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The joint project of the Latvian organic farming and essential oil production company SIA “Field and Forest” and the largest Estonian household chemical company “Mayeri industries” AS on the development of new liquid cleaning and personal hygiene products is nearing completion. The newly created products – liquid soap, universal cleaner, laundry softener and dishwashing detergent – are based on SIA “Field and Forest” produced herbal waters as a natural fragrance.


To develop new products, the partners carried out industrial research. In the period from December 2020 to the end of March 2021, SIA “Field and Forest” elaborated the herbal water distillation methodology and defined product technical requirements, such as used plant parts, plant cultivation and extraction methods, chemical composition, allergens, solubilities, pH, and total viable count. Storage and transportation conditions were stated, as well. Storage conditions and shelf life were determined in the accelerated stability tests in the laboratory. In cooperation with the project’s leading partner, marketing materials for new products have been developed and a website has been opened.


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.

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Researchers from the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) will develop plant-based insect repellents from essential oil extraction by-products. The researchers foresee that in the future plant-based insect repellents could replace chemical pesticides used in farming.


In conventional farming, the insects are commonly controlled by using chemical pesticides, but in organic farming it is prohibited. Currently, the support for organic farming is increasing, mainly due to growing concern about the health and environmental risks caused by chemical pesticides. At the same time, in recent years, the use of chemical pesticides in Latvia has increased slightly, but gradually. Similar tendency can be observed in the European Union (EU). Therefore, EU member countries have developed the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. The strategy has set an aim to decrease the use of chemical pesticides by 50 % until 2030. Nevertheless, changes in the use of pesticides in Latvia and the EU are not taking place at sufficient speed.

IES researchers will develop plant-based bioactive insect repellent as an alternative to chemical pesticides. To achieve it IES will cooperate with organic farming and essential oil extraction experts SIA “Field and Forest”. The developed insect repellent will be suitable for both conventional and organic farming.

 

 

The first step for development of plant-based repellent will be chemical evaluation and characterization of extracts from essential oil distillation process by-products. Afterwards, bioactive insect repellent will be created in IES chemical analysis laboratory. From medicinal and aromatic plant essential oil production process SIA “Field and Forest” will obtain by-products which still contain compounds of biologically active substances. Then, IES researchers will use the by-products to create bioactive insect repellent.

The second step of the research will be testing of plant-based insect repellent in IES practical entomology laboratory to determine the effects on insects. Researchers will evaluate the effect on green peach aphid, greenhouse whitefly and cabbage butterfly. These species cause significant damage to agriculture, both in Latvia and in other countries. Moreover, they are feeding from multiple agricultural crops simultaneously, thus they can do more harm than other pests in our region.

Finally, the third step of this research will be insect repellent testing on different plant species. The tests will be carried out in IES crop research laboratory. For testing insect repellent on plants, researchers have chosen two plants – cucumbers and cabbages. They are commonly known as feeding sources for green peach aphid, greenhouse whitefly and cabbage butterfly. During this step, the researchers will test how the use of developed insect repellent impact plant development, for example, their weight, leaf growth and the amount of chlorophyll.

The research is a part of the project “Essential oil distillation waste streams as a potential source of sustainable plant-based repellent products” (No. Nr. 1.1.1.1/20/A/096). It 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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Researchers from the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) in cooperation with SIA “Alternative plants” develop high value-added bioactive cosmetic ingredients from by-products of medicinal plant processing and plant cell cultivation.

The growing human population creates increasing demand of natural resources for food, medicine, pharmacy, and other industries. IES’s researchers see great potential in industrial organic medicinal and aromatic plant processing by-products:

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



– Dragonhead (Dracocephalum), European gooseberry (Ribes) and Juniper (Juniperus) plant tissue cultivation by-products of cosmetic production provided by SIA “Alternative plants” company.


During the previous research period (January – March 2021) scientists began the biorefining processes – extraction, fractionation and chemical characterization of active compounds that can be found in by-products. Dr Ilva Nakurte describes this process: “Before the start of this research, we already knew that these medicinal and aromatic plant processing by-products contain high concentrations of valuable compounds. After the first test trials we realized that by using biorefining processes we can obtain active compounds that are highly demanded by pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and food industries.”

