Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - Agronomists, horticulturists and growers will present cutting edge research on medicinal herbs at a free workshop in Santa Fe on March 2.
The seminar, organized by New Mexico State University's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, will cover the medicinal qualities of herbs and the best ways to grow them, said Charles Martin, an agricultural specialist at the center.
"NMSU is doing ground-breaking research that can help build the market for herbs as a high-value alternative crop," Martin said. "Workshop presenters will show growers how to improve yields. They'll also discuss discoveries in herbal healthcare."
Martin is testing dozens of native and nonnative herbs at Alcalde. He is currently surveying growers statewide to determine total acreage under production.
"There are dozens of small-scale growers around the state, and many are under the radar," Martin said. "The survey will produce the first detailed profile of herb production in New Mexico. That could help to develop programs to assist growers."
At the workshop, agronomy professor Mary O'Connell will present research on the potential cancer-fighting qualities of Southwestern herbs. Since 2001, O'Connell has led a team of graduate assistants in testing more than three dozen herb varieties at the university's Medicinal Plant Lab. So far, they've discovered cancer-fighting compounds in three plants: datura (commonly known as Jimson weed), acacia and yerba mansa.
O'Connell's group also studies the antibacterial and antifungal qualities of plants, such as desert willow and bear berry. In addition, they compare the quantity and quality of beneficial chemicals in plants produced under varying growing conditions and climates to help producers improve crop value.
Mary Lucero, a researcher at the Jornada del Muerto science center near Las Cruces, will explain how endophytes increase plant productivity. These single-cell organisms, which live in the cell walls of some plants, help their hosts absorb more soil nutrients and water.
"It's a symbiotic relationship," Martin said. "The endophytes receive protection from the plant and in return they increase drought tolerance and desert adaptability by helping the plants to absorb minerals and water more efficiently."
Lucero hopes to increase growth and yields of medicinal plants by inoculating them with endophytes. The research can lead to improved varieties for growers.
Robert Flynn, acting superintendent at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Artesia, will discuss ways to increase rosemary yields. Flynn is testing production methods for four varieties of rosemary, which is used as an antioxidant to preserve food.
Emily Gatch, a horticulturist at Seeds of Change in El Guique, near Alcalde, will show how to improve herb seed production in greenhouses. And, Katy Blanchard of the New Mexico Herb Growers Association will talk about the first New Mexico Herbal Expo, which is planned for June at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. The expo will highlight a range of products, including raw and processed herbs, culinary herbs and herbal soaps, tinctures and ointments.
The workshop runs from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds at 3229 Rodeo Rd. For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, call Martin at (505) 852-4241.
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