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Herbs and spices


  • Herbs and spices are used for enriching what we eat and for delighting the tongue. It is the seasoning and flavouring of food brings out all the variety and tapestry of regions, nations, continents.
  • The increasing demand in developed countries for natural flavour offers tremendous potential for spice crops as sources of natural flavours. Spices include pepper, ginger, cinnamon, clove, paprika and nutmeg – to name only a few.
  • Herbs and spices are used fresh, dry and in blends in preparation of food and beverages. Because of the variety that exists, a farmer needs to do good market research to decide which crop to grow.
  • Herbs are also used to treat illnesses. They are used by phytotherapists (a person who practices herbal medicine) and homoeopaths, to treat a wide range of health problems.
  • The processing end of herbs and many spices is essential oils (see separate chapter). In addition to flavouring and pharmaceutical uses, essential oils also play a role in personal care items (cosmetics, toothpaste, perfume) and industrial purposes (washing powder, polish, paints). New applications in agriculture include being used as organic pesticides and in veterinary use for insect repellents and safer dips for fleas and ticks.
Sources: Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) and 

International business environment

Africa’s low per capita incomes, especially among rural populations, are directly linked to the problems of poverty and hunger. Thus, agriculture is – or could be – a critical engine of economic growth. However, small-scale producers in mainstream agriculture face multiple barriers: declining prices for traditional crops, lack of access to capital, transport, market access, and the market dominance of large commercial enterprises, among others.

Alternative crops, in the form of natural plants, are far better suited to the creation of viable agribusinesses in rural communities. First, indigenous African plants occur naturally and so are relatively easy to cultivate commercially. Second, natural plant production is labour intensive rather than capital intensive, and so minimises capital investment while at the same time maximising job-creation potential. Third, African communities have extensive knowledge of indigenous plants, creating a natural competitive advantage in this sector.

Favourable market conditions in the natural plant products sector also support the involvement of small-scale suppliers. The global nutraceutical market alone is estimated to be worth $60 billion annually in sales of dietary and meal supplements, as well as specialty products. There is also increasing demand for organic and natural products such as herbal teas, essential oils, herbs and spices, phytomedicines and phytocosmetics. This growth has been supported by a global swing away from synthetic products to those that are natural, healthy, sustainably produced and fairly traded.

Africa has only just started to tap the virtually unlimited economic potential of its natural botanical heritage. To reap the full benefit, much more has to be done to commercialise crops, to increase value-addition on African soil, and to capitalise on new market development opportunities. To introduce these crops into the main market stream will be a major challenge, but can be done with support, training and funding.


Some international websites



Local business environment

See if the annual, highly useful Herb and Spice Market Value Chain Profile and Essential Oils Market Value Chain Profile on the Directorate Marketing pages at have been updated. Also visit websites of role players like the Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) (details below).

For the newcomer

  • As many herbs and spices are especially suited to small-scale cultivation (many are short-term crops), they could be of major significance to smaller producers and also to limited-resource farmers in rural areas countrywide. Countries like China and India are good examples of success in essential oil production by small farmers.
  • Herbs and spices are ideal for rural areas especially if they are dried locally. This reduces the volume to be transported, and the dried product can be stored under cool, dry conditions for a length of time.
  • The advantages of essential oils as a crop are unlimited. The reason for it not being a popular crop is because of lack of basic agricultural and marketing information, and the exploitation and the ignorance of farmers when it comes to alternative crops.
  • Most essential oil crops are relatively pest and disease free, drought tolerant, low risk, low input cost, no theft value and can be done collectively on small scale farms.
  • A constant effort is made to recruit new emerging farmers in the industry.
  • Projects overlap into the fields of agriculture, chemistry, economics, botany, consumer science, tourism health, indigenous knowledge systems and social studies. More people from all these disciplines and faculties could become involved to the advantage of the industry, the agriculture community and our country.

