climate change and medicinal plants resources


Fireweed blooming two years after major wildfires.

Note: This list combines research identified by Montana herbalist and botanist Robyn Klein and Washington herbalist and naturopathic doctor Eric Yarnell (see his 2020 presentation powerpoint here.) Most links are full text, but those with only abstracts available publicly are noted.


“Plant zones and changing climate”, Juniper Level Botanic Garden.

Medicinal herb growing & sourcing: The effects of climate change.” Gaia Herbs, March 2019.

Stevens, Harry. You’re not crazy. Spring is getting earlier. The Washington Post, March 13, 2024.

Published scientific research

Abbas, Farhat, et al. “Volatile organic compounds as mediators of plant communication and adaptation to climate change.” Physiologia Plantarum 174.6 (2022): e13840.

Ahammed, Golam Jalal, Xin Li, and Airong Liu. “Physiological and defense responses of tea plants to elevated CO2: a review.” Frontiers in Plant Science 11 (2020): 521336. [PMID: 32265958]

Elevated CO2 alters the tea quality by differentially influencing the concentrations and biosynthetic gene expression of tea polyphenols, free amino acids, catechins, theanine, and caffeine. Signaling molecules salicylic acid and nitric oxide function in a hierarchy to mediate the elevated CO2-induced flavonoid biosynthesis in tea leaves. Despite enhanced synthesis of defense compounds, tea plant defense to some insects and pathogens is compromised under elevated CO2. Here

Ahmed, Selena, et al. Climate change and coffee quality: Systematic review on the effects of environmental and management variation on secondary metabolites and sensory attributes of Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Frontiers in Plant Science, Oct. 2021.

Climate effects on coffee have notable implications not only for the coffee sector but for society more broadly. For example, the surge in migrants from Guatemala attempting to cross the southern United States border in 2019 was linked to low coffee prices and decreased coffee due to coffee rust (Sieff, 2019Leutert et al., 2020). Thus, changes occurring on coffee farms not only impact the coffee industry, but society more broadly including international relationships, calling for the urgent need for climate adaptation.

Ahmed, Selena, et al. “Effects of water availability and pest pressures on tea (Camellia sinensis) growth and functional quality.” AoB Plants 6 (2014): plt054.

Ainsworth, Elizabeth A., and Stephen P. Long. “30 years of free‐air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE): what have we learned about future crop productivity and its potential for adaptation?” Global Change Biology 27.1 (2021): 27-49. (Abstract only.)

Alhaithloul HA, Soliman MH, Ameta KL, et al. (2019) “Changes in ecophysiology, osmolytes, and secondary metabolites of the medicinal plants of Mentha piperita and Catharanthus roseus subjected to drought and heat stressBiomolecules 10(1):43.

“Plant height and weight (both fresh and dry weight) were significantly decreased by stress, and the effects more pronounced with a combined heat and drought treatment. Drought and/or heat stress triggered the accumulation of osmolytes (proline, sugars, glycine betaine, and sugar alcohols including inositol and mannitol), with maximum accumulation in response to the combined stress. Total phenol, flavonoid, and saponin contents decreased in response to drought and/or heat stress at seven and fourteen days; however, levels of other secondary metabolites, including tannins, terpenoids, and alkaloids, increased under stress in both plants, with maximal accumulation under the combined heat/drought stress. Extracts from leaves of both species significantly inhibited the growth of pathogenic fungi and bacteria, as well as two human cancer cell lines. Drought and heat stress significantly reduced the antimicrobial and anticancer activities of plants.”

Applequist, Wendy L., et al. “Scientistsʼ warning on climate change and medicinal plants.” Planta medica 86.01 (2020): 10-18.

Ariza-Salamanca, Antonio Jesús, et al. “Vulnerability of cocoa-based agroforestry systems to climate change in West Africa.” Scientific Reports 13.1 (2023): 10033. [PMID: 37340020]

Nearly 70% of the world’s cocoa production is originated in West Africa. At present, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers followed by Nigeria and Cameroon. Just in Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa farms employ more than 18% of the inhabitants of the country. Considering that West Africa has a drier climate than other major global cocoa origins and that this is considered a yield-limiting factor, the prospect of lower rainfall induced by climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of persons in this region.

Bariotakis, Michael, et al. “Climate Change Dependence in Ex Situ Conservation of Wild Medicinal Plants in Crete, Greece.” Biology 12.10 (2023): 1327.

