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Medicinal herbs for good health and as business

Photo: BGNES

For the ninth consecutive year, Bulgaria ranks first among EU countries in the production of herbs and spices. According to Eurostat data, just over 71,000 tons of aromatic and medicinal plants and spices were harvested in the country in 2018. The harvest of the second in the ranking, Poland, is nearly twice as small – 39 thousand tons. This does not mean that Bulgaria has become the kingdom of herbs for 10 years. Since ancient times the use of medicinal plants and the cultivation of herbs have been part of the everyday life and traditions of Bulgarians, no matter if they live in cities or in the countryside.

Herbs require the right climatic conditions, special skills of the farmers who cultivate them, commercial flair and a good mastery of the intricacies of this delicate business. “Bulgaria is one of the most suitable countries in Europe for growing herbs and medicinal plants, due to its soil and climate conditions. We have the Balkan Mountain range and our plains are also suitable for growing cultivated herbs," said agriculture businessman Metodi Stefanov, who grows more than 300 ha of roses, lavender, chamomile, Lemon balm and other herbs in the Rose Valley and northern Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian flora is not only beautiful but is also a source of good health with about 200 species of medicinal plants. Today, when economic interests come to the forefront in almost every area of ​​life, it must be said that herbs have their commercial and economic dimensions. A considerable part of them are harvested in the wild nature, but the big success is achieved by those who grow herbs and plants in industrial quantities for the market. Such plants are mostly the rose, lavender, chamomile, sunflower seeds, linden, etc. It is important to clarify that almost all herbs in Bulgaria are grown ecologically, in compliance with bio-standards.

This is highly appreciated in the countries where Bulgarian medicinal and aromatic plants are exported to. About 200 types of herbs of 140 plant species are exported to Germany (65%), Spain (10%), Italy (5%), France (5%), and other countries (15%). It is seen that Bulgaria remains first and foremost a producer of raw materials, not finished herb-based processed products. The internal market is small and the profits necessary for the construction of laboratories, distilleries and other facilities for the processing of herbs cannot be realized. The international market is dominated by several transnational pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that dictate the terms, so the net profit of Bulgarian herbalists rarely exceeds the insufficient 5%. The Bulgarian export list is dominated by rose and rose oil, lavender, honey, thyme, various varieties of chamomile, white oregano, coriander, dill, and salvia.

It is difficult to predict what the future of herb business Bulgaria will be. On the one hand, climate changes affect these plants that are very sensitive. On the other hand, their cultivation is extremely labor intensive and is most often done by hand. The demographic crisis, aging population, and the already menacing levels of lack of labor force, pose many challenges to this traditional industry, which, in order to overcome them needs more investments than ever before and productivity gains.

English: Alexander Markov

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