IES develops innovative technologies for growing ginseng and Chinese horseradish in Latvia

Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) and SIA “Field and Forest” researchers develops innovative technologies for growing ginseng and Chinese horseradish in Latvia’s climate conditions. Thus, allowing the tea producer SIA “Bargi” develop new value-added tea products.

The demand for natural herbs that could substitute chemical-based medicinal, cosmetic, and food products is increasing rapidly. Two medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) with a high-demand in the world market are ginseng (Panax sp.) and Chinese horseradish (Angelica sinensis). IES researchers and SIA “Field and forest” agronomy experts stress that the weather and soil in Latvia is well-suited for cultivation of these medicinal and aromatic plants. For three research seasons scientists have been looking for the most suitable technologies and methods for cultivation of ginseng and horseradish within organic farming in Latvia.

SIA “Field and forest” leading researcher Dr Arta Kronberga showcased the latest research conclusions.


IES: During last research season (July 2020 – January 2021) you continued field research on different growing conditions for ginseng and Chinese horseradish. Why this research was necessary?

Dr Arta Kronberga (A.K.): Ginseng and Chinese horseradish are highly demanded in the World market. Wild plants mostly grow in China and Japan, but we are certain that it is possible to grow these plants in Latvia’s climate conditions as well. Within this research, during 4-year period we are developing cultivation technologies that would allow us to successfully grow these MAPs in commercial organic farming in Latvia. That includes seed preparation and germination, planting, shadowing, maintaining.

“We are developing innovative growing technologies and we are learning new things in every step of our way. If something is not working, we dissemble our approach and start to build new trial. This is the only possible way to acquire knowledge on how these plants can be cultivated.”


IES: How can you ensure that these MAPs growing in Latvia do not lose their biological value, considering that their natural habitat is China and Japan?

A.K.: For commercial use of MAPs in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, quality standards have been established. The chemical composition of plants must comply with the requirements of the European and Chinese pharmacopoeia. At the end of 2020 we implemented small scale chemical analysis for samples grown in our experimental fields. These tests were implemented to assess if the plants contain the necessary chemical composition of active compounds. Analysis was done in IES laboratory and researchers concluded that levels of active compounds are high and even higher than the levels found in samples that we received from China. Both MAPs are perennial plants (Chinese horseradish grows for two years and ginseng at least 4 – 5 years). The harvest of cultivation experiments is planned to be carried during Autumn 2021. After the harvest, additional chemical analysis in IES laboratory will be implemented. We foresee that the results will showcase, if these plants are suitable for commercial cultivation.

IES: Will growing technologies for both MAPs be the same?

A.K.: Chinese horseradish and ginseng are species from different families and we already can see that growing technology development process is unique for each of them. Regarding Chinese horseradish our biggest challenge is the seed germination. For seed germination specific conditions are necessary. We are trying to simulate these conditions to accelerate the germination process. For ginseng we are focusing on more than one growing factors, for example, different ginseng species, soil conditions, different mulching and shading solutions.


IES: How growing technology development for Chinese horseradish have continued in last research season (July 2020 – January 2021)?

A.K.: Low germination of seeds is the largest challenge of growing Chinese horseradish. Therefore, we were able to plant relatively small experimental fields in Priekuļi municipality. Seeds of this plant we received from China and Japan – natural habitat of Chinese horseradish. These countries have specific weather conditions, thus seeds have different germination requirements. Therefore, we test different ways for seed germination.

The excellent news is that after seeds sprout, Chinese horseradish in Latvia’s conditions grow very well. There is also a possibility that the Chinese horseradish seeds gained from our experimental fields, will adapt more easily and sprout faster.


IES: How the development of ginseng growing technologies has continued in last research season (July 2020 – January 2021)?

A.K.: During the previous research period we focused on testing different light intensity, mulching and bed preparation for ginseng development. Ginseng needs only 10 – 15 % of daylight, therefore we are testing both natural and artificial shading solutions within the experimental sites. Natural shading experiments are done by growing ginseng in different forest ecosystems that provides natural shading from trees. Other part of the ginseng growing experiments are done in experimental fields with artificial shading system. For 2018 and 2019 vegetation seasons we used shading system with a roof made from special agro net. After first two years we concluded that even if it is a low-cost solution that can be easily installed, the climate under the agro net shading system is not suitable for ginseng cause of be poor ventilation. Before 2021 vegetation season we replaced agro net with roof made from wooden planks. This solution ensures the necessary air flow.


