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NMSU hosts Southwest medicinal herbs seminar to help producers grow their businesses

ALBUQUERQUE - Long before the emergence of the modern pharmaceutical industry, people relied on the medicinal properties of local plants to treat many of their maladies. In the American Southwest, knowledge of native plants has been passed down from generation to generation within the Native American and Hispanic communities.

Monique Gutierrez-Ortega shows NMSU Agricultural Specialist Charles Martin locally obtained cedar chips that she uses in preparing some of her traditional remedios. Gutierrez-Ortega will be among the presenters at the Southwest Medicinal Herbs Production and Marketing seminar hosted by NMSU from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, at the NMSU Albuquerque Center, 4501 Indian School Road NE. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

Today's herbalists and traditional growers are using their plant knowledge to develop products for a market audience that is increasingly willing to consider alternatives to mainstream medical treatments for many ailments.

To help herbalists decrease risks while they grow their businesses, New Mexico State University is hosting "Southwest Medicinal Herbs Production and Marketing," a two-day seminar that will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, at the NMSU Albuquerque Center, 4501 Indian School Road NE.

Monique Gutierrez-Ortega, a native of northern New Mexico, discovered her abilities as a traditional healer as a young adult and, with the help of her grandmother, learned the medicinal uses of many Southwest plants. During the past 15 years she has developed a following of clients who have benefited from the plant-based essential oil products she has developed.

"I pretty much taught myself while developing my products," Gutierrez-Ortega said. "And my business has grown through word of mouth. I have sold to clients around the world."

Now Gutierrez-Ortega wants to grow her part-time business, Essentials By Monique, into an enterprise that will support her family. Lacking the marketing knowledge to take it to that next level, she is turning to New Mexico State University to help her learn how to manage the production and financial risks associated with expanding her business.

"In today's economic climate, it is imperative that small-scale growers and entrepreneurs make the most of the resources that are available to them," said Charles Martin, NMSU agricultural specialist at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde. "The Southwest landscape has a large number of under-utilized native medicinal plant species that, if properly developed, could be turned into value-added herbal products to supplement income and diversify businesses."

Martin is co-director of the project along with Kevin Lombard, NMSU horticulturalist at the Farmington Agricultural Science Center.

"Traditional Native American and Hispanic cultures already have the knowledge and wisdom surrounding the uses and medicinal benefits of these herbs," Martin said. "The two-day program is designed to instruct and assist them in managing the financial, technical and liability risks associated with the commercialization of traditional herbs and herbal remedies."

During the program, participants will develop sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the need to balance culture and commerce; gain insights into the principles of entrepreneurship; identify herb species; and learn techniques for incorporating value-added production methods in growing, harvesting and producing their products.

The program is made possible by a grant from the Washington State University Western Center for Risk Management Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Pre-registration for the seminar is required. Total cost is $40 for both days and $30 for students, who must submit a copy of their student ID with the registration form. To register, contact Lombard at klombard@nmsu.edu or obtain a registration form at http://farmingtonsc.nmsu.edu/ and send a check or money order payable to NMSU and designated for Alcalde Herbs Workshop, to P.O. Box 1018, Farmington, NM, 87499-1018.