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Main non-wood forest products

The important NWFP of China are exudates, essential oils, bamboo, food (e.g. fruits, nuts and mushrooms), honey and medicinal plants.

General information

NWFP hold great significance in China for the nutrition and health care of rural households. NWFP statistics have been compiled on data which were issued in publications such as Forestry Yearbook of China (1980–1997), Forestry Information of China (1980–1996), Agriculture Yearbook of China (1980–1996) and the Chinese Customs Yearbook (1996).

In China, NWFP are divided into 10 categories: woody plants for food and oil; resins; perfumes or spices; beverages; mushrooms; medicinal plants; plants for fodder; animal; products; bamboo and rattan; fruits and nuts. In addition, forest services (including ecotourism) are included in the concept of NWFP.

Table 1. The production of major NWFP in China (in tonnes)





Raw lacquer

2 971

3 994

4 415

Tong oil tree seed

402 148

410 066

453 355

Camellia oil seed

623 126

695 733

856 868

Tallow tree seed

38 834

42 306

40 912

Chinese gallnut

10 085

9 879

11 060

Palm tree bark

52 955

58 549

58 158

Pine seeds

548 157

580 819

702 982

Dried bamboo shoots

174 561

183 052

217 216


230 677

239 162

248 383


247 025

340 302

378 183

Scraped lac

3 415

3 019

2 711

Source: China Forestry Yearbook (1995–1997)

Forest plantations are a very important feature of the forest resources in China; over 670 000 ha of plantations for economic purposes (called locally "economic forests") have been established each year since the 1990s. Presently, the economic forests of China have an annual production value of over ¥40 000 million. Economic forests are established for cash crops of (woody) plants for food, fruits, nuts, tea, silk and medicines. At present, there are over 1 000 factories, employing over 100 000 people, and producing many kinds of products; they form an integrated production system based on the chemical extraction and processing of harvested NWFP from economic forests.

Table 2. Average annual domestic consumption levels of major NWFP in China


Production x104 MT


Production x104 MT

Lycium barbarum




Chinese tea






Chinese date




Camellia oil




Dried bamboo shoots




Fresh bamboo shoots




Bamboo poles


Kiwi fruit


Xanthoxylum sp.




Illicium verum


Source: China Forestry Yearbook (1995–1997)

The ownership of the NWFP resources in the forests belongs to the government or a collective, but people are allowed to harvest them. The NWFP are marketed domestically and internationally and a substantial proportion of NWFP is consumed by farmers and householders in the forest regions. Most of the NWFP is obtained from natural forest, but an increasing amount is being produced in plantations (economic forests; bamboo shoots, fruits and nuts are cultivated intensively. Resin, tong oil and tallow are collected from natural stands or plantations. Most NWFP are collected in small quantities, seasonally and manually, by women and children.

Table 3. International markets and trade flow for major Chinese NWFP


Annual production x104 MT

Annual export amount x104 MT

International market

or trade flow




Japan, Germany, UK, France, Holland, Italy

Tong oil



EU, USA, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong

Tallow oil




Essential oil



European and American countries

Lacquer varnish



Germany, Egypt, Indonesia, USA

Bamboo poles



Germany, France, Holland

Dried bamboo shoots



Hong Kong, Southeast Asia




Transit trade in Hong Kong

Black auricular fungus



Transit trade in Hong Kong

White auricular fungus



Transit trade in Hong Kong




USA, EU, Australia,

Canada, Japan, Switzerland




Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, USA, Canada




Hong Kong, Southeast Asia




USA, EU, Egypt, Russia




Germany, UK, USA, Japan

Eucomia ulmoides gum



Japan, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Malaysia, Spain, UK

Ginkgo leaves



USA, Germany, France, Japan, Korea

Wild brake




Source: China Forestry Yearbook 1995–1997




In China, some 375 edible mushroom species can be found in the forests. Annually, over 1 000 tonnes of dried mushrooms are exported at a value of US$20 million. According to the Forestry Statistics (1977) the forestry sector produced 0.176 million tonnes of edible mushrooms and wild ferns.

Edible mushrooms are a major NWFP in China. Chinese mushrooms are also popular in international markets. Mushrooms exported from China are mainly black and white auricular fungus, winter mushroom and pine mushroom.

The total production of black auricular fungus (Auricularia auricula) and its production per unit area are increasing every year as cultivation techniques improve and better strains are being utilized. China is the main world producer of this fungus with an annual production of 46 000 tonnes and annual exports of about 1 000 tonnes, earning close to US$8 million. Most of the exports are to Japan, Southeast Asia, western Europe and northern America.

