Do you know where your herbs come from?Do you know why it matters?

How Sourcing Botanicals Impacts Product Quality November 25, 2021


Highlights from SHP/BAPP Webinar on Sourcing and Quality Below are key points from SHP Director Ann Armbrecht’s conversation with medicinal plant researchers Prof. Michael Heinrich, PhD, and Anthony Booker, PhD. Dr. Heinrich is Professor of Ethnopharmacology and Medicinal Plant Research (Pharmacognosy) at the UCL School of Pharmacy and Dr. Booker is Senior Lecturer in Chinese herbal medicine and medicinal plant science at the University of Westminster and Research Associate at UCL. The webinar focused on Heinrich and Booker’s research investigating the relationship between how herbs are grown, handled, and processed and the quality of the finished herbal products. Listen to other SHP Webinars here. Long Storage Contributes to Poor Quality In 2011/12, Dr. Booker spent about five months in India (as a part of his PhD funded by the Leverhulme Trust) researching the differences between vertically integrated value chains (VIVCs) of turmeric (Curcuma longa) and conventional supply chains where the turmeric is typically sold at auction. Farmers in the VIVC grew turmeric under contract with a producer company that then sold that turmeric to a supplement producing company, thus keeping the supply chain much shorter than when the turmeric was not sold under contract and offered for the highest price at auctions. He discovered that when the price was too low, the farmers would store the turmeric often in quite poor conditions (using pesticides and fungicides to preserve the material) sometimes for two or three years until the price went up. During that time, the active metabolites, especially the volatile ingredients, gradually disappeared. (The article discussing this research can be found here.) What is the Actual Expiration Date on Botanical Products? After this initial research on turmeric Drs. Booker and Heinrich conducted similar studies on Rhodiola rosea and, most recently, St. John’s Wort (with Dr. F. Scotti). They concluded that this same practice must apply to many different herbs. When the price goes up, everyone decides to plant that crop hoping to make a good profit. The next year, there’s a surplus from over planting, the market price goes down, the practice of storing the herb until the price goes up is common. Booker said, “When you buy something on the market with an expiration date, that date doesn’t necessarily take into account the two or three years, it’s been sitti