Castañé S, Antón A (2017) “Assessment of the nutritional quality and environmental impact of two food diets: A Mediterranean and a vegan dietJ Cleaner Prod 167:929–37. (Abstract and snippets. About impacts of food choices on climate, not the reverse.)

Cavaliere C (2008) “Drought reduces 2007 saw palmetto harvest” HerbalGram 77:56–7.

Cavaliere C (2009) “The effects of climate change on medicinal and aromatic plantsHerbalGram 81:44–57.

Chandra, Sudeep, et al. Climate change adversely affects the medicinal value of Aconitum species in alpine region of Indian Himalaya. Industrial Crops and Products, Oct. 2022.

Our results thus conclude a reduction in secondary metabolites of Aconites due to eCO2 exposure which can not only affect their survival under extreme environmental conditions but also alter the antimicrobial potency against various pathogens.

Chmielewski FM, Rotzer T (2001) “Response of tree phenology to climate change across EuropeAgric Forest Meteorol 108:101-12. (Abstract and snippets only. Growing season changes.)

de Freitas Lins Neto, Ernani Machado, Silvana Vieira dos Santos, and Washington Soares Ferreira Júnior. “Does Climatic Seasonality of the Caatinga Influence the Composition of the Free lists of Medicinal Plants? A Case Study.” Ethnobiology Letters 12.1 (2021): 44-54.

De Keukeleire, Jelle, et al. “Relevance of organic farming and effect of climatological conditions on the formation of α-acids, β-acids, desmethylxanthohumol, and xanthohumol in hop (Humulus lupulus L.).” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55.1 (2007): 61-66. (Abstract only.)

The concentrations of the key compounds depended very much on climatological conditions showing, in general, highest levels in poorest weather conditions.

de Sousa, Kauê, et al. “The future of coffee and cocoa agroforestry in a warmer Mesoamerica.” Scientific Reports 9.1 (2019): 8828. [PMID: 31222119]

Here we show that cocoa could potentially become an alternative in most of coffee vulnerable areas. Agroforestry with currently preferred tree species is highly vulnerable to future climate change. Transforming agroforestry systems by changing tree species composition may be the best approach to adapt most of the coffee and cocoa production areas.

Gateau-Rey, Lauranne, et al. “Climate change could threaten cocoa production: Effects of 2015-16 El Niño-related drought on cocoa agroforests in Bahia, Brazil.” PloS one 13.7 (2018): e0200454. [PMID: 29990360]

In our study, in randomly chosen farms in Bahia, Brazil, we measured the effect of the 2015–16 severe ENSO, which caused an unprecedented drought in cocoa agroforests. We show that drought caused high cocoa tree mortality (15%) and severely decreased cocoa yield (89%); the drought also increased infection rate of the chronic fungal disease witches’ broom (Moniliophthora perniciosa). Ours findings showed that Brazilian cocoa agroforests are at risk and that increasing frequency of strong droughts are likely to cause decreased cocoa yields in the coming decades.

Ghasemzadeh A, Jaafar HZ (2011) “Effect of CO2 enrichment on synthesis of some primary and secondary metabolites in ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)Int J Mol Sci 12(2):1101–1114.

Guo, Chang, et al. “Plant Defense Mechanisms Against Ozone Stress: Insights From Secondary Metabolism.” Environmental and Experimental Botany (2023): 105553.

Guo, Longfei, et al. “Predicting the comprehensive geospatial pattern of two ephedrine-type alkaloids for Ephedra sinica in Inner Mongolia.” Plos one 18.4 (2023): e0283967.

Gupta A, Singh PP, Singh P, et al. (2019) “Chapter 8 – Medicinal Plants Under Climate Change: Impacts on Pharmaceutical Properties of Plants” In: Choudhary KK, Kumar A, Singh AK (eds) Climate Change and Agricultural Ecosystems: Current Challenges and Adaptation (Woodhead Publishing):181–209. (Abstract only.)

Idso SB, Kimball BA, Petit GR III, et al. (2000) “Effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on the growth and development of Hymenocallis littoralis and the concentrations of several antineoplastic and antiviral constituents of its bulbsAm J Botany 87:769–73.

