DNA Barcoding detects Contamination and Substitution in North American herbal products

As herbal products are mostly unregulated you need to put in your due diligence to make sure you are buying from a reputable source.  As this late 2013 study indicates, the majority of the companies tested were not delivering as promised.

Usually your herbalist will have a good understanding of which sources of herbal products can be trusted.  Regulation may not be the solution as industry in general marginalizes herbal solutions.  Do not assume the herbs you buy at a health food store are of a good quality.  Do your homework.

The University of Guelph press release about the study: http://www.uoguelph.ca/news/2013/10/study_herbal_pr.html

The Study: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/222

From the press release:

The study, published today in the journal BMC Medicine, used DNA barcoding technology to test 44 herbal products sold by 12 companies. Only two of the companies provided authentic products without substitutions, contaminants or fillers. Overall, nearly 60 per cent of the herbal products contained plant species not listed on the label. Researchers detected product substitution in 32 per cent of the samples. More than 20 per cent of the products included fillers such as rice, soybeans and wheat not listed on the label.​

From the study:

Most of the herbal products tested were of poor quality, including considerable product substitution, contamination and use of fillers. These activities dilute the effectiveness of otherwise useful remedies, lowering the perceived value of all related products because of a lack of consumer confidence in them. We suggest that the herbal industry should embrace DNA barcoding for authenticating herbal products through testing of raw materials used in manufacturing products. The use of an SRM DNA herbal barcode library for testing bulk materials could provide a method for ‘best practices? in the manufacturing of herbal products. This would provide consumers with safe, high quality herbal products.

Discuss this post on our discussion forums.

Adaptogens Questioned


Very simply, adaptogens are nontoxic, produce a nonspecific defensive response to stress and have a normalizing influence on the body. As defined, adaptogens constitute a new class of natural, homeostatic metabolic regulator. — David Winston and Steven Maimes

Paul Bergner has a very interesting slide presentation titled the Dark Side of Adaptogens.  Unfortunately this paper does not appear to be available online anymore, but it still available as part of the Fatigue: Pathophysiology, Natural Therapeutics, and Adaptogens course.

The subtitle to this talk on the Dark Side of Adaptogens is “How the indiscriminate use of tonic herbs can promote burnout and deep injury to the endocrine system”.

One of the parts I found most interesting about this talk was questioning the need for an adaptogenic approach when tonic herbs already have a well defined role within the traditional systems of health.  Tonic herbs are used in very careful ways at the appropriate times with the appropriate indications.  The modern usage of adaptogens as a silver bullet, in isolation, and without a holistic consideration or the backing of a well assessed health restoration plan can do more harm than good.

Tonifying herbs strengthen the processes of the body, including the pathogenic processes. Thus tonifying herbs should not be prescribed in cases where there are still signs of an exterior disorder. If they are, the exterior disorder will linger on. — Bensky and Gamble (Chinese Materia Medica)

We have a thread started on our discussion forums to discuss adaptogens.

Cayenne Pepper Roundup


We started a forum post on Cayenne that includes links to excellent articles by Todd Caldecott and Michael Tierra as well as other sources.

Not a tonic or immunostimulant, it [cayenne] acts as a peripheral vasodilator, increasing blood supply to the skin and mucosa. It is NOT appropriate for active inflammation. — Michael Moore (Herbal Medical Contradictions)