interreg V-A Estonia-Latvia Cross Border Cooperation Program (project identification number EST-LAT 128, Herbal Waters).

This article reflects the views of the author. The managing authority of the Interreg V-A Estonia – Latvia programme is not liable for how this information may be used.

About the companies

Mayeri Industries is the largest manufacturer of washing and cleaning products in the Baltic States. The target market for our products is the Nordic region. We believe that the washing and cleaning products can be produced without affecting the natural environment negatively. Mayeri Industries AS has the biggest laundry washing product portfolio with EU Ecolabel in Europe.

SIA “Field and Forest” is a certified organic agriculture company operating since 2005. It cultivates, harvests and processes organic crops, medicinal and aromatic plants. SIA “Field and Forest” is one of the largest organic chamomile growers and producers in the Eastern Europe. The company’s research activities are aimed at increasing genetic diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants, development of new plant cultivation methods and added-value products, and collection of traditional knowledge through ethnobotanical expeditions.

More about the project here.

0

Organic farming experts SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) and Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis research suitability of nine wild medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) for farming and use in medicine, cosmetics and food industries.

IES leading researcher Dr. Ieva Mežaka and scientific project manager Dr. Arta Kronberga showcased the latest conclusions and described further steps of the research.




IES:
During the spring season of 2020 you were focusing on the best sprouting solutions for selected MAPs.  Why is it important in context of this research?

Dr. Ieva Mežaka (I.M.): Biology, adaptation and sprouting of researched MAPs variates greatly. Moreover, in natural conditions they sprout unevenly. During this research we want to find the most suitable solutions for them to sprout faster and evenly.

Dr. Arta Kronberga (A.K.):

“Fast and even sprouting is one of the main prerequisites for growing MAPs for commercial use”

Some of the researched species, such as great calandine, shows great sprouting results. But others need up to 2 years for sprouting, which is not suitable for cultivation in agriculture.


IES:
What kind of methods have been applied for accelerated seed sprouting?

I.M.: One of the most important approach of adapting wild herbs to agriculture is simulation of natural conditions. For example, simulating cold conditions in laboratory that seed normally experience during winter. We have also tried seed treatment with plant hormones and ultrasound. Furthermore, to find the best solutions for each MAP we tested different combinations of all methods mentioned above.

IES: What kind of results have you gained from the seed sprouting tests? Have you found the way to accelerate sprouting of all 9 MAPs?

I.M.: Sprouting results differs between the tested species. All researched MAPs can be divided in 4 groups: 1) plants that shows good sprouting results with minimum seed preparation needed – greater celandine (Chaledonium majus), pasqueflower (Pulsatilla pratensis) and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara); 2) plants that in natural conditions sprouts slowly but we have succeed to find solutions for seed preparation that accelerates this process – cowslip (Primula veris), woodruff (Galium odoratum) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp); 3) plants which seeds sprouts slowly even after seed preparation – lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) and mezereon (Daphne mezereum); 4) Specie that not necessarily produces seeds in conditions of Latvia and this plant reproduce with shoots – ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea).


A.K.:
This research is still in process, but we already can make a conclusion that

“most of the researched MAPs adjust well to the agriculture conditions.”

We still need to find the best seed preparation approaches for few of the researched species. Also, we see that there are some MAPs that will need different approach for reproduction due to long sprouting period that is not suitable for commercial cultivation.


IES:
Do you focus on researching only wild populations found in territory of Latvia?

I.M.: Yes, this research is focused on populations found in Latvia, because these MAPs have adapted to our agroclimatic conditions. But to compare we also use seeds from commercial suppliers abroad.

A.K.: Almost all researched species are compared with foreign samples. In our experiment, we can see that foreign commercial seeds have already experienced some kind of breeding. We can see it in sprouting results – these seeds have shorter “sleeping period”.

IES: During the last research period Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis performed chemical analyses of all 9 MAPs. What do the results show?  Can you describe the commercial cultivation potential of the local populations?