Related: Ji YB, Chen N, Zhu HW, et al. (2014) “Alkaloids from beach spider lily (Hymenocallis littoralis) induce apoptosis of HepG-2 cells by the fas-signaling pathwayAsian Pac J Cancer Prev 15(21):9319–25. (Not related to climate change.)

Igawa, Tassio Koiti, Peter Mann de Toledo, and Luciano JS Anjos. “Climate change could reduce and spatially reconfigure cocoa cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2050.” PLoS One 17.1 (2022): e0262729. [PMID: 35041710]

In addition of the areas suitable for cocoa plantation, we found a 37.05% and 73.15% decrease in the areas suitable for intensification and expansion zones under RCP 4.5 and 8.5, respectively, compared with the current scenario.

Laftouhi, Abdelouahid, et al. “Impact of Climate Change on the Chemical Compositions and Antioxidant Activity of Mentha pulegium L.” ACS omega (2023).

The results indicated that as temperatures rose and precipitation decreased, there was a general decrease in the plant’s protein, carbohydrate, lipid, fiber, amino acid, and mineral content. Secondary metabolites were highest in the sample grown under normal conditions in the first year but declined in subsequent years as the climate conditions worsened. Essential oil yield initially increased with higher temperatures and reduced precipitation but declined in the fourth year as extreme climatic conditions persisted.

Law W, Salick J (2005) “Human-induced dwarfing of Himalayan snow lotus, Saussurea laniceps (Asteraceae)Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102(29):10218–20. (Harvest impact, not climate.)

Li J, Wu J, Peng K, et al. (2019) “Simulating the effects of climate change across the geographical distribution of two medicinal plants in the genus NardostachysPeerJ 7:e6730.

Li, Xin, et al. “Stimulation in primary and secondary metabolism by elevated carbon dioxide alters green tea quality in Camellia sinensis L.” Scientific reports 7.1 (2017): 7937. [PMID: 28801632]

…elevated CO2 increased the concentrations of soluble sugar, starch and total carbon, but decreased the total nitrogen concentration, resulting in an increased carbon to nitrogen ratio in tea leaves. Among the tea quality parameters, tea polyphenol, free amino acid and theanine concentrations increased, while the caffeine concentration decreased after CO2 enrichment. The concentrations of individual catechins were altered differentially resulting in an increased total catechins concentration under elevated CO2 condition. Real-time qPCR analysis revealed that the expression levels of catechins and theanine biosynthetic genes were up-regulated, while that of caffeine synthetic genes were down-regulated in tea leaves when grown under elevated CO2 condition.

Li, Xin, et al. “Elevated carbon dioxide-induced perturbations in metabolism of tea plants.” Stress physiology of tea in the face of climate change (2018): 135-155.

Mateus-Rodríguez, Julián Fernando, et al. “Effects of simulated climate change conditions of increased temperature and [CO2] on the early growth and physiology of the tropical tree crop, Theobroma cacao L.” Tree Physiology 43.12 (2023): 2050-2063. [PMID: 37758447]

Mishra T (2016) “Climate change and production of secondary metabolites in medicinal plants: A reviewInt J Herbal Med 4(4):27–30.

Monteiro, Waléria P., et al. “Potential Distribution of Pilocarpus microphyllus in the Amazonia/Cerrado Biomes under Near-Future Climate Change Scenarios.” Plants 12.11 (2023): 2106.

Mooney HA, Winner WE, Pell EJ (1991) Response of Plants to Multiple Stresses (San Diego: Academic Press).

Pandey P, Ramegowda V, Senthil-Kumar M (2015) “Shared and unique responses of plants to multiple individual stresses and stress combinations: physiological and molecular mechanismsFront Plant Sci 6:723.

Pandey, Veena, Indra D. Bhatt, and Shyamal K. Nandi. “Environmental stresses in Himalayan medicinal plants: research needs and future priorities.” Biodiversity and Conservation 28 (2019): 2431-2455. (Abstract.)

Pant, Poonam, Sudip Pandey, and Stefano Dall’Acqua. “The influence of environmental conditions on secondary metabolites in medicinal plants: A literature review.” Chemistry & Biodiversity 18.11 (2021): e2100345. [PMID: 34533273] (Abstract only.)

The review showed the influence of different environmental variables on SMs production and accumulation is complex suggesting the relationship are not only species-specific but also related to increases and decline in SMs by up to 50 %.

