- Herbs and spices are used for enriching what we eat and for delighting the tongue. It is the seasoning and flavouring of food brings out all the variety and tapestry of regions, nations, continents.
- The increasing demand in developed countries for natural flavour offers tremendous potential for spice crops as sources of natural flavours. Spices include pepper, ginger, cinnamon, clove, paprika and nutmeg – to name only a few.
- Herbs and spices are used fresh, dry and in blends in preparation of food and beverages. Because of the variety that exists, a farmer needs to do good market research to decide which crop to grow.
- Herbs are also used to treat illnesses. They are used by phytotherapists (a person who practices herbal medicine) and homoeopaths, to treat a wide range of health problems.
- The processing end of herbs and many spices is essential oils (see separate chapter). In addition to flavouring and pharmaceutical uses, essential oils also play a role in personal care items (cosmetics, toothpaste, perfume) and industrial purposes (washing powder, polish, paints). New applications in agriculture include being used as organic pesticides and in veterinary use for insect repellents and safer dips for fleas and ticks.
Sources: Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) and www.naturalnutrition.co.za
International business environment
Africa’s low per capita incomes, especially among rural populations, are directly linked to the problems of poverty and hunger. Thus, agriculture is – or could be – a critical engine of economic growth. However, small-scale producers in mainstream agriculture face multiple barriers: declining prices for traditional crops, lack of access to capital, transport, market access, and the market dominance of large commercial enterprises, among others.
Alternative crops, in the form of natural plants, are far better suited to the creation of viable agribusinesses in rural communities. First, indigenous African plants occur naturally and so are relatively easy to cultivate commercially. Second, natural plant production is labour intensive rather than capital intensive, and so minimises capital investment while at the same time maximising job-creation potential. Third, African communities have extensive knowledge of indigenous plants, creating a natural competitive advantage in this sector.
Favourable market conditions in the natural plant products sector also support the involvement of small-scale suppliers. The global nutraceutical market alone is estimated to be worth $60 billion annually in sales of dietary and meal supplements, as well as specialty products. There is also increasing demand for organic and natural products such as herbal teas, essential oils, herbs and spices, phytomedicines and phytocosmetics. This growth has been supported by a global swing away from synthetic products to those that are natural, healthy, sustainably produced and fairly traded.
Africa has only just started to tap the virtually unlimited economic potential of its natural botanical heritage. To reap the full benefit, much more has to be done to commercialise crops, to increase value-addition on African soil, and to capitalise on new market development opportunities. To introduce these crops into the main market stream will be a major challenge, but can be done with support, training and funding.
Some international websites
- www.ifeat.org – International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT)
- Find updates on the spices web pages at www.intracen.org/itc/market-insider/spices/, website of the International Trade Centre
- www.botanical.com – the electronic version of “A Modern Herbal” by Maud Grieve
- www.indianspices.com – Spices Board of India. A directory of Indian Spices exporting companies is available from them.
- www.thespicehouse.com – Merchants of exquisite spices, herbs and seasonings (American)
- www.spiceadvice.com – A spice encyclopedia
- www.herbnet.com – “for everything herbal”, a US-based site
- www.herbs.org – Herb Research Foundation (USA)
- www.herbherbert.com – Australian website. It includes notes for gardeners, retailers and growers.
- http://abc.herbalgram.org – “Your source for reliable herb information”, presented by the American Botanical Council
Source: ASNAPP and SAEOPA
Local business environment
Find the annual, highly useful Herb and Spice Market Value Chain Profile and Essential Oils Market Value Chain Profile on the Directorate Marketing pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
For the newcomer
- As many herbs and spices are especially suited to small-scale cultivation (many are short-term crops), they could be of major significance to smaller producers and also to limited-resource farmers in rural areas countrywide. Countries like China and India are good examples of success in essential oil production by small farmers.
- Herbs and spices are ideal for rural areas especially if they are dried locally. This reduces the volume to be transported, and the dried product can be stored under cool, dry conditions for a length of time.
- The advantages of essential oils as a crop are unlimited. The reason for it not being a popular crop is because of lack of basic agricultural and marketing information, and the exploitation and the ignorance of farmers when it comes to alternative crops.
- Most essential oil crops are relatively pest and disease free, drought tolerant, low risk, low input cost, no theft value and can be done collectively on small scale farms.
- A constant effort is made to recruit new emerging farmers in the industry.
- Projects overlap into the fields of agriculture, chemistry, economics, botany, consumer science, tourism health, indigenous knowledge systems and social studies. More people from all these disciplines and faculties could become involved to the advantage of the industry, the agriculture community and our country.
- Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA) www.ahpcsa.co.za
- Homoeopathic Association of South Africa www.homeopathy.org.za
- The Health Product Association of Southern Africa (HPA) represents the majority of manufacturers and distributors of Complementary and Traditional Medicines in Southern Africa. See www.hpasa.co.za.
- Intensive Growers Association http://intensivegrowers.co.za
- Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) http://saeopa.wixsite.com/saeopa.
- South African Association of Herbal Practitioners www.herbalpractitionerssa.co.za
- South African National Halaal Authority www.sanha.org.za
Training and research
Various companies involved offer workshops and training. The newsletters available (see last heading) often carry news of these, as do the agricultural weeklies e.g. Farmer’s Weekly. Also refer to this sub-heading on the “Essential oils” page.
- ARC-Tropical & Subtropical Crops (ARC-TSC) www.arc.agric.za
- Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (KwaZulu-Natal) www.kzndard.gov.za
- Foundations for Farming does training in planting a vegetable garden and growing herbs, among other things. See https://foundationsforfarming.org/new/.
- SAAFFI orchestrates Precise Short Training Courses (PSTCs). Find information at www.saaffi.co.za.
- South African Herb Academy (SAHA) www.herbclass.com Distance Learning Herbology Study Programmes. Contact SAHA for details of all courses and modules.
- Stellenbosch University Department of Horticultural Science www.sun.ac.za/horticulture
- Stellenbosch University Department of Food Science www.sun.ac.za/foodsci
- University of the Western Cape School of Natural Medicine www.uwc.ac.za
Some companies involved
- Abba Moosa Wholesalers www.orientaldelight.co.za
- Africa Spice www.africaspice.co.za
- Afriplex www.afriplex.co.za
- Ageless https://ageless.co.za
- Airin https://airin.co.za Equipment
- AMT www.amtrends.co.za Business plans and feasibility studies.
- Ballstraathof www.ballstraathof.co.za
- BulbAloe www.bulbaloe.co.za
- The Cape Herb and Spice Company http://capeherb.co.za/
- Crown National www.crownnational.co.za
- Deli Spices www.delispices.co.za
- Entreshar Enterprises https://entreshar.co.za
- Essential Herbs www.essentialherbs.co.za
- Funky Ouma www.funky-ouma.co.za
- Golden Spices www.goldenspices.co.za
- Gout Care South Africa www.goutcare.co.za
- Green Energy Herbals http://greenenergyherbals.wixsite.com/greenenergyherbals
- Herbal View Hydroponics https://herbalview.co.za
- Herbs-a-plenty www.herbs-aplenty.com
- Herbal Africa www.herbalafrica.co.za
- Icy Herbs www.icyherbs.co.za
- Jacklin Organics www.jacklinorganic.co.za Certified organic dried chilli, dried basil etc
- KPM Spice Enterprise Tel: 011 838 1605
- Lavender Farm www.lavenderfarmfranschhoek.co.za
- Lavender SA www.lavendersa.co.za
- Malanseuns www.malanseuns.co.za
- Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre www.margaretroberts.co.za
- Marsing & Co Africa www.marsing-sa.com
- Natpro Spicenet www.paprika-sa.com
- Natura Laboratory www.natura.co.za
- Natural Herbs and Spices www.naturalherbsandspices.com
- PaprieX Tel: 012 250 2676
- Peppadew International www.peppadew.com
- Peter’s Gate www.petersgate.co.za Growers and supplier of plants/ seedlings
- Petrow Food Ingredients www.petrowfoods.co.za
- Rookie Ma’s http://rookiespices.co.za
- SAKATA Seeds www.sakata.co.za
- Spice and all things nice www.spice.co.za
- The Lavender Company Tel: 079 891 1716 Growers and supplier of plants / seedlings
- The Spice Factory www.spicefactory.co.za
- Total Health www.totalhealth.co.za
- Unilever www.unilever.co.za
Various municipalities, provincial investment agencies and institutions like the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) have involvement in essential oil crops.
Websites and publications
Also see this heading on the “Essential oils” page.
- Herbs – Grow your own First Aid Kit
- Herbs for the Garden/Kruie vir die Tuin
- Production Guidelines for Ginger
- Growth Phases of the Ginger plant
- Production Guidelines for Turmeric
- Cultivation of Papaya
- Grow your own Pepper
- Die Verbouing van Peper
Contact them at Tel: 013 753 7000/81 or email infoitsc [at] arc.agric.za.
ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plant (ARC-VOP) provides publications relevant to the “herbs and spices” category e.g. The cultivation of parsley, The cultivation of culinary herbs in South Africa, Production of coriander in South Africa etc. Contact them at 012 841 9611.
Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] arc.agric.za for the following publications, available from the ARC-Agricultural Engineering:
- Manual on the Agro-processing of Herbs and Spices
- Agro-processing of Herbs and Spices (cinnamon, paprika, jojoba, parsley)
- Agro-processing of Field crops (chilli, bell peppers, tomatoes)
- Oil processing in South Africa
- Oil seed processing using the ram press
- The extraction of essential oils from herbaceous materials by steam distillation
Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) publications:
A number of publications are available at www.dalrrd.gov.za. On the Directorate: Marketing web pages find the latest annual Herb and Spice Market Value Chain Profile and Industrial Products: Essential Oils Market Value Chain Profile.
Taking the Resource Centre option will bring you to the many notes for growers. These include:
- A guide to essential oil crops
- Brochure: Celery
- Brochure: Chillies
- Brochure: Cleome 2009
- Brochure: Cleome 2010
- Brochure: Devil’s Claw
- Brochure: German chamomile
- Cultivation of pepper
- Production guidelines for African wormwood
- Production guidelines for basil
- Production guidelines: Cleome
- Production guidelines for Lavender
- Production guidelines for lemon balm
- Production guidelines for lemongrass
- Production guidelines for peppermint
- Brochure: Rose geranium
- Production guidelines for rose geranium
- Production guidelines for rosemary
- Production guidelines for thyme
- Production guidelines: wild ginger
- Companies involved – e.g. SAKATA Seeds have grower guides. .
- Griffiths J. 2017. Jane’s Delicious A-Z of Herbs. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.
- Peter K.V. 2012. Handbook of Herbs and Spices. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing. There are three different volumes. Vital for those involved in the study, cultivation, trade and use of spices and herbs.
- The South African Journal of Natural Medicine is dedicated to providing information to the general public and practitioners interested in all aspects of natural medicine. Visit www.naturalmedicine.co.za.
- Find the publications by Margaret Roberts at www.margaretroberts.co.za. These can also be ordered from Random House Struik (see www.randomstruik.co.za).
- Back to Eden. Jethro Klosse. Lotus Press. An essential handbook for those interested in herbalism and traditional remedies. Order it on www.amazon.com.
On the web:
- Herbology www.buyherbalremedies.co.za Online shop
- Find the many grower guides at www.growveg.co.za.
- Under SPECIFIC CROPS at www.kzndard.gov.za/resource-centre are grower notes on Horseradish.
- Find “How to Grow Basil Easily: Pro Tips To Do It Right” by Alex Harris at https://electrosawhq.com/how-to-grow-basil/
- Find the “Vertical growing” option at http://hydroponicssouthafrica.co.za. Systems on offer (vertical semi-interlocking pots) enable more plants per square metre than conventional methods.
- Find the “Herbs” option at https://wikifarmer.com.
- Find the article “18 spices scientifically proven to prevent and treat cancer“ at https://wakeup-world.com.
- Find the free download “Spices that heal” by Suzy Cohen at https://shop.suzycohen.com/pages/here-is-your-free-download
- Find the herbal encyclopaedia on www.ageless.co.za.
- www.kruiekraaikoning.co.za, website of the Afrikaans radio station Radiosondergrense’s programme “Kruie kraai koning”.
- Find the “Herbal facts” at www.herbalafrica.co.za.
- www.herb.co.za – the Bouwuet Garni website. Grower articles, links, popular features etc.
- Find notes on Companion Planting at www.herbherbert.com (Australian) and www.richters.com (Canadian).
- Find the extensive notes at http://healthyliving-herbs.co.za.
- www.petalive.co.za – natural treatments for your pet
- Luckhoff P. 2021, January 21. “Ginger shortage impacting ginger beer quality and price – SA producer”. 702. Available at www.702.co.za/articles/406747/ginger-shortage-impacting-ginger-beer-quality-and-price-sa-producer
- Botha L. 2020, August 8. “Ginger: a challenging crop, but well worth the effort”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/ginger-a-challenging-crop-but-well-worth-the-effort/
- Coleman A. 2020, August 4. “A passion for herbs blooms into business success”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/agribusinesses/a-passion-for-herbs-blooms-into-business-success
- Read our blog “Agripreneur shines brightly with herb-farm empire” (2020, June 26).
- Masiwa, D. 2019, July 8. “Successful herb farmer knows no boundaries”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/successful-herb-farmer-knows-no-boundaries/
- Find the feature “A guide to essential oil producers” and cultivating crop for essential oil distillation” in ScienceScope, Volume 11 Number 2 at www.csir.co.za/sites/default/files/Documents/SCIENCESCOPE_SMME_082017.pdf
- Find the articles by Ivor Hughes on www.scienceinafrica.com and elsewhere. A series of his articles outline the basic requirements for small scale, sustainable cultivation and processing techniques for rural communities. In particular, look out for “Herbs in Africa: Conservation and Co-operation” .
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