A.K.: The main goal of these analysis was to understand the chemical composition of 9 MAPs and suitability for market.

“Current market trends show growing demand on commercially grown MAPs for the use in medicine, cosmetics and food industries. However, there is a lack of knowledge about suitability of wild species that grow in Latvia.”

Data analysis is still in process, but we already can notice that chemical parameters differ between the species. Moreover, they vary within the same species that are growing in different areas.


IES:
What are your plans for the next research period?

A.K.: We are going to continue sample gathering campaigns. It is crucial for those species that had difficulties to sprout even after seed preparation methods were applied, for example, lady’s mantle and lily of the valley. We have planned to try other reproduction methods for commercial cultivation – rhizome dividing method.

 

I.M.: We also need to gather samples for planting them in the experimental gardens. That will allow us to understand whether the level of active substances differs between plants growing in agricultural conditions and wilderness.

 

A.K.: One of the most important tasks will be the setting-up the experimental gardens in Priekuļi municipality. Then follows the assessment of populations grown in experimental garden. We are going to evaluate the following parameters – plant development rate, weed competitiveness, productivity, active substance content, etc. It is also planned to do the first harvest this year.

The research is a part of the project “Innovative solutions for growing technologies and applications of spring medicinal and aromatic plants” (Nr. 1.1.1.1/18/A/043). It is supported by European Regional Development Fund, as a part of Measure 1.1.1.1 “Industry-Driven Research” of specific objective 1.1.1 “To increase the research and innovation capacity of scientific institutions of Latvia and their ability to attract external funding by investing in human resources and infrastructure”.

More about the project here.

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Organic farming experts from SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with the researchers from the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) have developed organic cultivation technologies for 5 medicinal and aromatic plants suitable for conditions of Latvia.



Changing environmental conditions and global market trends have increased demand on natural products grown using environmentally friendly methods, such as organically grown medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). In Latvia, there are many species of MAPs with high market potential and biological value. Among them are valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and siler (Saposhnikovia divaricata). At the same time there is a lack of knowledge about the most suitable growing technologies of MAPs for organic farming. To research them for the conditions in Latvia,  farming experts from SIA “Field and Forest” and IES’s researchers developed experimental garden located in Priekuļi municipality. Over 3-year period in the garden they conducted research on genetic diversity, stability of yield morphological, biochemical and other parameters of the 5 above-mentioned plants.


Dr. Arta Kronberga, leading researcher of SIA “Field and Forest”, about the importance of the study: “The task of this research was to develop growing technologies of 5 MAPs as it had not been studied before in Latvia. Although, these plants have high biological value and promising market potential there is a lack of knowledge of appropriate growing and cultivation technologies for Latvia’s climate conditions. Moreover, before the research we didn’t know what kind of and how much active substances these plants actually contain.”


During the development of innovative methodology for organic cultivation of high value MAPs researchers came to conclusion that all the studied species are well suited for climate conditions in Latvia. Furthermore, they are able to ensure high quality yield that meets the requirements of the European Pharmacopoeia (common quality standards throughout the pharmaceutical industry in Europe, sets minimum requirements for exporting of these MAPs). According to the results few of the researched MAPs are capable of exceeding these requirements by even two times.

 

“During the research we have concluded that all five MAPs are suitable for cultivation in Latvia, both in terms of the quantity of active substances and the quality of yield. At the same time, in order to achieve the required quality of yield, growing of each MAP must comply with specific rules described in developed cultivation technologies, such as, right choice of variety, the distance between the rows on the field, the optimal time of harvesting and other details,” Dr. A Kronberga highlights importance of developed cultivation technologies.

