Innovation: a "Vertical Pharmacy" to cultivate plants with a high content of active ingredients


Creating a sort of Vertical Pharmacy to grow medicinal plants with a high content of active ingredients to manufacture drugs and supplements. This is the objective of a collaboration between ENEA and Idromeccanica Lucchini Spa, which uses the Vertical Farm as the perfect ecosystem to grow more nutritious and healthy food, in a controlled environment removed from pathogens and pollutants.

"The Vertical farm, driven by high technology,  fully automated  and equipped with LED lighting for soilless cultivation is the ideal environment to optimize plant growth, enhance its nutritional value and maximize yield, thanks to the high number of annual growing cycles compared to the single growth cycle in the field”, Gabriella Funaro, researcher at the ENEA Department Innovation and Development, explained.

Each storey of the vertical greenhouse features hydroponic [1] or aeroponic [2] cultivation systems, which require up to 95% less water than traditional farming, without soil and no pesticides and insecticides.

"In this case the idea was “to marry” the pharmaceutical field, as advocated by Idromeccanica Lucchini, focusing on the quality of the final product to enhance the unique characteristics of each plant", Funaro said.

Among the plants suitable for guaranteeing product quality with higher yields over time there are saffron, ideal for producing food supplements acting on depression and ocular diseases, and Siberian ginseng, a shrub extremely rich in energizers and stimulants used in nutraceuticals.

“Since 2014 Idromeccanica Lucchini has invested in the vertical farm, developing and improving crop cultivation technologies. From the first prototype of a vertical greenhouse in Italy, designed jointly with ENEA on the occasion of EXPO Milan 2015 to the project BoxXLand, the preliminary experiments on medicinal plants for pharmaceutical use were completed in 2020.

That’s what Cultipharm -a business model which brought our company to no longer sell just vertical farming technology but a whole integrated system- stemmed from. At Idromeccanica Lucchini, the future is already here ", Massimo Lucchini, CEO of the  homonymous  company, pointed out.

In Italy the production of medicinal plants has always been insufficient to fulfill the growing demands of consumers, who increasingly turn to natural treatments. The pharmaceutical industry that uses active ingredients derived from plants still relies heavily on foreign markets, whose supply chains are not always as controlled as the Italian or European ones.

“Producing plant essences employed in pharmaceutical compositions would guarantee that the products grown in the vertical pharmacy have market demand”, Funaro concluded.


For more information please contact, ENEA - Gabriella Funaro, Offer and Valorisation of Innovation Services Office,


[1] Soilless cultivation

[2] System similar to hydroponic but irrigated by water nebulization

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