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Growing medicinal herbs has become a profitable business for many Romanians in recent years.
Herbal medicine is again in fashion and the consumption of tea made of wild flowers and plants is on the rise, too. The Romanian medicinal herbs market has a turnover of around one billion Euros, a figure which might double in the following years, experts say. Medicinal herb farming is profitable even on small plots of land, and the initial investment standing at several thousand Euros per hectare can be recovered in a year and a half.
Scores of private firms already operate in the field, cultivating, processing and selling medicinal herbs, and some farmers have given up the traditional maize or sunflower cultures in favour of lavender, rosehip or marigold. For instance lavender flowers, be they fresh or dried, sell for 1.7 Euros per kilo, while essential oils extracted from this plant sell for up to 250 Euros per litre. Lavender yields 40 litres of essential oil per hectare.
Iuliana Barbu has been growing plants for over 15 years, on the Siret River bank, and has also carried extensive research work in the field for seven years:
Iuliana Barbu: ”The region has a very high potential. The temperate micro-climate and the relief in the area are ideal for the cultivation of these plants. From the sea to the mountains we can grow thousands and thousands of species, and there are many other wild medicinal herbs that grow in Romania. Actually, buyers from all countries come here to purchase medicinal plants. Apart from this potential, the Romanian pharmacopoeia also has a rich history. Thousands of researchers, engineers, pharmacists, biologists have carried out research in the field of medicinal herbs. There are many species, but we have intensively exploited some 380 plants. There are also thousands and thousands of wild plants which have been insufficiently researched and analysed.”
Raw material from organic cultures is on high demand on the domestic and international market. This is why European pharmaceutical firms shift their attention to less polluted countries, like Romania.
Iuliana Barbu: ”I can’t imagine or accept that medicinal herbs can be subject to chemical treatments. There is a long list with the species we grow, many wild species are beginning to disappear and we try to cultivate them. For instance, we grow St. John’s wort and even the nettle, which is disappearing from many places. I have written a book entitled ‘7 Biblical Plants’, about plants that can bring us both profit and health. Anyone can actually grow these plants: basil, salvia, wild thyme, thyme, mint, melissa and hyssop. These are truly special plants. Apart from basil, they are all perennial plants, so we can grow them for several years. Naturally, it is more costly to set up a perennial culture, but on the long term it is more profitable. For instance, we have a patent for having invented small therapeutic pillows filled with medicinal herbs. We use large amounts of plants to make these small pillows, but they are in high demand. It is a non-aggressive therapy, based on aromatherapy.”
Iuliana Barbu advises young people to start a business in the field, and even volunteers to provide consultancy:
Iuliana Barbu: “Romanians still have a huge potential, and this is a good option for the Romanians who have left the country, or who would like to start a business and are confused about what line of work to choose. I talked with many young people who left the country and would like to do something in this field. A young man once told me about a plot of land in Targu Ocna, which could not be used for growing traditional cultures, because the soil pH was acid. I analysed the pH and advised the young man to grow cranberries. Now he grows cranberries on 6 hectares and the fruits are collected by buyers directly from the farm. The moment he harvests the cranberries, purchasing companies are already there in the field to buy the crop.”
In recent years, Romania has become the main provider of medicinal herbs for many European countries. However, experts say not only raw materials should be sold abroad, but a whole industry should be created to export finished goods, such as creams, ointments or syrups.
Iuliana Barbu: “A much too large amount of medicinal herbs is exported, and tons of these plants are actually back on our shelves, beautifully packed abroad and selling at high prices. So, we invite the Romanians living abroad, who are in a position to do this, to open shops in their countries of residence, thus starting a profitable business. I am still waiting for a Romanian investor to come and take over my business and bring it to a different level, at high standards. And I say this because I know Romania has many young people with an extraordinarily high potential, but who lack a clear orientation in life.”
Under the new 2014-2020 National Rural Development Program, young people can receive a maximum 15,000 Euro to open a medicinal herb business. Another measure included in the program is to support conversion to organic farming methods, under which they can receive 365 Euro per hectare every year.
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