To calculate the potential return on growing of each MAP, the developed technologies also include an economic assessment of plant cultivation. For economic assessment researchers took into account costs of growing, the most suitable cultivation technologies that ensures the highest quality of yield and other factors. Considering that yield parameters varies for each species, economic assessment is very important. For example – while common dandelion has species with roots weighing up to 1 kg, the roots of valerian varies from 600 to 800 g, but other MAPs have even lower values of harvested roots. Researchers concluded that the cultivation of all 5 MAPs in organic farming could be economically viable and potentially profitable. To achieve it, in the product development stage requirements included in the developed cultivation technology need to be considered and used.


Additional part of this research included assessment of genetic resources of wild valerian, chamomile and common dandelion found in Latvia. Assessment of genetic resources of these plants was done for the first time. According to Dr. A. Kronberga: “Assessment of genetic resources showcases that wild dandelion growing in Latvia has the same values of productivity and chemical composition as commercial species grown in other parts of the World. It means that using developed cultivation technologies Latvian wild dandelion can be easily adjusted for commercial cultivation. Valerian, on the other hand, needs further breeding to be suitable for commercial cultivation.”



The process of developing cultivation technologies also includes a testing variety of innovative computer vision and machine learning technologies. Methods such as plant surface area measurements, help researchers to save time. Usually it is carried out manually by visual assessment or measuring surface using a ruler. Researchers regularly photographed plants growing in experimental gardens. Images were processed using specially trained algorithm capable of distinguishing leaf’s and surface of flower heads from the overall body of the plant. This innovative method helps to understand the correlation between surface area parameters and root yield indicators. IES plans to advance this technology with drones that would take photos from the field, thus, saving valuable time for researchers.

 

The research is a part of the project “Growing genetic diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants” (Nr.1.1.1.1/16/A/307). It is supported by European Regional Development Fund, as a part of Measure 1.1.1.1 “Industry-Driven Research” of specific objective 1.1.1 “To increase the research and innovation capacity of scientific institutions of Latvia and their ability to attract external funding by investing in human resources and infrastructure”.

Find more about the project here.

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In August 2019, the Latvian organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest” and the largest Estonian household chemical company “Mayeri industries” AS started joint work on the development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products. They will be based on herbal water as a natural fragrance.



As people’s awareness of climate change and the need for sustainable land management practices increase, there is a growing societal demand for locally sourced products. SIA “Field and Forest” and the company “Mayeri Industries” AS continue to work on the development of new liquid household cleaning and personal hygiene products, based on herbal water, which acts as a natural fragrance. The project will result in the creation of four prototypes of new products – liquid soap, universal cleaner, laundry softener and dishwashing detergent.

Organic water will be obtained from locally grown medicinal and aromatic plants – chamomile, calendula, mint, lemon mint, pine, spruce, and others using a vacuum fractionation system. The creation of such a raw material will replace synthetic chemicals and valuable freshwater resources, which are currently incorporated in large quantities into liquid household cleaning and personal care products.

For the development of new products, the partners are carrying out industrial research and experimental development activities. In the period from October 2019 to March 2020, SIA “Field and Forest” tested various technological solutions for obtaining herbal water and evaluated the chemical, physical and microbiological properties of the raw material to be incorporated in the formulations of new products.

About the companies

Mayeri Industries is the largest manufacturer of washing and cleaning products in the Baltic States. The target market for our products is the Nordic region. We believe that the washing and cleaning products can be produced without affecting the natural environment negatively. Mayeri Industries AS has the biggest laundry washing product portfolio with EU Ecolabel in Europe.

SIA “Field and Forest” is a certified organic agriculture company operating since 2005. It cultivates, harvests and processes organic crops, medicinal and aromatic plants. SIA “Field and Forest” is one of the largest organic chamomile growers and producers in the Eastern Europe. The company’s research activities are aimed at increasing genetic diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants, development of new plant cultivation methods and added-value products, and collection of traditional knowledge through ethnobotanical expeditions.

Development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products based on herbal water as a natural fragrance was co-funded by the Interreg V-A Estonia-Latvia Cross Border Cooperation Program (project identification number EST-LAT 128, Herbal Waters).