Researchers have also started the biorefined extract tests on cells to assess their applicability to the development of new cosmetic products. “Our research partners SIA “Alternative Plants” have started the combination of biorefinery fractions and extracts to generate a composite of high value cosmetic ingredients. These ingredients are tested on human skin cells aiming to assess the impact. For example, they are testing if different active compounds can protect skin cells from Ultraviolet (UV) radiation,” explains Dr Ilva Nakurte.

Researchers plan to continue the adaptation of the extraction methods for each group of by-products. That will allow them to find out which fraction contains the most valuable bioactive compounds and which of them would be worth testing further on the skin cells.

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

 

 



While populations of many wild endangered species are decreasing, the demand for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) in the pharmaceutical, cosmetology, and food industry increases. Therefore, IES researchers develop efficient and economically viable plant propagation methods for commercial use in organic farming. This solution will reduce pressure on wild populations, and 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.).



Propagation with plant tissue cultures is a biotechnology method that helps to grow plantlets in laboratory test tubes. The first step of this method is seed germination till a plantlet emerges. IES’s leading researcher Dr Ieva Mežaka describes this process: “We have launched seed sprouting experiments in which we test different types of seed treatment. For seeds to sprout, we must simulate conditions they normally experience in nature, for example, cold weather during the winter season. We carry out these tests in climate cameras where controlled temperatures can be set. To assess the most suitable conditions for accelerated seed sprouting we test different combinations of temperature, light intensity, humidity.  For this activity, we use not only sprouted seed plantlets but other plant parts as well. For example, in this research, we use buds of Siberian ginseng.”

The next step is micro-propagation. This method that is carried out in laboratory conditions allows to multiply plants by cutting them into pieces and growing new ones. IES researchers have already started this process. Dr Ieva Mežaka describes the micro-propagation process: “From germinated seeds, we can grow plantlets. We take that plantlet that we grew and cut it into pieces. From them we can grow out new plantlets and continue this process in geometrical progression”.

The development of this method also includes propagation efficiency tests, which helps to understand how many new plantlets can be obtained from a mother plant. Additionally, researchers assess different compositions of nutrients that are provided to plants grown in test tubes. This is an important process, because it determines the growing conditions of the plant, rooting and plantlet development.

During the next research periods, IES scientists will continue to develop seed sprouting and micro-propagation methods. The following step will be the adaptation of plants grown in laboratory conditions to growing conditions in soil. “Plants that are propagated in test tubes have not developed a protective outer layer. Therefore, they are vulnerable towards external risks, such as drought. Ideal initial environmental conditions for plants that are grown in the laboratory are, for example, 100% humidity level. To reduce the shock for the laboratory-grown plants, during the adaptation process, we will gradually reduce the humidity level in the room, thus allowing the plants to adjust to natural field conditions,” explains Dr Ieva Mežaka.

The 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”, No. 1.1.1.1/19/A/083.

More about the project here.

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Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) and SIA “Field and Forest” researchers develop innovative technologies for growing ginseng and Chinese horseradish in Latvia’s climate conditions. Thus, allowing the tea producer SIA “Bargi” develop new value-added tea products.

The demand for natural herbs that could substitute chemical-based medicinal, cosmetic, and food products is increasing rapidly. Two medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) with a high-demand in the world market are ginseng (Panax sp.) and Chinese horseradish (Angelica sinensis). IES researchers and SIA “Field and forest” agronomy experts stress that the weather and soil in Latvia are well-suited for cultivation of these medicinal and aromatic plants. For three research seasons, scientists have been looking for the most suitable technologies and methods for cultivation of ginseng and horseradish within organic farming in Latvia.

SIA “Field and forest” leading researcher Dr Arta Kronberga showcased the latest research conclusions.

IES: During last research season (July 2020 – January 2021) you continued field research on different growing conditions for ginseng and Chinese horseradish. Why this research was necessary?

Dr Arta Kronberga (A.K.): Ginseng and Chinese horseradish are highly demanded in the world market. Wild plants mostly grow in China and Japan, but we are certain that it is possible to grow these plants in Latvia’s climate conditions as well. Within this research, during the 4-year period we are developing cultivation technologies that would allow us to successfully grow these MAPs in commercial organic farming in Latvia. That includes seed preparation and germination, planting, shadowing, maintaining.