About 1 000 tonnes of white auricular fungus (Tremella fuciformis) are produced every year, of which about 300 tonnes are exported.

Winter mushroom (shiitake) (Lentinus edodes) is one of the best edible mushrooms in the world. China is the largest producer of winter mushroom in the world with production of around 120 000 tonnes. Annually, over 1 000 tonnes of dried winter mushroom are exported at a price of some US$2 000/tonne.

Other valuable fungi are Dictyophora duplicata, Hericium erinaceus, Pleurotus citrinopileatus, Boletus spp., Morchella esculenta, Ganoderma lucidum, Grifola umbellata and Cordyceps sinensis (Kunshan 1994).

The forestry sector produced 23.5 million tonnes of fruits (mainly apples, pears and oranges in economic forest plantations) and 0.5 million tonnes of nuts in 1997 (National Forestry Bureau 1997). The annual production of fruits increased on average by 11.4 percent (1.3 million tonnes) from 1979 to 1992. The increase in fruit production will slow down in the future. The production of nuts is increasing annually by more than 5 percent. The domestic consumption of fruits and nuts has increased from 9.037 million tonnes in 1980 to 50.465 million tonnes in 1995.

Chestnut (Castanea spp.) plantations cover a total area of some 300 000 ha. The annual production of chestnuts averages about 330 000 tonnes, accounting for one-tenth of the world total. China exports annually some 25 000 tonnes of chestnuts (mostly to Japan), earning about US$50 million (Kunshan 1994).

The total area of walnut (Juglans regia.) plantations in the country is over 1 million ha, and annual production averages about 250 000 tonnes. The nuts contain protein and fat. The annual export quantity of walnuts from China is about 47 000 tonnes, with an export value of US$30 to 50 million. Walnuts are exported mainly to Europe, Canada and other countries in Asia (Kunshan 1994).

Many wild vegetables are found in the forests of northeastern China. There are over 100 species of edible ferns in the forests of Heilongjiang Province. Currently, about 2 000 tonnes of wild brake (Pteridium aquilum) are collected each year when the collection potential could be some 100 000 tonnes. Ferns are increasingly in demand on international markets and their price is rising (to over US$10 000/tonnes for Pteridium aquilum and Osmunda cinnamome). Chinese wild vegetables are exported mainly to Japan, where the demand for salted wild vegetables is over 10 000 tonnes per year. Chinese root vegetables are popular in Germany, the United States and Japan.

Bamboo shoots are another major output; they are a traditional component of Chinese food. Each year about 1.6 million tonnes of fresh bamboo shoots are harvested.

Jujube (Zizyphus spp.) is another important wild vegetable. The total area of jujube is about 240 000 ha and the annual production of fresh jujube is 400 000 tonnes. China exports about 4 700 tonnes of dry jujube, earning US$5 million in foreign exchange each year (Kunshan 1994).

Tea oil (Camellia oleigera) grows in 15 provinces over an area of more than 4 million ha. The annual production of tea oil is 500 tonnes, accounting for 8.6 percent of the edible plant oil produced in the country. In Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, which are the central production areas of tea oil in China, over half of the edible oil consumed in the rural areas is tea oil. Saponin, which can be extracted from tea dregs, is used to manufacture cleansers, detergents, foaming agents and insecticides. It also acts as medicine to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease (Kunshan 1994).

Forest drinks are natural drinks, produced or extracted from tree juice, wild berries, fruit, leaves and flowers of plants, as well as the pollen of nectariferous plants. In 1997, China produced 74 600 tonnes of forest beverages. Forest drinks are made from birch, seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), yangtao (Actinidia chinensis), bureja gooseberry (Ribes burejense), raspberry (Rubus), amur grape (Vitis amurensis), wild rose, cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), black currant (Ribes nigrun), Siberia nitaria (Nitraria sibirica) and pine needle powder (Kunshan 1994). Birch juice is a popular soft drink in China. China has abundant birch resources, with 34 species covering a total area of 10 million ha. Products such as birch syrup, birch cola and birch honey peach produced by the Forest Drink Factory of Dailing Forestry Bureau, Heilongjiang Province, have an annual value of ¥2.94 million (Kunshan 1994).

Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhomnoides) is a wild shrub growing in 20 provinces in northern China, covering an area of over 1 million ha. Seabuckthorn has rich nutritional and medicinal qualities. In 1990, there were over 150 seabuckthorn-processing factories in China, with an annual production capacity of about 150 000 tonnes. The variety of products made from seabuckthorn has evolved from the original crude juice and soft drinks, to over 200 finished products in eight different categories, including soft drinks, food, wine, daily-use chemicals, medicine, health protection, forage and additives. Fifteen tonnes of juice can be obtained from 1 ha of wild seabuckthorn forest. The Seabuckthorn Beverage Factory of Youyu County, Shanxi Province, has an annual production capacity of 4 000 tonnes, with production of 1 640 tonnes of condensed seabuckthorn juice, powder and light sparkling wine, valued at ¥5 million. The total value of seabuckthorn products in the seven provinces in the middle and upper reaches of the Changjiang River exceeded ¥100 million in 1988. Joint ventures have been set up between China and the United States, Japan and Switzerland to develop seabuckthorn products (Kunshan 1994).

Yangtao actinidia (Actinidia chinesis, better known under its international name "kiwi") is an important wild fruit, growing in 24 provinces, with an annual production of about 300 000 tonnes. Xixia County, Henan Province, has abundant yangtao actinidia with an average annual production of 2 500 tonnes. The biggest plantations of yangtao actinidia in China are situated in Sichuan Province. A research institute has been set up specifically to support yangtao actinidia development. Yangtao actinidia products such as drinks, wine and jam produced in Xixia County are sold both on domestic and international markets. The yangtao actinidia wine produced by Guanxian County Yangtao Actinidia Wine Factory, Sichuan Province, has won awards and wide recognition (Kunshan 1994).

The fruits of black currant (Ribes nigrum) are rich in nutrients and a variety of vitamins, organic acids, trace elements, sugar and others. Black currant can be processed into wine, fructose, fruit juice and jam. As one of the major NWFP in Heilongjiang Province, the cultivation area of black currant covers 14 000 ha supplying more than 70 processing factories (Kunshan 1994).


The consumption of traditional Chinese drugs accounts for about 40 percent of the total consumption of medicaments in China. About 6 000 species of Chinese medicinal plants have been recorded and many of them grow in forests. Important medicinal plants include: ginseng, pilose antler, the fruit of Macrocarpium officinalis, tall gastrodia (Gastrodia elata), bezoar, fulling (Ports cocos), eucommia (Eucommia ulmoides), the roots of common baphicacanthus (Baphicacanthus cusia), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), lily magnolia (Magnolia liliflora), Chinese thorowax (Bupleurum chinense), officinal magnolia (Magnolia officinalis), Chinese wolfberry (Lycium chinense), cinchona (Cinchona), Chinese magnoliavine (Schisandra chinensis), manyprickle acanthopanax (Acanthopanax senticosus), common stone crop (Hylotelephium erythrostictum), amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense) and glossy ganoderma (Ganoderma lucidum) (Kunshan 1994).

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is one of the key medicinal products from north China. Jilin Province, a major ginseng-producing area, produces about 80 percent of the ginseng of the country, making up around 40 percent of the world total (Kunshan 1994). American ginseng (Panax quinquefollius) was introduced to China in 1975 and is planted in more than 10 provinces with an annual production of over 50 tonnes. Muling Forestry Bureau, Heilongjiang Province, is the biggest production base in China of American ginseng. The total annual sales exceed ¥3.5 million. The bureau has experienced good economic results from the management of ginseng and American ginseng, employing more than 8 000 people in its operations (Kunshan 1994).

The annual production of the fruit of common macrocarpium (Macrocarpium officinalis) fluctuates between 600 and 900 tonnes. The production of fresh fruit is about 30 to 50 kg/ha. As of 1987, the total area planted reached 1 333 ha, with an annual production of 160 tonnes, producing an income of ¥82 million (Kunshan 1994).

Pilose antler is a high-grade tonic medicine costing ¥1 300 to 1 400/kg (first class pilose antler produced in Jilin Province: ¥2 260/kg). Over 30 tonnes of pilose antler were produced in Jilin Province in 1987, yet the supply falls short of the demand (Kunshan 1994).

Gingko (Ginkgo biloba) is used as food and medicine. The annual production is 5 000 tonnes, most of which is exported. The foreign exchange earnings top US$7 million each year (Kunshan 1994). Great attention has been paid to the medical value of ginkgo kernel and leaf. Presently, ginkgo leaf is quite often in short supply on international markets. There are 0.7 to 0.8 million fruit-producing gingko trees and the annual production of kernels is 5 000 to 6 000 tonnes, the production of leaves amounts to 7 000 tonnes and the annual production of fleshy seed coats reaches 10 000 to 12 000 tonnes. About ¥1 500 million can be earned through the export of ginkgo products.

