Herbs and Wild Mushroom Industry

The herb industry in Saskatchewan has expanded relatively quickly since the early 1990s, and has focussed on production of a range of medicinal and aromatic herbs for the culinary, nutraceutical, and cosmeceutical industries. Several organizations were created to support industry development (networking, production, processing, marketing, research), provide regulatory information, and raise public awareness of the importance of nutraceuticals, functional foods, and cosmeceuticals. The Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Organization currently has 300 members and supplies information on specific crops through its links; it also provides a voice in the National Herb and Spice Coalition. The Saskatchewan Nutraceutical Network represents the nutraceutical, functional food, and cosmeceutical industry in the province and provides an on-line newsletter (Nutra News), market and research information, and links to over 450 national and international web sites. Research and development work on herb crops is being conducted at the University of Saskatchewan, the National Research Council-Plant Biotechnology Institute, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre; Outlook and Shelter Belt Centre, Indian Head), as well as in private industry. In April 2003 the first Saskatchewan Natural Health Products (NHP) Research Society meeting was held in Saskatoon to network researchers in applied and basic areas of study; this network is envisioned to expand into a national base.

The Saskatchewan wild mushroom industry began about fifteen years ago and is concentrated mainly in areas north of 54°N latitude, with some harvesting in the Nipawin region. As mushroom-harvesting sites in Europe and Japan become scarce, demand for North American-sourced mushrooms has markedly increased and the majority of Saskatchewan-harvested wild mushrooms are exported to these countries. The wild mushrooms of major commercial value include chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), pine mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare), and morels (Morchella sp.). The wild mushroom industry has grown to a value of about $1 million, directly provided to the 400–500 pickers in 1999; it consists of harvesters, buyers, brokers, processors, exporters (which may include foreign importers), wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. The harvesters are usually Saskatchewan residents, who are becoming increasingly concerned about the loss of good mushroom habitat. Significantly, this industry provides diversified income to other segments of the forestry industry including loggers, fire crews, students, homemakers, and Aboriginal peoples.

Karen Tanino