Rhodiola rosea: helping to develop a new high-value specialty crop

Mark Rempel holds up a rhodiola root during the first harvest at his Palmer farm
Mark Rempel holds up a rhodiola root during the first harvest at his Palmer farm

Most of the world’s Rhodiola rosea crop grows wild in Siberia, where the medicinal plant can take many years to mature.

Extension has been working with an Alaska growers’ cooperative to develop the high-value specialty crop. Palmer agent Steve Brown believes that rhodiola is well suited to Alaska because it likes cold, rocky soils and it can mature here in four to five years. 
 
“They’re a pretty tough plant,” said Al Poindexter, who runs a greenhouse near Anchor Point and raises seedlings for the cooperative. He distributed 47,000 of the seedlings last summer to growers and planted an acre himself.
 
Farmers near Palmer and Point McKenzie harvested the first mature roots this fall, and Brown has been experimenting with ways to clean, slice and dehydrate them. The dried root is used as an ingredient for herbal remedies, sports drinks and skin care.
 
Petra Illig, who founded the cooperative and is a grower herself, believes farmers can make up to $30,000 an acre growing high-quality rhodiola. One crop is already processed and ready for sale and has attracted several prospective buyers.
 
Illig appreciates the assistance and expertise of Extension. “Without all this support, it just wouldn’t have come this far,” she said.
 
FYI ...
  • So far, 10 growers have planted commercial quantities of rhodiola, and many others are experimenting with the crop.
  • Extension hosted a school for new rhodiola growers and planted a demonstration plot at the Matanuska Experiment Farm. 
  • Brown helped the cooperative write a specialty crop grant, which funded a tour of Alberta farms that grow rhodiola. The grant also paid to buy part of the first rhodiola crop to develop the best processing methods. 
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