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Washington, D.C.July, 1930


BY A.F. SIEVERS, Senior Biochemist, Office of Drug and Related Plants, Bureau of Plant Industry


AMONG THE WILD PLANTS of the United States are many that have long been used in the practice of medicine, some only locally and to a minor extent, but others in sufficient quantity to make them commercially important. The collection of such plants for the crude-drug market provides a livelihood for many people in rural communities, especially in those regions where the native flora has not been disturbed by agricultural or industrial expansion and urban development.

There is an active interest in the collection of medicinal plants because it appeals to many people as an easy means of making money. However, it frequently requires hard work, and the returns, on the whole, are very moderate. Of the many plants reported to possess medicinal properties, relatively few are marketable, and some of these are required only in small quantities. Persons without previous experience in collecting medicinal plants should first ascertain which of the marketable plants are to be found in their own locality and then learn to recognize them. Before undertaking the collection of large quantities, samples of the bark, root, herb, or other available material should be submitted to reliable dealers in crude drugs to ascertain the market requirements at the time and the prevailing prices.

To persons without botanical training it is difficult to describe plants in sufficient detail to make identification possible unless such descriptions are accompanied by illustrations. It is the purpose of this publication to assist those interested in collecting medicinal plants to identify such plants and to furnish other useful information in connection with the work.

Issued July, 1930.

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the kindness of Mr. Stanley Damulis for the loan of his copy of the original publication from which this printing was made.

Reprinted 1975 by
Box 335, Beaumont, Ca. 92223


THE COLLECTION of medicinal plants for the crude-drug market has long afforded a gainful occupation for many people in the rural sections of this country. From the days of the early settlers numerous native plants have been credited with medicinal properties, which have led to their use as home remedies and in the manufacture of proprietary medicines, although some of the more important ones enter widely into official pharmaceutical products. Other plants of similar interest have been introduced from foreign countries and have become established and in some cases widely distributed. Among the plants that furnish products for the crude-drug trade are common weeds, popular wild flowers, and important forest trees. Many of these possess no pronounced medicinal properties, but so long as there is a market demand for them their collection continues to be of interest. For many of these plants there is little commercial demand, but a large number are consumed in substantial quantities, ranging from a few tons to 50 tons or more annually.

With the agricultural development of the country the natural supply of some of these medicinal plants has been reduced. The activity of collectors has further depleted the supply, especially of those plants that have a relatively high market value and therefore furnish better returns for the time and labor expended. Nevertheless, many of these plants may still be found in forests, meadows, and waste places, and their collection may contribute to the family income.

There is much demand for information concerning the collection of medicinal plants, especially among persons who are not fully employed or who are operating small farms that do not require their entire attention. This publication has therefore been prepared as a guide to assist such persons in acquainting themselves with those plants for which there is a demand, and to furnish helpful suggestions regarding the collection and preparation of such plants for market.

The plants that are illustrated and described herein represent only a small percentage of those which from time to time have been used as home remedies or in local medical practice. Not all the plants that furnish products for the crude-drug market are included but only those which are the most important, as indicated by trade lists and catalogues of buyers of such products, and which therefore offer the best opportunity to the individual who wishes to engage in their collection.2

The descriptions given are brief, and technical terms have been avoided as far as possible, but the principal characters of the plants have been emphasized. These descriptions, together with the illustrations, should enable the reader to identify the plants when they are met in their natural situations. Medicinal uses are not discussed. To the collector who wishes to market the plants such information is of no special value. Neither are prices given, since these are constantly changing and are best obtained as needed directly from dealers in crude drugs.


The first step in the collection of medicinal plants is to acquaint oneself with the market demands. Dealers in crude botanical drugs usually publish lists of the plants they handle and indicate the general range of prices. With such information at hand, and with the aid of this publication, the prospective collector should be able to determine which plants found in his locality offer the best opportunity for profit.

It frequently happens that after gathering considerable quantities of some plant the collector finds that the market is fully supplied at the time and either there is no sale for it or it can be sold only at a price that will not compensate him for his labor. Such a situation may usually be avoided by first submitting representative samples of the material to be collected, together with a statement of the approximate quantity that can be furnished, to a number of reliable dealers This will generally bring information concerning the market possibilities and the returns that may be expected. Such procedure is especially recommended in the case of plants that are liable to deteriorate in a relatively short time, making it inadvisable to hold them until market conditions improve. Some of the dealers in crude drugs are willing to cooperate in this way with collectors, in order to prevent loss through overcollection and to encourage the collection of adequate supplies of the most-needed plants.

