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Grant to Catawba Valley center will help farmers meet medicinal plant demand

Newly awarded state and local funding will help farmers expand production of medicinal forest plants to meet increased demand, Roanoke County officials said Thursday.

Roanoke County received a $20,000 grant from the governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development program, and the county is matching that amount.

Virginia Tech’s Catawba Sustainability Center will administer the $40,000 effort, partnering with forest farmers to provide site assessments, technical assistance and support for high-demand plants and products such as goldenseal, black cohosh, ginseng, elderberry and ramps.

Such plants are native to Virginia, and have seen increased demand in recent years, especially since the onset of COVID-19, county documents said.

Forest plants are often foraged from wild, unmanaged populations, which can be unsustainable. Overharvesting and loss of habitat have led to a decline in the valuable species, creating opportunities for sourcing from forest farms, according to county documents.

“Roanoke and the New River Valley has a growing market for herbal and alternative medicine, a sector that has grown nationally by as much as 10% annually in recent years,” county documents said. “This represents a unique opportunity for forest landowners in our region, who can sell raw material to manufacturers elsewhere, or market directly to retailers and consumers across the state.”

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