Hundreds of hectares of land used for the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants make Albania leader in production and export of these natural riches. The sector of medicinal and aromatic plants generates about 18 million Euros from exports. It ranks as Albania’s second largest sector in terms of agricultural exports accounting for 19% of the country’s total exports.
The need for Albania’s natural wild plants with extraordinary medicinal value in international markets is rapidly growing. What about the essential oils of these demanded and estimated plants? Evidence reveals somehow a paradox. Albania is rich in medicinal plants but it imports their essential oils instead. This is a result of an almost inexistent processing industry.
Albania has 40-50 medicinal plants collection points used for domestic consumption and exports. There are also limited small shops that deal with the processing of these plants and extraction of their oils. Evidence highlights a lost tradition, according to AgroWeb.org. The first efforts for the collection of medicinal and aromatic plants was done by Albanian experts in the XVIII century. The collection of these plants was first recorded in Voskopoje and then in the XIX century in Elbasan and Permet. In the following years, the people were engaged in the massive collection of these plants as they used them against several ailments.
Around 1956-1958 several food enterprises in Albania set up small distillation units to produce essential oils from the remaining amount of plants such as sage, red and black juniper that were mostly collected for exports.
In 1966-1967, the city of Elbasan had its first modern and contemporary distillation plant. The sector expanded by almost five times. New units and structures were established in several other cities of Albania.
Before the 1970-1974, forestry enterprises installed distillatory structures imported mostly from China, used to process conifer wood remains and other vegetation. The increase in the number of distillatory units boosted exports of these products. All other essential oils, excluding that of sage were produced in Albania since the 1970 after Elbasan had its first distillatory implant.
Since the first production date until 1990-1991, the essential oils of sage and white oregano were massively produced. Dozens of tons of these oils were produced at the time, while essential oils of mint, thyme, wild thyme, yarrow, basil etc were produced at a lower amount.
The end of tradition at the age of democracy
After 1992, all industrial enterprises in Albania halted their activity. Industrial state production ended, paving the way to the entrance of new private businesses. Nowadays in Albania, there are several companies that deal with the collection, processing and packaging of these medicinal and aromatic plants.
Until 1992, the Institution of the Herbal Medicine located in Tirana, oversaw and promoted the use of medicinal and aromatic plants for medicinal purposes. During this period, the activity of collecting and processing of these plants was entirely controlled by the state. At the time, Albania had an important role to play in the international market as a result of its exports.
Agroexport was the only distillatory unit that had the capacity to export dried plants, mostly to the states of former Yugoslavia and Italy. Up until 1970, medicinal and aromatic plants were collected by collection enterprises and former agricultural cooperatives or even from people.
An inventory of aromatic and medicinal plants done in 1988 shows that Albania exported 224,540 tons of dried plants and essential oils. Albania earned about 70 884 000 USD.
This tradition which obviously was quite profitable to Albania, seems to have vanished. Collection and exports of medicinal plants is still ongoing but there are shortcomings in the sector of essential oils. Demand in the international market for these oils is high. This makes the processing of these plants not only a lucrative business but also a great opportunity for exports. Above all, this is a tradition that must be reinstated for the benefit of the country and its consumers./AgroWeb.org