Medicinal understory herbaceous species cultivated under different light and soil conditions in maple forests in southern Québec, Canada.
Many northern hardwood understorey plants have medicinal properties but their cost of production under conventional cultivation practices is fairly high. Therefore, wild harvesting continues putting the natural populations at risk. Their cultivation in a forest farming system seems a promising alternative. This study was aimed at assessing the impact of canopy opening and soil fertility on the growth and active component production of four medicinal plants: black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Rhizome sections were planted in two sugar maple forests. Mortality and total leaf area were monitored during 3 years, while subplots were harvested at the end of the second year for biomass and active component analyses. Multiple regressions indicated that all species responded more to acidity related elements (pH, Al, Al+H, Fe, Zn) than to soil fertility (Ca, K, Mg, P, C/N, base saturation and cation exchange capacity). This suggests that adjusting the pH by liming could be appropriate. Growth increased with irradiance, except for blue cohosh, indicating that forest openings could also be part of an appropriate forest management plan for their cultivation. While active component concentrations of rhizomes and roots increased in conditions that negatively affected growth, such as low pH, soil fertility or light availability, their total active component content exhibited responses that were similar to those of the growth variables. Thus, it seems that soil and light conditions that favour the growth of these medicinal plants also favour their total yield in active components.