The medicinal value of botanical drugs depends to a large extent on the time of their collection. Roots from annual plants should generally be dug just before the flowering period; those of biennial and perennial plants should be gathered late in the fall or early in the spring, because during the growing season they are deficient in their active constituents and are of poorer quality generally. Barks also should preferably be collected during the dormant season when the sap is not flowing. Leaves and herbs are of most value when collected during the flowering period or just before they have finished growing. Flowers should always be gathered when they first open. Wherever definite information on these points has been available it has been included in the discussion of the various plants.

The proper preparation of the collected material is of the utmost importance. If the material contains dirt or other foreign matter, or if it is moldy or has an undesirable color or odor, it may be rejected by the dealers or purchased only at a reduced price. [loots should be thoroughly freed from adhering soil and other dirt. Fibrous roots, or rootstocks with numerous small roots or rootless, require careful washing to remove such foreign matter. The larger stems of herbs and leaves should be discarded, as they possess little or no value, and leaves that are partly dried from age or that are discolored or injured by disease or insects should be excluded if the best price is to be obtained.

The material must be carefully dried. All plant material, in whatever form, is easily spoiled in both appearance and value if improper methods are used to remove the large quantity of moisture that is usually present. Fleshy roots dry very slowly and frequently become moldy unless they are sliced across or lengthwise to permit more rapid evaporation of the moisture. In the drug market such roots occur m various forms, and information on this point should be secured from the dealers or from experienced collectors so that the dried material may conform to market requirements. Leaves readily lose their green color while drying and sometimes become brown or even black. They should, therefore, be spread out in a well-ventilated room, especially in cloudy weather, and dried as rapidly as possible. Exposure to direct bright sunlight is undesirable because it frequently causes bleaching of the leaves. Fruits, particularly those that are juicy, are especially difficult to handle on account of their tendency to become sour or moldy. They should preferably be spread out in thin layers on wire or cloth screens that will permit a thorough circulation of air end on which they can be frequently stirred. Seeds must be thoroughly cured; even ripe seeds that appear to be dry will frequently heat and spoil if stored without having been spread out and allowed to dry for at least several days.

The best way to store the dried material is to pack it in clean bags or boxes. If, however, the material is likely to be injured by exposure to air or light, or if it is subject to the attack of insects, it should be placed in tightly closed cans or other receptacles and marketed at the earliest opportunity.3

1 This publication is largely compiled from and supersedes the following publications on medicinal plants by the late Alice Henkel, published from 1904 to 1913: Farmers' Bulletin No. 188, Weeds Used in Medicine, Bureau of Plant Industry Bulletins No. 107, American Root Drugs; No. 139, American Medicinal Barks, and No. 219, American Medicinal Leaves and Herbs; Department Bulletin No. 26, American Medicinal Flowers, Fruits, and Seeds. Some of the plants included in these various publications have been eliminated because they appear to be of minor importance at the present time, while 20 others have been added. For the most part the illustrations used are the same as those given in Miss Henkel's bulletins. Others, not included in those publications, have been made from herbarium specimens lent by the U.S. National Herbarium and from negatives furnished by various offices of the Bureau of Plant Industry. Frederick V. Coville, Sidney F. Blake, and O.M. Freeman, of the offices of Botany of this bureau, have cooperated in the preparation of this bulletin by a critical reading of the manuscript with special reference to the botanical and principal common names, the habitat and range of the plants, and their descriptions.

2 The department is its use of common names of plants has adopted as authority the catalog issued by the American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature under the title "Standardized Plant Names." As a result some of the plants are listed in this publication under common names different from those by which they are best known in the drug market. In such cases the preferred commercial name is listed first under "Other common names."

3 More detailed information on the drying of crude drugs, including also directions for constructing drying rooms and sheds, is contained in Farmers' Bulletin No. 1231 Drying Crude Drugs.


