Non-timber forest products

The economic wealth of Canada’s forests has long been measured in terms of the trees used to make conventional forest products, notably softwood lumber, newsprint and wood pulp.

In fact, numerous forest-derived resources make a significant contribution to many rural communities and households across Canada through sales revenue and seasonal employment.

The wide array of NTFPs

Salal bouquet

Salal bouquet

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) refers to products of biological origin other than timber, derived from forests. The range of NTFPs is very diverse and includes those that are:

  • gathered from the wild, in either timber-productive or non-timber-productive forests and lands (e.g., mushrooms)
  • produced in forests under varying levels of management intensity (e.g., maple syrup)
  • produced in agroforestry systems (e.g., forest species such as wild ginseng planted as field crops)

Some NTFPs require little or no processing.

Types of NTFPs

  • Forest-based foods – These include maple syrup, wild blueberries, wild mushrooms and native understorey plants such as wild ginseng and fiddleheads. By-products of the forest industry can also be converted into prepared foods (e.g., lignin, a natural constituent of wood is used to make artificial vanilla).
  • Ornamental products from the forest – These include: horticultural species bred from wild species (such as cedars and maples); and decorative or artistic products such as Christmas trees and wreaths, fresh or dried floral greenery (e.g., salal), and specialty wood products and cravings.
  • Forest plant extracts used to make pharmaceuticals and personal care products – These include paclitaxel (commonly known by the trade name Taxol®), which is most often extracted from yews like the Canada yew (ground hemlock). Taxol is widely used as a chemotherapy agent. Other forest plant extracts, particularly conifer essential oils, are used in a wide range of creams and other personal care products.

The value of NTFPs to Canada's economy

  • Maple products represent a $354 million dollar industry in Canada. In 2009, the country produced over 41 million litres of maple products, including maple syrup. Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup.
  • More than 1.8 million Christmas trees were sold in Canada’s domestic and export markets in 2009. This seasonal industry is worth about $39 million annually.
  • Canada is the world’s largest producer of wild (low-bush) blueberries. It exported $207 million of fresh and frozen berries in 2014. Most wild blueberries are planted commercially in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces as field crops.

Canadian Forest Service research on NTFPs

Research by the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) on opportunities related to NTFPs has focused on treatments to increase the levels of paclitaxel and related compounds (taxanes) in Canada yew before harvesting. New methods to extract taxanes from Canada yew have also been researched.

As part of Forest 2020, the CFS also conducted research on other wood perennials that have medical uses. Those species include larch, willow and hawthorn.

Another focus of CFS research has been on the sustainable harvest and cultivation of forest-based foods, such as mushrooms and several wild berries.


Cameron, S.I.; Smith, R.F. 2008. Seasonal changes in the concentration of major taxanes in the biomass of wild Canada yew (Taxus canadensis Marsh.) Pharmaceutical Biology 46: 35-40.

Cameron, S.I.; Smith, R.F.; Kierstead, K.E. 2005. Research partnerships and the realities of bioproduct commercialization. Pharmaceutical Biology 43: 425-433.

Smith, R.F., Cameron, S.I., Letourneau, J., Livingstone, T., Livingstone, K., Sanderson, K. 2006. Assessing the effects of mulch, compost tea, and chemical fertilizer on soil microorganisms, early growth, biomass partitioning, and taxane levels in field-grown rooted cuttings of Canada yew (_Taxus canadensis_). Proc. 33rd Plant Growth Regulator Society of America Annual Conference, July 9-13, 2006, Quebec City QC. pp. 27-33.

Webster, L.; Smith, R.F.; Cameron, S.I.; Krasowski, M. 2005. Developing improved nursery culture for the production of rooted cuttings of Canada yew (Taxus canadensis Marsh.) Pages 95-100 in Proceedings: 32nd Plant Growth Regulator Society of America Annual Conference, July 24-27, 2005, Newport Beach, CA, USA. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Atlantic Forestry Centre, Fredericton, NB.

Yeates, L.D.; Smith, R.F.; Cameron, S.I.; Letourneau, J. 2005. Recommended procedures for rooting ground hemlock (Taxus canadensis) cuttings. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Atlantic Forestry Centre, Fredericton, N.B. Information Report M-X--M-X-219E.