This article reflects the views of the author. The managing authority of the Interreg V-A Estonia – Latvia programme is not liable for how this information may be used. 

More about the project here.

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SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with Estonian household chemicals company “Mayeri Industries AS” introduces new innovative product – a water-soluble laundry detergent capsule containing organic essential oils.


Responding to the growing consumer demand on environmentally friendly products and services Latvian organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest” in cooperation with largest Estonian household chemicals company “Mayeri Industries AS” has developed new innovative product made from natural and locally sourced ingredients. It is a three-part laundry detergent capsule that contains of organic peppermint and pine needle essential oils. The capsules are now available in major retail chain stores in Estonia and Latvia.


During the process of product development, partner companies conducted market research, industrial research and product prototyping. As a part of the research, the most suitable medicinal and aromatic plant species were selected to meet the product and consumer expectations, protocols for the production of essential oils were developed, the chemical composition of the plants were analyzed and the research on technological aspects of the product manufacturing processes was implemented. To introduce the product to the wider audience, since November 2019, “Mayeri Industries AS” carries product promotion campaign via mass media and Latvian and Estonian retail chain stores. 


The development of the new product was co-funded by the Interreg V-A Estonia-Latvia Cross Border Cooperation Program (project number EST-LAT82). 


This article reflects the views of the author. The managing authority of the Interreg V-A Estonia – Latvia programme is not liable for how this information may be used. 


More about the project here.

About the companies 

Mayeri Industries is the largest manufacturer of washing and cleaning products in the Baltic States. The target market for their products is the Nordic region. They believe that the washing and cleaning products can be produced without affecting the natural environment negatively. Mayeri Industries AS has the biggest laundry washing product portfolio with EU Ecolabel in Europe. SIA “Field and Forest” is a certified organic farming company operating since 2005. It cultivates, harvests and processes organic crops, medicinal and aromatic plants. SIA “Field and Forest” is one of the largest organic chamomile growers and producers in the Eastern Europe. The company’s research activities are aimed at increasing genetic diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants, development of new plant cultivation methods and added-value products, as well as collection of traditional knowledge through ethnobotanical expeditions.

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Researchers from SIA “Field and Forest” and the Institute for Environmental Solutions continues to develop innovative solutions for growing and cultivation of ginseng and Chinese horseradish in Latvia. They just closed 2nd year of field research and are heading to develop new value-added tea products in cooperation with tea producer SIA “Bargi”.


Second season of field research on different growing conditions for ginseng and Chinese horseradish has concluded. As both plants are perennial, in 2019 the researchers continued to make observations of plants that were planted in the season of 2018. During the second season, researchers observed, measured and analysed effects of light intensity, meteorological conditions and soil conditions on the growth of ginseng Effects of different light intensity were measured by testing different types of shading, both natural (forest ecosystem) and artificial (artificial shading with specially made tent) within experimental sites. In order to find the most suitable conditions and cultivation technology for both plants, researchers tested different growing solutions. For example, ginseng was tested to be grown in experimental field and in forest ecosystem. During the current winter season, researchers do testing and analysis of meteorological conditions. In the upcoming Spring they will be able to analyse the effect by the winter weather conditions on each of the species. After the research on the best growing conditions, researchers in cooperation with tea producing experts will start to develop brand new value-added products.

Considering that ginseng and Chinese horseradish are perennial plants, only in year 2021, the researchers will be able to do quality assessment of the roots of the plants. In spite of that , researchers has already started to work together with leading tea production company in Latvia SIA “Bargi” to develop new products containing abovementioned herbs. To find new value-added product, SIA “Bargi” is testing different mixtures that includes ginseng and Chinese horse radish.

Innovative methods for cultivation of ginseng and Chinese horseradish will be developed as a part of the project “Developmend of innovative technologies for cultivation and food production of ginseng (Panax spp.) and Chinese horseradish (Angelica sinensis)” No.  17-00-A01620-000008, which is supported by EU European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Rural Development Programme.

More about the project here.

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