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Spices: An interesting year continues for spice traders. Our last recommendation would have paid off fairly well already: Black Pepper has gone from a low of 47 cents to a recent 60 cents per pound. White Pepper has recovered from its lowest price of 55 cents and is now trading in the low 70s. Even these prices are historically low, and we recommend you all hold your Pepper positions for higher prices. Chinese items continue to show lots of strength in light of a poor supply situation. Ginger, Cassia, and the almost unavailable Star Anise are high in price but low in quality. Ginger and Cassia can be substituted from other origins, but Star Anise comes only from China. Cassia from Indonesia has recovered nicely from its lows and has leveled off at prices that actually reflect the cost of production for a change. Good-quality, clean Sage from the former Yugoslavia continues to be very scarce and very expensive. Predictions are for the ethnic conflict to continue for the foresee able future, so no relief is seen for the same foreseeable future. Nutmeg and Mace remain incredibly cheap -- these may be the next best investment of the early 1990s since the current price is surely unprofitable. But the Nutmeg tree is incredibly hardy and will continue to produce, caring nothing for the price of its fruit or the petty concerns of those who trade in it. For this particular period, in fact, Nutmeg is our pick hit of the spice world.

Botanicals: The botanical market is confused by the situation in Eastern Europe, just as it was in our last several columns. We have just had a conversation with a trading partner in Croatia and the feeling there is that the real war has not even begun but will be fought over Kosovo and Macedonia, with several new players like the Albanians, Bulgarians, and Greeks, who have so far stayed out of this conflict. All sorts of roots, barks, herbs, and leaves from these areas are in very short supply; those that are offered are very expensive although qualities so far have remained high. These include perennial favorites such as Marshmallow, Angelica, Dandelion, Eyebright, Chickweed, Burdock, and Buckthorn. German dealers, who are generally more aware of the situation, are stockpiling materials for what they consider the inevitable unavailability of many items and are very bullish. Weather is another contributing factor; a long, hot summer made for poor growing conditions, and even co mmon seeds like Bulgarian or Romanian Coriander axe in short supply. Mexico, also, is very short on many items like Chaparral and Damiana, and recent low prices have led people to ignore these low-volume crops.

Potpourri Items: With the exception of European flowers, these markets are a bright spot. India has come on as a very strong, very cheap supplier of decent quality Flowers, Cones, Pods, and Leaves -- certainly enough variety to create colorful, very inexpensive low-line Potpourri. Indian, Pakistani and Moroccan Rosebuds have recovered from their incredibly low prices of last summer as demand has resurfaced but remain reasonable. It is the more beautiful, more esoteric flowers that are short and expensive -- items like Blue Malva, Calcatrippae, Life Everlasting, that come from Europe. Skillfully dyed Pods, Cones (and Flowers) from Thailand are available (or soon will be from the new crop which starts in December/January). Almost any colors, no matter how subtle, can now be arranged. Suppliers are becoming much more organized and competitive in the Potpourri market, as they begin to perceive a regular demand for this merchandise.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Peter Landes