Pine needle powder is a supplementary forage for fowl and livestock. The cost of processing pine needle powder is about ¥2/kg. As of 1987, 19 provinces had produced and used needle powder forage. Sixty pine needle powder factories have been established, with an annual production of 15 000 tonnes. Pine needle ointment is also used as a forage for fowl. Pine needle ointment has been shown to cure diseases of the mouth. A factory has been set up in Xugou Forestry Bureau, Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province to produce pine needle ointment (Kunshan 1994).

Perfumes and cosmetics

China’s aromatic plant resources account for annual production of 20 000–30 000 tonnes of essential oils. There are 0.67 million ha of eucalyptus plantations in China. The annual production of eucalyptus oil is 4 500 tonnes, exports accounting for 2 580 tonnes.

Mountain spicy tree (Litsea cubeba) is an important aromatic oil plant that is distributed widely in almost all provinces. Most parts of the plant, including the root, stem, leaf, bark and fruit, contain aromatic oil. Especially useful is the fruit, from which aromatic oil (cubeba oil) can be obtained. It can be used directly as fragrant materials in soda drinks and beer, and indirectly for perfume, medicine, plastics, synthetic rubber, printing and food. The Yiyang Chemical Factory, Hunan Province has produced a variety of products from the oil with an annual production value of ¥8.5 million yuan. As the content of the oil is similar to that of coconut oil, it has been used in Hunan to replace the latter, saving a large amount of foreign exchange (Kunshan 1994).

Dyeing and tanning

In 1996 China produced 20 000 tonnes of tannins and further processed tannin products, and 22 000 tonnes of tannin extracts.

Utensils, handicrafts and construction materials

In China, over 460 species of fibre plants can be found in the forests. There are more than 40 species of palm and rattan plants in China. The area of natural rattan stands is about 0.3 million ha with annual production of 4 000 to 5 000 tonnes.

China is extremely rich in bamboo resources with 17 million ha of bamboo forests and over 500 species of bamboo. The area of bamboo plantations is estimated to be over 7 million ha with a commercial production of 97 million tonnes of bamboo. Annual production of bamboo poles ranges between 6 to 7 million tonnes, accounting for one-third of total world production. In 1992, export of bamboo poles amounted to 90 000 tonnes earning more than US$20 million. The total export value of all processed bamboo products from China in 1993 totaled over US$240 million and US$400 million in 1997.


Resin is among China’s most important NWFP. Resin is extracted from Pinus massoniana and P. elliottii; 1.6 million ha of coniferous forests in China are estimated to be available for resin production. China is the world’s largest resin producer with production of 580 000 tonnes and exports of 260 000 tonnes during 1997.

The provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian are major resin producers accounting for two-thirds of the total production of the country. Until 1997, there were more than 280 small- to medium-sized enterprises for resin production of which 20 had an annual production capacity of more than 5 000 tonnes. An estimated 300 000 people are employed in the resin sector.

Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolia) is an important oil tree species in northeast, north and northwest China. It has been introduced and cultivated in 14 provinces over a total area of about 50 000 ha. The annual production is about 3 750 tonnes (Kunshan 1994).

The tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) is an important woody oil plant in China, found in 15 provinces. It covers more than 200 000 ha with annual production of about 85 000 tonnes. The oil is extracted from the seeds. Its fat and pulp are important chemical materials which are used widely in soap, wax candles, paint, printing ink, wax paper, skin-protection lotions, metal-painting agents and others. The leaf contains tannin. The leaves and roots are used as medicinals. The bark is a source for tanning extracts and the flower is a nectar source. A small quantity is exported, mainly to Europe and the United States.

The tung oil tree (Aleurites fordii) is one of the major industrial oil tree species in China, occurring in 16 provinces of the south, with a total planted area of about 1.8 million ha and an annual production of 105 000 tonnes in 1989 (Kunshan 1994). The annual export volume is about 20 000 tonnes (Kunshan 1994).

Raw lacquer is made from the leaf liquid of the lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) and has strong absorptive and anti-corrosive qualities (Kunshan 1994). The lacquer tree is distributed over the provinces of Shaanxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Yunnan and Hunan, covering an area of about 500 000 ha. The annual production of raw lacquer is 2 750 tonnes. Raw lacquer is a traditional export of China. Between 1980 and 1986, the annual exports of raw lacquer averaged 300 tonnes. Japan, Hong Kong, Macao and the United Kingdom are the main importing countries. It earns about US$4 million per year (Kunshan 1994).


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