Role players

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Esoteric Oils – A web-based business dealing in pure, unadulterated essential oils
Oribi Oils – Tea tree oil is the speciality
Essential Harmony Tel: 016 366 7106 Essential oils, vegetable oils and base products (e.g. Shea butter, beeswax, soy wax)
South African Association of the Flavour & Fragrance Industry (SAAFFI) – SAAFFI is a Member of the International Organisation of the Flavour Industry (IOFI) and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the two international organisations that deal with many aspects of Flavours and Fragrances respectively on a global level.
Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) – SAEOPA is an advisor on new, medicinal plant crops and essential oils for market trends, production, packaging, quality control and value adding. SAEOPA offers networking and a data base for plant material, nurseries, distillation and marketing. Mobile distillation units for the extraction of essential oils from herbaceous materials are researched, especially for where electricity and water are not available. These are sized for supporting ‘small’ commercial growers.
Health Product Association of Southern Africa (HPA) – The HPA represents the majority of manufacturers and distributors of Complementary and Traditional Medicines in Southern Africa.
CapeNature – Authorities in “Indigenous Essential oils” activities (see earlier heading on this page).
Qobo Qobo Pure Essential Oils – A rural social enterprise project enriching the lives of the local farming community of Keiskammahoek
SEOBI – South African Essential Oils Business Incubator – Seobi is a company not-for-gain that establishes and supports sustainable SMMEs in the essential oils industry.

Further reference:

  • Various companies involved offer workshops and training. The newsletters available (see last heading) often carry news of these, as do the agricultural weeklies e.g. Farmer’s Weekly. Also refer to this sub-heading on the “Essential oils” page.
  • Various municipalitiesprovincial investment agencies and institutions like the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) have involvement in essential oil crops.

Websites and publications

Also see this heading on the “Essential oils” page.


ARC Publications:

ARC-TSC publications:

  • Herbs – Grow your own First Aid Kit
  • Herbs for the Garden/Kruie vir die Tuin
  • Production Guidelines for Ginger
  • Growth Phases of the Ginger plant
  • Production Guidelines for Turmeric
  • Cultivation of Papaya
  • Grow your own Pepper
  • Die Verbouing van Peper

Contact them at Tel: 013 753 7000/81 or email infoitsc [at]

ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plant (ARC-VOP) provides publications relevant to the “herbs and spices” category e.g. The cultivation of parsley, The cultivation of culinary herbs in South Africa, Production of coriander in South Africa etc. Contact them at 012 841 9611.

Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for the following publications, available from the ARC-Agricultural Engineering:

  • Manual on the Agro-processing of Herbs and Spices
  • Agro-processing of Herbs and Spices (cinnamon, paprika, jojoba, parsley)
  • Agro-processing of Field crops (chilli, bell peppers, tomatoes)
  • Oil processing in South Africa
  • Oil seed processing using the ram press
  • The extraction of essential oils from herbaceous materials by steam distillation


Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) publications:

A number of publications are available at the “Old website” option at On the Directorate: Marketing web pages find the latest annual Herb and Spice Market Value Chain Profile and Industrial Products: Essential Oils Market Value Chain Profile.

Taking the Publications option will bring you to the many notes for growers. These include:

  • A guide to essential oil crops
  • Brochure: Celery
  • Brochure: Chillies
  • Brochure: Cleome 2009
  • Brochure: Cleome 2010
  • Brochure: Devil’s Claw
  • Brochure: German chamomile
  • Cultivation of pepper
  • Production guidelines for African wormwood
  • Production guidelines for basil
  • Production guidelines: Cleome
  • Production guidelines for Lavender
  • Production guidelines for lemon balm
  • Production guidelines for lemongrass
  • Production guidelines for peppermint
  • Brochure: Rose geranium
  • Production guidelines for rose geranium
  • Production guidelines for rosemary
  • Production guidelines for thyme
  • Production guidelines: wild ginger


Other publications:

  • Companies involved – e.g. SAKATA Seeds have grower guides. .
  • Griffiths J. 2017. Jane’s Delicious A-Z of Herbs. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.
  • Peter K.V. 2012. Handbook of Herbs and Spices. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing. There are three different volumes. Vital for those involved in the study, cultivation, trade and use of spices and herbs.
  • The South African Journal of Natural Medicine is dedicated to providing information to the general public and practitioners interested in all aspects of natural medicine.
  • Find the publications by Margaret Roberts at These can also be ordered from Random House Struik (see
  • Back to Eden. Jethro Klosse. Lotus Press. An essential handbook for those interested in herbalism and traditional remedies. Order it on


On the web:


Some articles:

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