“We are developing innovative growing technologies and we are learning new things in every step of our way. If something is not working, we dissemble our approach and start to build a new trial. This is the only possible way to acquire knowledge of how these plants can be cultivated.”

 

 

IES: How can you ensure that these MAPs growing in Latvia do not lose their biological value, considering that their natural habitat is China and Japan?

A.K.: For commercial use of MAPs in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, quality standards have been established. The chemical composition of plants must comply with the requirements of the European and Chinese pharmacopoeia. At the end of 2020 we implemented small scale chemical analysis for samples grown in our experimental fields. These tests were implemented to assess if the plants contain the necessary chemical composition of active compounds. Analysis was done in IES laboratory and researchers concluded that levels of active compounds are high and even higher than the levels found in samples that we received from China. Both MAPs are perennial plants (Chinese horseradish grows for two years and ginseng at least 4 – 5 years). The harvest of cultivation experiments is planned to be carried during Autumn 2021. After the harvest, additional chemical analysis in IES laboratory will be implemented. We foresee that the results will showcase, if these plants are suitable for commercial cultivation.

IES: Will growing technologies for both MAPs be the same?

A.K.: Chinese horseradish and ginseng are species from different families and we already can see that growing technology development process is unique for each of them. Regarding Chinese horseradish our biggest challenge is the seed germination. For seed germination specific conditions are necessary. We are trying to simulate these conditions to accelerate the germination process. For ginseng we are focusing on more than one growing factors, for example, different ginseng species, soil conditions, different mulching and shading solutions.

 

IES: How growing technology development for Chinese horseradish has continued in the last research season (July 2020 – January 2021)?

A.K.: Low germination of seeds is the largest challenge of growing Chinese horseradish. Therefore, we were able to plant relatively small experimental fields in Priekuļi municipality. Seeds of this plant we received from China and Japan – the natural habitat of Chinese horseradish. These countries have specific weather conditions, thus seeds have different germination requirements. Therefore, we test different ways for seed germination.

The excellent news is that after seeds sprout, Chinese horseradish in Latvia’s conditions grows very well. There is also a possibility that the Chinese horseradish seeds gained from our experimental fields, will adapt more easily and sprout faster.

 

IES: How the development of ginseng growing technologies has continued in the last research season (July 2020 – January 2021)?

A.K.: During the previous research period we focused on testing different light intensity, mulching and bed preparation for ginseng development. Ginseng needs only 10 – 15 % of daylight, therefore we are testing both natural and artificial shading solutions within the experimental sites. Natural shading experiments are done by growing ginseng in different forest ecosystems that provide natural shading from trees. Other parts of the ginseng growing experiments are done in experimental fields with artificial shading system. For 2018 and 2019 vegetation seasons we used shading system with a roof made from the special agro net. After the first two years we concluded that even if it is a low-cost solution that can be easily installed, the climate under the agro net shading system is not suitable for ginseng cause of being poor ventilation. Before 2021 vegetation season we replaced agro net with a roof made from wooden planks. This solution ensures the necessary airflow.

 

IES: Which shading method has proved to be more successful – a natural forest ecosystem or artificial shading in experimental fields?

A.K.: Both ecosystems have certain pros and cons. Throughout the research, during vegetation season we collected light intensity data. Light intensity differs in each location and that has a significant impact on growing conditions. When light intensity data is obtained from all experimental vegetation seasons, we will compare it with plant development indicators. Thus, allowing us to understand how different light intensity is related to the growing and development of ginseng. Final assessment on the plant development will be possible only after the harvest in Autumn 2021. Then we will be able to weight and measure roots of these plants (most valuable parts of ginseng).

We can see that in forest ecosystem ginseng grows very well, trees provide natural shading and airflow. At the same time, shading is more variable and uncontrollable because it depends on the angle of the sun and other factors. It is also very difficult to control the humidity level in the forest ecosystem. For example, during a drought in Summer, ginseng does not receive a sufficient level of moisture.

