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Herbs and the Commodities Market.

The big news in spices this quarter is the virtual disappearance from the market of Mexican Oregano, combined, of course, with a tripling or quadrupling of the price of any available material. It is not clear if there simply isn't any Oregano in Mexico or whether farmers -- who are often cagey in terms of currency fluctuations and inflation -- are holding back, waiting as long as possible for the peso to settle and inflation to die down somewhat before selling their Oregano holdings. As in many countries around the world, holding commodities in Mexico is often far better than holding a rapidly depreciating currency. Of course, Oregano is an herb, which, once cut, will lose quality fairly rapidly, so all stocks must be marketed in the current crop year. This will be interesting.

Other spice news is sparse. White and Black Pepper continue their upward price spiral and Nutmeg and Mace have not budged from their recent pricey highs. Egyptian herbs like Basil and Marjoram remain cheap and plentiful despite dire warnings from Egyptian shippers that acreage has been cut back. Turkish Laurel and Oregano -- not entirely substitutable for Mexican, by the way -- have peaked and even backed off their highs slightly. Cassia is firm but the consuming season is almost over and prices will probably moderate until autumn. All in all, the weak U.S., dollar is the big force in spice prices and further upward movement can be expected generally across the board this quarter.


Supply of botanicals remains spotty and confusing. There are so many new companies in Eastern Europe trying to supply the American market that every second person in some of these countries must fancy himself a botanical supplier. Some of the qualities seen from these new companies are truly abysmal and once again caution must be advised to buyers. Due to a combination of poor growing seasons and incompetence there are shortages of many, many European herbs, roots, and flowers.

There is great interest in South American botanicals this year and reliable suppliers in this area are few -- delays in shipping and poor quality abound. Muira Puama, Pau D'Arco and Cat's Claw are available at good prices from tested sources. Chinese and Thai Hibiscus are somewhat more expensive this year. Rosehips are almost unavailable and preliminary news from Chile indicates new crop prices will be even higher than the ending prices for current crop material. Mints remain reasonable. Chinese Garlic is very cheap, but, once again, know your supplier -- quality varies greatly. Preliminary prices on new crop Chamomile and Calendula are somewhat (10-20 percent) higher than last year.

The potpourri season has come and we have made it through with barely adequate supplies. Those interested in these items would be well advised to contract early to assure supply.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Peter Landes