Pérez-Ochoa, Mónica L., et al. “Effects of Annual Growth Conditions on Phenolic Compounds and Antioxidant Activity in the Roots of Eryngium montanum.” Plants 12.18 (2023): 3192.

Powell, Bronwen, et al. “The need to include wild foods in climate change adaptation strategies.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 63 (2023): 101302. (Abstract and snippets.)

Raphaely T, Marinova D (2014) “Flexitarianism: Decarbonising through flexible vegetarianismRenewable Energy 67:90– 6. (Eating to reduce climate change. Abstract, intro and snippets.)

Roy, Swarnendu, Rupam Kapoor, and Piyush Mathur. “Revisiting Changes in Growth, Physiology and Stress Responses of Plants under the Effect of Enhanced CO2 and Temperature.” Plant and Cell Physiology (2023): pcad121. (Abstract)

Salick J, Fang Z, Byg A (2009) “Eastern Himalayan alpine plant ecology, Tibetan ethnobotany, and climate changeGlobal Environ Change 19(2):147–55. (Abstract and snippets.)

Salick J, Fang Z, Hart R (2019) “Rapid changes in eastern Himalayan alpine flora with climate changeAm J Botany 106(4):520–30. (Biodiversity and distribution, not specifically medicinal.)

Schroth, Götz, et al. “Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation.” Science of the Total Environment 556 (2016): 231-241. [PMID: 26974571]

Stuhlfauth T, Fock HP (1990) “Effect of whole season CO2 enrichment on the cultivation of a medicinal plant, Digitalis lanataJ Agronomy Crop Sci 164(3):168–73. (Abstract.)

The relative yield of the glycoside digoxin per gram Digitalis drug dry weight was 0.4% in field grown and 0.7% in greenhouse cultivated plants. The production of digoxin per hectare in the greenhouse at 1000 ppm CO2 was almost 3.5-fold that by field cultivation. Drug yield and secondary metabolite production in D. lanata were remarkably influenced by increased temperature and elevated CO2 partial pressure in the greenhouse.

Stuhlfauth T, Klug K, Fock HP (1987) “The production of secondary metabolites by Digitalis lanata during CO2 enrichment and water stressPhytochemistry 26(10):2735–9. (Abstract.)
Carbon dioxide enrichment (1000 ppm) had a ‘fertilizing’ effect in that both biomass and cardenolide content increased to about 160% of the control. The yield of the pharmacologically relevant major product, digoxin, significantly increased following enrichment, whereas two other compounds decreased. Water stress, in the physiological range, reduced fresh weight more than either cardenolide content or dry weight. The amount of digitoxigenin was considerably reduced, whereas the other cardenolides, including digoxin, were less affected. CO2-enriched plants, which were also subjected to drought, exhibited mixed responses. We conclude from these investigations that not only primary, but also secondary metabolism is influenced by variations of the environment.
Sun, Yuming, Saleh Alseekh, and Alisdair R. Fernie. “Plant secondary metabolic responses to global climate change: a meta‐analysis in medicinal and aromatic plants.” Global Change Biology 29.2 (2023): 477-504.
Theodoridis, Spyros, et al. “Evaluating natural medicinal resources and their exposure to global change.” The Lancet Planetary Health 7.2 (2023): e155-e163.
Tisserat B (2002) “Influence of ultra-high carbon dioxide levels on growth and morphogenesis of Lamiaceae species in soilJ Herbs Spices Med Plants 9(1):81–9. (Abstract. Per abstract, does not look at constituents, only growth.)
Walther GR, Post E, Convey P, et al. (2002) “Ecological responses to recent climate changeNature 416(6879):389–95. (Abstract.)
Yang, Li, et al. “Response of plant secondary metabolites to environmental factors.” Molecules 23.4 (2018): 762.
Zhao Q, Li R, Gao YY, et al. (2018) “Modeling impacts of climate change on the geographic distribution of medicinal plant Fritillaria cirrhosa D DonPlant Biosystems 152(3):349–55. (Abstract. Distribution impacts, no phytochemistry.)


Zhaogao, Li, et al. “Molecular mechanism overview of metabolite biosynthesis in medicinal plants.” Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (2023): 108125.

Zobayed SMA, Saxena PK (2004) “Production of St. John’s wort plants under controlled environment for maximizing biomass and secondary metabolitesIn Vitro Cell Develop Biol Plant 40:108–14. (Abstract.)


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Header photo by Dr. Orna Izakson.