Albania capitalizes on herbal medicine boom during the pandemic
Simon Ormiston
More than 100,00 people are employed in the aromatic herbs and plants industry in Albania. /Gent Shkullaku/AFP

More than 100,00 people are employed in the aromatic herbs and plants industry in Albania. /Gent Shkullaku/AFP


Albania has seen a 20 percent surge in demand for medicinal and aromatic herbs in the first quarter of 2021, fueled by the pandemic and those seeking natural remedies to boost their immune system.

Sage, lavender and cornflowers are among the popular products in demand from across Europe, the U.S. and even Australia. These herbs are grown on the foothills of the mountain range that lines the border with North Macedonia.

The town of Shergas lies in the shadow of Mali i Thate mountain and is the center of a thriving industry that employs more than 100,000 people, a welcome success story in one of Europe's poorest countries.

The first few weeks of summer are the season for cornflower picking, a plant traditionally valued for its ability to boost the metabolism and resistance to infections. From first light, dozens of pickers wearing broad-brimmed hats sweep the field to harvest the bright blue flowers while weaving in between the swarms of bees and butterflies.

The headwear provides shelter from the sun and after their work is complete, the cornflowers are taken to darkened rooms to preserve their color before being dried out and shipped abroad.




Demand has been soaring since the COVID-19 pandemic began – a "silver lining" for Altin Xhaja, who runs Albrut, a company that has been able to expand its fields to intensify the harvesting of wildflowers.

In 2020, Albania exported more than 14,000 tonnes of medicinal and aromatic herbs worth $59 million. That was 15 percent more compared with the previous year, according to official figures.

"It's a race against time. We have to be quick," says Xhaja. "Cornflowers are the most expensive at the moment; a kilo of dried flowers will go for around 30 euros ($35.39)." 

Trade sanctions between the U.S. and China have benefitted the 30 companies in Albania authorized to export the plants.

Filip Gjoka, who owns a plant north of Tirana, says the trade dispute "has forced many Western players to turn towards the Albanian market." 


Video editor: Pedro Duarte

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