Advantage of artificial shading is stable microclimate and airflow. Disadvantage – complex dismantling. During winter, a roof that is made of wooden planks should be disassembled, because it holds the snow that is necessary for the plants as a protective layer from temperature changes. As snow does not cover and protect plants, we experiment with other types of soil covers, such as fir twigs.

During the season of 2020, several of the ginseng plants blossomed and produced berries that we harvested to produce new seeds. The berries were produced only by those ginsengs that grew in experimental fields under artificial shading tents.

 

IES: You mentioned that during this research soil conditions were measured and examined. Did these measurements show that soil processing is necessary?

A.K.: The most suitable for both MAPs is soft soil rich with organic matter. For Chinese horseradish, soil processing is not a big challenge. It grows for two years and it is easy to enrich the soil between rows of the field. Ginseng is ready for harvesting only after 4 to 5 years, and if we grow this plant in field conditions, additional soil processing and enrichment is necessary before sowing or planting. Otherwise, soil compresses around the plant, causing significant plant development problems. In 2019, we started tests where different organic nutrients were processed in the soil to keep it rich and soft. In Summer season 2021, we will be able to evaluate results. Soil processing is not necessary for the forest ecosystem, leaves that fall from trees provide natural organic matter enrichment for our experiments.

IES: How far is SIA “Bargi” with the new food product development? In new tea products ready?

A.K.: The process of tea blend development is long. Not only taste of the tea is important but its medicinal value as well. In this product development process SIA “Bargi” experts are looking for:

– Different plant species and their suitable amounts in tea blends.

– Most suitable piece size of Chinese horseradish and ginseng for tea blends.

– Best packaging solutions.

– Tea preparation recipe to gain the highest levels of active compounds in the drink.

For these tests SIA “Bargi” use samples of MAPs from other growers. After the harvest in our experimental fields, for tea blends, they will use Chinese horseradish and ginseng that we have grown.

IES: What have you planned for the upcoming research periods, taking into account that the research end in December 2021?

A.K.: We will continue to work, this is 4-year research that is coming to an end. Growing experiments for both MAPs will conclude in Autumn and that will be the time for harvest. A most important task will be to understand if ginseng and Chinese horseradish that is grown in Latvia’s conditions contains active compound levels that fit the European and Chinese Pharmacopoeia standards. We will also evaluate economic indicators of growing these plants for commercial use. The main indicator will be the weight and size of the plant roots grown in Latvia. We also plan to make tests on tackling diseases and insects that are common for plants growing more than one year in one place.

It seems that we will continue to research growing of ginseng even after the end of this project. Ginseng is a perennial plant that takes 4 – 5 years till it is ready for harvest. The research lasts only for 4 years, but we are eager to see how ginseng develops in the 5th year.

 

Innovative methods for cultivation of ginseng and Chinese horseradish will be developed as a part of the project “Development 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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Wild medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) have a high potential for domestification and growing in organic farming and further use in medicine, food and cosmetics. The Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) in cooperation with agriculture experts and organic farming company SIA “Field and Forest”, as well as Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis study the potential of 9 wild spring MAP species growing in organic farming.

The researchers together with partners from the industry have selected the following MAPs for the study – 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 (Chelidonium 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.



IES: How the development of new growing technologies for 9 wild spring MAPs has been going?

Dr Arta Kronberga (A.K.): At the beginning of this research, we selected 9 medical and aromatic plant species to understand which ones are suitable for commercial cultivation. The MAPs suitability for the cultivation is determined by a variety of factors: genotype, quality of the chemical composition, agronomic aspects (how each species adjusts to cultivation conditions), economic benefits (is it economically beneficial to grow the particular MAPs in organic farming).

Our study is coming to an end. Last harvest is planned to be in Spring 2021. Then, the researchers form the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (OSI) will do the final chemical composition analysis of the harvested MAP samples. After that we will be able to draw conclusions on which medical plant species are suitable for organic farming. We can already conclude that the results for each species will be different.

 

 

IES: How the chemical analysis of MAPs have evolved?

A.K.: OSI researchers have planned more than one campaign of MAPs chemical composition analysis during this research. The planned campaigns are the following:

– First chemical analysis campaign by OSI researchers was done on samples collected in wild.

