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:: Home > The People > Non-timber Forest Products

In addition to the timber resources in Oregon forests, and the amazing variety of products that can be produced from them, a huge variety of products harvested from Oregon's forests are not timber-based. We call these products by many different names: secondary, minor, special or specialty, non-wood, nontraditional, and non-timber.

In this discussion, however, we'll use "non-timber forest products," the most appropriate and descriptive. These forest products are hardly "secondary" or "minor" to forest users who rely on them for a living. They aren't any more or less "special" than timber-based products, considering the popularity of some of them and the exotic character of others. Not all of the products are "non-wood," as woody branches can be used in the production of such forest products as furniture and baskets, and for forest users whose ancestors may have harvested these products for generations, they aren't "nontraditional." "Non-timber" describes a harvest that does not require cutting timber.

Non-timber forest products are plants and plant parts that are harvested from forests. They can be classified into four broad product lines: edibles, specialty wood products, floral greens, and medicinal and dietary supplements.

Mushrooms are probably the most well-known, edible, non-timber forest product. A matsutake mushroom and beargrass, both important in Oregon, are pictured at left.


Edible Forest Products. Examples of these products include mushrooms, berries, nuts, tree saps and resins, ferns, wild tubers, and bulbs. In Oregon the annual commercial mushroom harvest is amulti-million dollar industry. In Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, more than 25 species of commercially valuable mushroom species have been identified.

Huckleberry harvesting is the basis for an important cottage industry, and an important cultural activity for many Northwest Native American tribes.

Specialty Wood Products. A specialty wood product is any product from tree wood that isn't derived from sawn wood (the tree isn't cut down to produce it). Examples include carvings, branch furniture, and handicrafts.

Floral Greens. A variety of forest plants and plant parts are used in floral arrangements and dried ornaments. Next time you buy flowers from a commercial florist, notice many native species are used for color. Salal leaves and twigs, pearly everlasting dried flowerheads, moss, beargrass leaves, alder tops, false-cedar boughs, dogwood twigs, Oregon-grape leaves, huckleberry leaves and twigs, fir boughs, and many other native plant parts find their way into this market niche.

Medicinal and Dietary Supplements. This group includes forest-harvested plants or plant parts with therapeutic value. Medicinal and dietary supplements have likely been harvested from the forest since the earliest humans, and the commercial harvest of these plants is the highest valued group of non-timber forest products. Dozens of plants in Oregon forests have known therapeutic uses, but only a fraction of these have been tested for safety and efficacy by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA-approved items become medicines or drugs, while the rest are naturopathic and folk remedies. Sources of FDA-approved medicines/drugs found in Oregon include:

  • cascara buckthorn, a tall shrub whose bark is stripped and processed into a natural laxative,
  • Pacific yew, an understory tree whose bark is stripped and processed into a cancer-fighting medicine,
  • foxglove, a nonnative understory herb from which is extracted digitalis, a compound found in heart medication, and
  • St. John's wort (Klamath weed), a nonnative understory herb from which is collected an herbal medicine. In 1997, the commercial harvest of St. John's wort reportedly exceeded $47 million (for all western states).

Non-timber forest products are an important resource found in our forests. As such, forest managers make decisions taking them into consideration. In some areas, for example, landowners and managers manage for mushrooms and huckleberries. In some cases, like the mushroom harvest permit system, they are increasingly regulated to monitor human impact on the resource.


  • Washington State University Cooperative Extension,
  • USDA Forest Service, Willamette National Forest,
  • Forest Products Journal, October 1998. Vol. 48, No. 10, pp. 10-19