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.*
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 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."