– Next set of chemical analysis was done to assess the concentration of active compounds of the first MAPs species grown in experimental fields in Priekuļi municipality (Spring / Summer season 2019).

– Third chemical analysis campaign was done on MAPs samples gathered from experimental fields in 2020 vegetation season. Chemical composition analysis was carried out for different populations within each of the nine MAP species that were grown by using various organic farming methods. This allows us to understand how the methods, such as distance between plants or harvesting time, influence the chemical composition of MAPs.

IES: What conclusions can you draw from the chemical composition analysis of these 9 MAPs?

A.K.: OSI researchers are still working on the chemical composition analysis. They do them in two steps:

– First step – to identify the full chemical profile of each MAP sample to understand what kind of active substances they contain.

– Second step – to analyse the chemical composition of each MAP sample and to measure the concentration of active compounds in each sample.

We already see differences in the responsibility of different species to wild and organic farming conditions, as well as differences between evaluated populations within each specie. When evaluating the suitability of growing these plants in commercial organic farming, we also have to take into account other factors, such as agronomic, yield and economic factors.

Besides the chemical analysis of active compounds, OSI researchers go one step further in this research. They have started to test plant extracts on cells to assess their biological activity. An additional task is evaluation of presence of toxic alkaloids with focus on such species as greater celandine and coltsfoot.

IES: How the testing of plant extracts on human skin cells are carried out?

A.K.: In the last research season, OSI researchers started their first tests on  cells. They do not use all 9 MAPs in the tests. They use those plants that have shown interesting chemical compositions during the chemical analysis stage.  

“In these tests, we use the ethnobotany research experience and expertise of IES about MAPs usage in medicine. We are testing whether the people historical knowledge about medicinal plants has a real background . For example, in ethnobotany expeditions researchers obtained information about use of MAP mezereon (Daphne mezereum) as a treatment for the dental pain. By using mezereon material, we can assess its effects on cells.”

 

IES: Regarding mezereon (Daphne mezereum), how the propagation by using plantlet rooting has evolved?

A.K.: These experiments are still in process because ligneous plant and shrub propagation by using this method require time. Propagation by using plantlet rooting method includes following steps – we take mezereon plant and cut it in pieces. Then, we test different environments and plant hormones that help to root the plant pieces. Propagation is done in controlled conditions where all necessary elements for plant development are provided. First results show that propagation by using plantlet rooting is more suitable than propagation with seeds – we already have propagated first roots and leaves.

 

 

Next step of this method will be plant adaptation. Plants that are grown in controlled conditions are not able directly to grow outside in the field. At its first stages these plants have had all the necessary growing conditions – temperature, light, humidity level, nutrients. Adaptation is necessary so mezereon plants could survive in natural conditions.

IES: Why the measurements of alkaloid level in MAPs are necessary?

A.K.: Medicinal and aromatic plants with high levels of alkaloids are poisonous for humans. There is an increasing global tendency to identify hazardous compounds or alkaloids in medical plants. If alkaloid concentrations in MAPs are too high, they are not suitable for further use in medicine, food and cosmetics. Therefore, they also are not suitable for commercial cultivation.

 


IES: Was special preparation of experimental fields for winter research season necessary?

A.K.: As we are growing wild medicinal and aromatic originated from Latvia, no special treatment before winter was done. These plants are used to climate conditions in Latvia. Before winter we counted each individual plant that grows in experimental fields in Priekuļi municipality. After the winter season we will repeat this process to understand how these plants have survived through the winter. Same processes were already done before and after previous winter season (2019/2020). Results showed that survival rate of MAPs is quite high, we expect similar results in Spring 2021.

IES: What is planned for next research season?

A.K.: We will focus on the result compilation of previous vegetation season and growing method assessment. Over the next research season, we are going to focus on the planning of the 2021 vegetation season, as it will be the last one in this research. It is planned that harvesting will start in April or May, when the first plants – coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) will blossom.

After the harvesting, OSI researchers will conduct the chemical composition analysis. After analysis, we will be able to assess the concentration levels of active compounds in plants, draw conclusions and develop knowledge-based cultivation methods for commercial plant cultivation in organic farming.

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 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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