The North African Mediterranean herbs like Basil and Marjoram, while somewhat higher than last year's rock bottom prices, are still pretty inexpensive and coverage should be extended. Paprika may be interesting -- Spain reports a very small crop due to poor growing conditions there.
White Pepper is thoroughly controlled by one big shipper in Indonesia and, what with a reported crop of only approximately 15,000 tons this year, there should be no problem maintaining a high price for this commodity. Black Pepper, on the other hand, is dull and featureless at the moment. The Indonesian and Malaysian crops were normal (there's that word again) and the Brazilian and large Indian crops are yet to come, so upward pressure on prices is definitely lacking.
Nutmeg has receded, while Mace (made from the same fruit) has advanced in price. Garlic was incredibly cheap this year and remains so even with a slight recent price increase. Sage could be a problem -- quality (and price) vary greatly depending on source from absolutely awful to excellent for the Dalmatian, but continuing problems (like an astoundingly savage war in the Balkans) may make that origin a thing of the past.
Botanicals: The amazing proliferation of new "exporters" in some producing (formerly communist) countries continues. Qualities from some of these are pretty abysmal and caution is urged. In addition, most items must be pre-contracted or they will not even be harvested due to the prevailing low prices of the last few years, which were o.k. in a totally artificial socialist economy, where a loaf of bread, for instance, was two cents and rent was $10 a month. With the collapse of communism prices for necessities have increased to more normal European levels and if people cannot achieve a workable price for an item, they simply won't harvest it. If it is not pre-sold, they simply won't have it.
Early attention to all requirements is necessary this year (and maybe forever) since the large state-owned entities that used to stock these items for the foreign buyers like the U.S. no longer exist. Their sole purpose in the old days was to generate hard currency for their economies anyway and, therefore, they could "afford" to sell very cheaply and they, at least, knew the items. Now, unless you exercise due diligence, you (and probably your shipper) have no idea what you'll be getting and in what amount. Everything may go the way of Red Clover, which is almost totally unavailable.
As predicted, Rosehips are very expensive this year and Hibiscus, Chamomile, and Calendula have increased somewhat in price. Otherwise there is interest developing in South American botanicals, especially Cat's Claw/U¤a da Gato (Uncaria tomentosa). North American botanicals are also very firm and somewhat scarce. This trend is expected to continue as less and less people look to wildcrafting as a way to make a decent income.
Of course, if the weakness of the U.S. dollar continues, prices for all imported items will rise accordingly. This autumn should be interesting -- stay tuned to this column!
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Peter Landes