IES: Which shading method has proved to be more successful – a natural forest ecosystem or artificial shading in experimental fields?

A.K.: Both ecosystems have certain pros and cons. Throughout the research, during vegetation season we collected light intensity data. Light intensity differs in each location and that has a significant impact on growing conditions. When light intensity data is obtained from all experimental vegetation seasons, we will compare it with plant development indicators. Thus, allowing us to understand how different light intensity is related to growing and development of ginseng. Final assessment on the plant development will be possible only after the harvest in Autumn 2021. Then we will be able to weight and measure roots of these plants (most valuable parts of ginseng).

We can see that in forest ecosystem ginseng grows very well, trees provide natural shading and air flow. At the same time, shading is more variable and uncontrollable because it depends on the angle of the sun and other factors. It is also very difficult to control humidity level in the forest ecosystem. For example, during drought in Summer, ginseng does not receive a sufficient level of moisture.

Advantage of artificial shading is stable microclimate and airflow. Disadvantage – complex dismantling. During winter, roof that is made of wooden planks should be disassembled, because it holds the snow that is necessary for the plants as a protective layer from temperature changes. As snow do not cover and protect plants, we experiment with other types of soil covers, such as fir twigs.

During the season of 2020, several of the ginseng plants blossomed and produced berries that we harvested to produce new seeds. The berries were produced only by those ginsengs that grew in experimental fields under artificial shading tents.


IES: You mentioned that during this research soil conditions were measured and examined. Did these measurements show that soil processing is necessary?

A.K.: The most suitable for both MAPs is soft soil rich with organic matter. For Chinese horseradish, soil processing is not a big challenge. It grows for two years and it is easy to enrich the soil between rows of the field. Ginseng is ready for harvesting only after 4 to 5 years, and if we grow this plant in field conditions, additional soil processing and enrichment is necessary before sowing or planting. Otherwise, soil compresses around the plant, causing significant plant development problems. In 2019, we started tests where different organic nutrients were processed in soil to keep it rich and soft. In Summer season 2021, we will be able to evaluate results. Soil processing is not necessary in forest ecosystem, leaves that falls from trees provide natural organic matter enrichment for our experiments.


IES: How far is SIA “Bargi” with the new food product development? In new tea products ready?

A.K.: The process of tea blend development is long. Not only taste of the tea is important but its medicinal value as well. In this product development process SIA “Bargi” experts are looking for:

– Different plant species and their suitable amounts in tea blends.

– Most suitable piece size of Chinese horseradish and ginseng for tea blends.

– Best packaging solutions.

– Tea preparation recipe to gain the highest levels of active compounds in the drink.

For these tests SIA “Bargi” use samples of MAPs from other growers. After the harvest in our experimental fields, for tea blends they will use Chinese horseradish and ginseng that we have grown.

IES: What have you planned for the upcoming research periods, taking into account that the research end in December 2021?

A.K.: We will continue to work, this is 4-year research that is coming to an end. Growing experiments for both MAPs will conclude in Autumn and that will be the time for harvest. Most important task will be to understand if ginseng and Chinese horseradish that is grown in Latvia’s conditions contains active compound levels that fits the European and Chinese Pharmacopoeia standards. We will also evaluate economic indicators of growing these plants for commercial use. Main indicator will be the weight and size of the plant roots grown in Latvia. We also plan to make tests on tackling diseases and insects that are common for plants growing more than one year in one place.

It seems that we will continue to research growing of ginseng even after the end of this project. Ginseng is a perennial plant that takes 4 – 5 years till it is ready for harvest. The research last only for 4 years, but we are eager to see how ginseng develops in the 5th year.

Innovative methods for cultivation of ginseng and Chinese horseradish will be developed as a part of the project “Developmend of innovative technologies for cultivation and food production of ginseng (Panax spp.) and Chinese horseradish (Angelica sinensis)” No.  17-00-A01620-000008, which is supported by EU European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Rural Development Programme.

More about the project here.