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Meadowfoam Blooms as Alternative Crop

By Linda Cooke
March 7, 1997

Meadowfoam oil can fill consumer demands for more natural ingredients in cosmetics and still promise smoother, younger-looking skin. Scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are finding more applications for the oil in the cosmetics industry as well as a biodegradable industrial lubricant.

Grown mainly in Oregon, meadowfoam is a pretty flowering plant and a boon to that state’s grass seed farmers in two ways. In the past, farmers who wanted to switch from one grass seed variety to another typically left the fields fallow for a year, then burned the fields to eliminate any of the old grass crop’s seed.

Burning fields is now illegal in Oregon. Instead, farmers can plant meadowfoam in the fallow years, combating unwanted grass seed sprouts with herbicides and positioning themselves for a share of the $27.1 billion that U.S. consumers spend annually on beauty products. ARS research is providing the information needed to make meadowfoam an economically viable alternative crop.

ARS scientists gave the growing meadowfoam industry another boost when they solved mysterious cloudiness in oil from the 1993 and 1994 crops that made it undesirable for cosmetics manufacturers. The scientists pinpointed the problem: a harmless wax that could be removed from the oil with a centrifuge. That discovery saved meadowfoam processors some $2 million in potential lost sales and taught processors to handle harvested meadowfoam carefully to avoid crushing the seedcoat into the oil.

The February issue of Agricultural Research, the monthly publication of ARS, contains a report on ARS work with this up-and-coming alternative crop. Magazine articles are on the World Wide Web in .pdf (Portable Document Format) files at:


Scientific contact: Terry A. Isbell, USDA-ARS, New Crops Research Unit, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, IL, phone: (309) 681-6235,,