Aletris farinosa
American Bittersweet
Celastrus scandens
American Cranberrybush
Viburnum trilobum
American Elder
Sambucus canadensis
American False-Hellebore
Veratrum viride
American Linden
Tilia americana
American Mountain-Ash
Sorbus americana
American Pennyroyal
Hedeoma pulegioides
Thuja occidentalis
Melissa officinalis
Balm-of-Gilead Poplar
Populus candicans
Bamboo Greenbrier
Smilax pseudo-china
Myrica cerifera,
M. carolinensis
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Bitter Nightshade
Solanum dulcamara
Black Cherry
Prunus serotina
Viburnum prunifolium
Black Mustard
Brassica nigra
Black Willow
Salix nigra
Blessed Thistle
Cnicus benedictus
Sanguinaria canadensis
Blue Cohosh
Caulophyllum thalictroides
Blueflag Iris
Iris versicolor
Blue Vervain
Verbena hastata
Menyanthes trifoliata
Eupatorium perfoliatum
Lycopus virginicus
Arctium minus
Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Juglans cinerea
Eryngium aquaticum
Canada Wildginger
Asarum canadense
Gelsemium sempervirens
Trilisa odoratissima
Cascara Buckthorn
Rhamnus purshiana
Nepeta cataria
Chelidonium majus
Chamaelirium luteum
Citronella Horsebalm
Collinsonia canadensis
Cohosh Bugbane
Cimicifuga racemosa
Tussilago farfara
Symphytum officinale
Common Juniper
Juniperus communis
Common Winterberry
Ilex verticillata
Veronica virginica
Leontodon taraxacum
Echinacea angustifolia
Inula helenium
Scrophularia marilandica
Flowering Dogwood
Cornus florida
Digitalis purpurea
Fragrant Goldenrod
Solidago suaveolens
Chionanthus virginica
Panax quinquefolium
Golden Groundsel
Senecio aureus
Hydrastis canadensis
Coptis trifolia
Nepeta hederacea
Gum Plant
Grindelia robusta, G. squarrosa
Hazel Alder
Alnus rugosa
Tsuga canadensis
Hemp Dogbane
Apocynum cannabinum
Marrubium vulgare
Ostrya virginiana
Ptelea trifoliata
Aesculus hippocastanum
Horse Nettle
Solanum carolinense
Erigeron canadensis
Arisaema triphyllum
Jimson Weed
Datura stramonium
Cypripedium pubescens, C. parviflorum
Leather Woodfern
Dryopteris marginalis, D. filixmas
Hepatica americana,
H. acutiloba
Lobelia inflata
Mad-Dog Skullcap
Scutellaria lateriflora
Podophyllum peltatum
Passiflora incarnata
Menispermum canadense
Verbascum thapsus
Narrow Dock
Rumex crispus
Oregon Hollygrape
Berberis aquifolium
Mentha piperita
Spigelia marilandica
Chimaphila umbellata,
C. maculata
Poison Hemlock
Conium maculatum
Phytolacca americana
Zanthoxylum americanum,
Z. clava-herculis
Prickly Lettuce
Lactuca scariola
Purplestem Angelica
Angelica atropurpurea
Purple Trillium
Trillium erectum
Quack Grass
Agropyron repens
Sassafras variifolium
Saw Palmetto
Serenoa serrulata
Polygala senega
Spathyema foetida
Slippery Elm
Ulmus fulva
Smooth Hydrangea
Hydrangea arborescens
Smooth Sumac
Rhus glabra
Aristolochia serpentaria
A. reticulata
Oxydendrum arboreum
Mentha spicata
Sweet Birch
Betula lenta
Sweet Cudweed
Gnaphalium obtusifolium
Comptonia peregrina
Acorus calamus
Larix laricina
Tanacetum vulgare
Epigaea repens
Chelone glabra
Jeffersonia diphylla
Upland Cotton
Gossypium hirsutum
Virginia Strawberry
Fragaria virginiana
Euonymus atropurpureus
White Ash
Fraxinus americana
White Mustard
Brassica alba
White Oak
Quercus alba
White Pine
Pinus strobus
Wild Geranium
Geranium maculatum
Aralia nudicaulis
Wild Yam
Dioscorea villosa
Gaultheria procumbens
Hamamelis virginiana
Chenopodium ambrosioides anthelminticum
Artemisia absinthium
Achillea millefolium
Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellow Wild-Indigo
Baptisia tinctoria
Yerba Santa
Eriodictyon californicum
Sievers, A.F. 1930. The Herb Hunters Guide. Misc. Publ. No. 77. USDA, Washington DC.
Last update 4/8/98 by aw