The general term non-timber forest products embraces many different products. How can we categorize them?

Non-timber forest products are classified in many ways. One useful method organizes them into major product categories based on markets. In general, there are five major categories of products: edible and culinary, specialty wood, floral, medicinal and dietary supplements, and landscaping. The following sections provide information on some of the products within each category:

  • Edible and Culinary: Edible and culinary products harvested from the forests include mushrooms, ferns, and the fruits, leaves, and roots of many species. Perhaps the most commonly collected from the forests of southern Appalachia is ramp (Allium tricoccum), a wild onion that is one of the earliest plants to emerge in the spring. Black walnut (Juglans nigra), which is native to the eastern United States, is used in the medicinal and dietary supplement industry. Berries of all sorts are commonly collected from the forests as well. Large populations of edible mushrooms and fungi can be found in forests, especially in the western United States and parts of Canada. Honey and maple syrup are edible non-timber forest products. Another label used under this category would be flavors, fragrances, or food and forages.
  • Specialty Wood: Wood-based special forest products (SFPs) are produced from trees or parts of trees, but not from commercially sawn wood. Some of the more important wood-based SFPs include the stems of sassafras (Sassafras albidum) or crooked wood (Lyonia ferrugenia) for walking sticks, and willow (Salix spp.) stems for furniture. Vines, particularly grapevine (Vitis spp.) and smokevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), are used to make specialty wood-based products, as well as floral decorative products. A large number of hardwood tree species are used for carvings and other types of plants or plant parts (lichens, bark) for various fibers.
  • Floral: Many forest plants and parts of plants are used in decorative arrangements, to complement and furnish the backdrop for flowers, as well as for the main component of dried ornaments. The end uses for many forest-harvested floral greens include fresh/dried flowers, aromatic oils, greenery, basket filler, wreaths, and roping. Floral products from oak ecosystems of southern Appalachia include various species of grapevine (Vitis spp.), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), and smokevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) for wreaths and baskets; galax (Galax urceolata) for floral decorations; and twigs from several tree species. Several genera of moss are harvested from eastern and western forests and used domestically and exported to the European floral industry. Salal (Gaultheria shallon ) and beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), both native to the Pacific Northwest, are used in the floral industry.
  • Medicinal and Dietary Supplements: Forest-harvested plants used for their therapeutic value are marketed either as medicines or as dietary supplements. Plants that have been tested for safety and efficacy and meet strict US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards are marketed as medicines or drugs. According to Farnsworth and Morris (1976), 25 percent of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States contain active ingredients extracted from higher order plants. Plants and plant products that do not meet the strictest FDA standards are marketed as dietary supplements in the United States. These products are legally considered food items, but product labels can make no claims about their medical benefits.

The number of plant species classified as medicinal and dietary supplements found in forests of the United States is incredible. Krochmal and others (1969) identify more than 125 medicinal plant species specific to Appalachia. US Forest Service botanists estimate that approximately 35 species of medicinal plants are collected for commercial sale from the forests of North Carolina. Through discussions with industry representatives, we estimate that more than 50 forest species are commonly collected for their medicinal value. These species are categorized by perceived demand, which may change as knowledge is gained. The burgeoning interest in bio-prospecting for medicinal products could result in collection of even more species. A few examples of medicinal plants include cohoba tree (Anadenanthera peregrina), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), sand-verbenas (Abronia spp.) from warmer areas to roundhead lespedeza (L. capitata), licorice-root  (Ligusticum spp.), devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum), and mountain woodsorrel (Oxalis montana) in other habitats. For additional information, you can review materials compiled by the Institute for Culture and Ecology ( and the species database or management guides available through its website.