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Researching medicinal and aromatic plants’ potential in organic farming

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.

Seed sprouting tests for lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). Image: IES.


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).

Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) growing in experimental garden in Priekuļi municipality. Image: IES.

Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) growing in experimental garden in Priekuļi municipality. Image: IES.


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.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) seeds during the sprouting tests. Image: IES.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) seeds during the sprouting tests. Image: IES.


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.

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina) growing in the experimental garden in Priekuļi municipality in Latvia. Image: IES.

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina) growing in the experimental garden in Priekuļi municipality in Latvia. Image: IES.


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.