Quite a number of federal agencies in the United States provide funding opportunities for companies in the herbal trade and for individuals and organizations that conduct herbal research. Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has financed a grower in Georgia to develop an organic crop of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and another to grow a better cultivar of echinacea (E. angustifolia and E. purpurea) in North Carolina. In addition, many of the studies that are funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at NIH are devoted to clinical studies on herbs. Follow the links below to the respective USDA and NCCAM sites that provide grant information, and also see the centralized grants site at Grants.gov.
SBIR Gateway (Small Business Innovation Research)
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is administered by 10 federal agencies that provides research and development funding for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Each of these agencies publishes research proposals on a regular basis or maintains thematic topics to provide guidance to applicants. In addition, assistance is offered in the form of regional workshops, and these too are announced online.
The site indicated by the above link is the "gateway" site for the overall program. It may be most efficient to limit attention to one federal agency at a time, and the programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may be the most productive avenues for researchers on herbs and herbal products.
SBIR at USDA
The USDA SBIR Program is administered by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), and funds about 90 Phase I grants each year, each of about $80,000, and 35 to 40 Phase II research and development grants, usually in an amount of about $300,000.
CSREES has identified 12 topics in which it provides SBIR grants (see "Topic Areas" on the above webpage). Rather than soliciting specific requests for applications, as is done by some other agencies, CSREES provides descriptions of each of these topics and reviews all conforming applications. Of particular interest are the areas of forests and related resources; plant production and protection; rural and community development; small and mid sized farms; and for some applicants, marketing and trade. See "Abstacts of Funded Projects" for examples of recent grants to get an idea of what kinds of research have been funded through this program.
Of interest to herb growers is the history of funding alternative crops through SBIR grants. One of the USDA SBIR "success stories" in 2005 was for the development of organic production and commercialization of goldenseal in northern Georgia by Sleepy Hollow Farm, and Gaia Herbs received Phase I funding to develop a high quality cultivar of species of echinacea in 2004.
SBIR at NIH
The Office of Extramural Research at NIH maintains the SBIR program for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education)
Since 1988, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.
CARDS at the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)
Do you need to know about research that is being funded on herbs and dietary supplements by the Federal government? Whether you are interested in applying for a research grant or just want to know what the next study topic will be, the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) maintains a site that is designed to find this information. That site is called CARDS, and stands for Computer Access to Research on Dietary Supplements.
As with IBIDS, CARDS was created to fulfill a U.S. Congress mandate, this time to “compile a database of scientific research on dietary supplements and individual nutrients.” The site maintains records for research projects from 1999 on that pertain to dietary supplements and that are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any of the Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and projects funded by other agencies are due to be added in the future.
Also as with IBIDS, there are some gaps on the CARD site that can make its use less than fully satisfying, and the user of this site will often need to do additional work in order to obtain complete information about federally funded dietary supplement research. For example, the site purports to link to publications associated with each project by conducting a search at PubMed, but in our experience publications can not actually be located in this manner, and the user must conduct a separate search at the PubMed site. In addition, none of the funded research listed at the site is described in more than a cursory manner, and the documents that were submitted to earn the right to access our tax dollars are apparently not available in their entirety for public review (thought this last is more of a complaint about research policy and does not reflect on CARDS).
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) provides millions of dollars each year to researchers with an interest in the broad scope of self-care options that have come to be known collectively as CAM – complementary and alternative medicine. Studying everything from “art healing” to “light therapy” to yoga, and from chromium to shark cartilage, NCCAM also places significant emphasis on herbal research.