COLUMBIA — Newcomers and veterans to medicinal plants gathered Thursday at the MU Agroforestry Symposium to discuss an industry that's gaining ground in interest and sales.

Some people attended to learn the basics of growing and sustaining medicinal plants. Others had been working with medicinal plants for years, using them to craft anti-itch salves, health drinks and other products created with the benefits of plant healing. 

"People have been using herbal remedies for thousands of years," Shibu Jose, director of the MU Center for Agroforestry, said. "Based on indigenous knowledge handed down through generations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and in many European countries, 70 to 95 percent of the population still uses traditional medicine or herbal medicine for primary healthcare."

Jamie Jackson, founder of Missouri Herbs, a company that produces natural and organic herbal products for the face and body, is well acquainted with the benefits of medicinal plants.

Jackson became ill and didn't respond to her prescribed medication, so she turned to medicinal plants for healing. After gathering knowledge about their properties, Jackson said she was able to heal herself. 

Armed with that knowledge, Jackson decided to create a line of natural face and body skincare products that were free of preservative ingredients. 

"We bought one of the most expensive skin creams on the market, and it had propylene glycol in it, which is antifreeze," Jackson said.

Jackson grows the herbs used in the products at Falcon Creek Farm in the Missouri Ozarks and harvests them with the help of Richard Sherman, who also attended the symposium. Jackson said she creates topical products, rather than extracts, with those plants to educate people about the beneficial properties of the herbs without involving the Food and Drug Administration.

Jackson wasn't the only one at the Symposium with experience growing medicinal plants for salves. Rachel Liester of Stanton County in Nebraska grows herbs that she uses in salves and sells at Whole Foods in Omaha and Lincoln.

"I've actually been studying native plants and their healing and food properties for about 20 years," Liester said. "It's not something a scientist has to do or an herbalist has to do. You can pick some lemon balm leaves right from your garden, make a cup of tea, and it's going to help your digestion. It's going to help you relax, and it's also an antidepressant. Who doesn't need that nowadays?"

Liester teaches others about the growing and harvesting of herbs and how to make medicine with those herbs. She teaches at her farm, local colleges and businesses. She also has a class coming up at the local art center, with around 10 people in each class.

Dennis Bettenhausen came to the forum on medicinal plants from five miles east of Columbia in hopes of learning more about moringa, a tropical plant. He said he is interested growing the plant for health benefits.

The symposium, hosted by the MU Center for Agroforestry, is held annually and focuses on a different theme each year. In previous years, topics have included climate change and pollination.

The center for agroforestry decided to focus on medicinal plants this year because of ongoing research projects at MU into the different compounds and properties of the plants, as well as increasing interest in the industry, said agroforestry education and outreach coordinator Gregory Ormsby Mori.

"A recent report indicates that the global market for all these medicinal plants and natural products, could reach up to $115 billion by 2020," Jose said. "So the growing market presents a great opportunity for our landowners to cultivate these plants intentionally, as part of agroforestry settings here in the US or elsewhere in the world." 

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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