Our Holiday Favorite Spice: Cinnamon

Most of us think of spices as incidental to our diets, but perhaps it’s time to update our appreciation of these flavorful, and powerfully health-promoting, seasonings.

Spices are defined as any “aromatic vegetable substance.” The keyword is a vegetable. Derived from “vegetables” in the form of tree bark {cinnamon}, seed {nutmeg}, or fruit {peppercorns}, spices have potent anticancer, anti-inflammatory and other health-promoting effects that are daily being confirmed by researchers. Indeed, the following spices have been identified b the National Cancer Institute as having cancer-preventive properties: sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, turmeric, caraway, anise, coriander, cumin and tarragon. In one comparison of antioxidant power from the Agricultural Research Center, the compounds of oregano rank higher than vitamin E.

Spices also make major contributions to our health by allowing us to reduce the amounts of salt, sugar and fat in our foods.

We’ve chosen cinnamon as a super-spice because of its general popularity and usefulness.

Cinnamon is welcome all year round, but its special scent is a particular treat in the winter months. What could be more welcome and delicious than a warm mug of apple cider sprinkled with cinnamon or a cinnamon baked apple with crushed nuts on a cold snowy day? It’s exciting to learn that cinnamon has actual health benefits.


Cinnamon, that delightful spice eliciting memories of Grandma’s kitchen and the comforts of home, is actually more than a delicious addition to foods. One of the oldest spices known and long used in traditional medicine, cinnamon is currently being studied for its beneficial effects on a variety of ailments. Recent findings on the power of cinnamon to promote health, in particular, its benefits for people with type ll diabetes, have elevated it to the special status of a super-spice.

cinnamon two types

Cinnamon comes from the interior bark of evergreen trees that are native to Asia. The type we most commonly see in the supermarkets is cassia cinnamon {Cinnamomum cassia}. Known as Chinese cinnamon, it has the sweetly spiced flavor we’re familiar with. Varieties of Chinese cinnamon come from China and northern Vietnam. There’s also Ceylon, or “true,” cinnamon [Cinnamomum zeylanicum}, which is sweeter with a more complex, citrus flavor. Both types of cinnamon are available in sticks {“quills”} or ground.

Cinnamon and your Health:

Today, we’re in the process of learning about the power of cinnamon to affect health, and once you appreciate the special qualities of this mighty spice, I’m sure you’ll be eager to use it more frequently.

Perhaps the most exciting recent discovery concerning cinnamon is its effect on blood glucose levels as well as on triglyceride and cholesterol levels, all which could benefit people suffering from type ll diabetes.

In one study of 60 patients with type ll diabetes, it was found that after only 40 days of taking about one-half teaspoon of cinnamon daily, fasting serum glucose levels were lowered by 18 to 29 percent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 percent, low-density lipoproteins {LDL} by 7 to 27 percent and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent. It’s not yet clear whether less than one-half teaspoon a day would be effective. It’s particularly interesting that the effects of the cinnamon lasted for 20 days following the end of the study, leading to speculation that one wouldn’t have to eat cinnamon every day to enjoy its benefits. This is great news for all of us and points out once again the benefits of a varied diet of whole foods and spices. The cinnamon – and perhaps other spices and certainly many foods – that you’re eating today are affecting your health into the future.

Cinnamon, by its insulin-enhancing properties, is not the only spice to show a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Cloves, bay leaves, and turmeric also show beneficial effects.

In addition to being a glucose moderator, cinnamon is recognized as being antibacterial. The essential oils in cinnamon are able to stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the common yeast CandidaIn one interesting study, a few drops of cinnamon essential oil in about 3 ounces of carrot broth inhibited the growth of bacteria for at least 60 days. By contrast, bacteria flourished in the broth with no cinnamon oil. Cinnamon has also been shown to be effective in fighting the E. coli bacterium.

A recent fascinating study found that just smelling cinnamon increased the subjects’ cognitive ability and actually functioned as a kind of “brain boost.” Future testing will reveal whether this power of cinnamon can be harnessed to prevent cognitive decline or sharpen cognitive performance.

Cinnamon in Your Life:

cinnamon-leafWhat does this exciting news on cinnamon mean to you? While it may not be practical to eat cinnamon on a daily basis, try to incorporate it into dishes when appropriate. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, make a special effort to increase your cinnamon consumption.

Almost everyone is a fan of cinnamon, but we may need a little inspiration to get cinnamon into our diets more frequently. A dash of cinnamon in applesauce, pumpkin smoothies, and pumpkin pudding, and other foods is a delightful treat.

  • For a healthy dessert, sprinkle cinnamon, a few raisins and walnuts, and a bit of honey, if desired, on a cored apple and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until soft.
  • Make cinnamon toast. Drizzle some honey and sprinkle some cinnamon on toasted whole grain bread.
  • Simmer, don’t boil, milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and a cinnamon stick for a few minutes. Drink the warm milk with a bit of added honey or pour over hot oatmeal.
  • Combine one teaspoon cinnamon with two tablespoons honey and one cup yogurt. Serve as a dip for sliced fruit or as a dressing for fruit salad. Spoon a dollop on top of hot oatmeal, whole-grain pancakes, waffles or granola.
  • Combine equal parts of cinnamon and cocoa. Sprinkle on yogurt and fruit slices.
  • Combine one tablespoon or more ground cinnamon with one-half cup sesame seeds, one-quarter cup golden flaxseeds and one-quarter cup ground flaxseed meal. Use as a topping on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, grapefruit halves or cantaloupe. Whole flaxseeds add crunch and fiber, though you get more of the nutritional value from ground flaxseeds.
  • Try to buy organically grown cinnamon, as it is less likely to have been irradiated. We know that irradiating cinnamon may lead to a decrease in its vitamin C and carotenoid content.

An Extra Pinch of Cinnamon: How Cinnamon Can Help You to Burn Holiday Fat!

As you make that pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, consider adding an extra pinch of cinnamon; a study shows that cinnamaldehyde, the organic compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, helps you to burn fat.
Cinnamon is a common holiday spice with surprising fat-burning properties, new research suggests.

Pumpkin pie, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and eggnog — these are just a handful of the foods and drinks that make the holidays such a truly delicious time.

But if you’re worried that such yummy treats could make you pack on the extra pounds, worry no more! These enticing foods also contain cinnamon, and new research bears some good news: the common holiday spice could help you to burn fat.

The new study comes from the University of Michigan (UM) Life Sciences Institute (LSI) in Ann Arbor, and the research was led by Jun Wu, a research assistant professor at the LSI and an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the UM Medical School.

Wu and colleagues set out to examine the effect of cinnamaldehyde on human fat cells. Speaking about the motivation for her study, Wu says, “Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism.”

Previous studies in mice had already shown that cinnamaldehyde helps to fight off obesity and hyperglycemia. “So,” Wu continues, “we wanted to figure out how — what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice, and what it looked like in human cells.”

To do this, the researchers treated adipocytes, or fat cells, from both mice and humans with the compound. Their findings were published in the journal Metabolism.

Cinnamon triggers fat-burning process

The experiments revealed that cinnamaldehyde has a direct effect on fat cells. In a process known as thermogenesis, the compound makes the adipocytes start burning the fat that they had been storing.

Adipocytes store lipids, which can then be burned for energy. The cells evolved to help our bodies use energy resources effectively during times when such resources might be scarce, such as through a cold winter or famine.

“It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution, the opposite — energy deficiency — has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn’t need it,” Wu explains.

Getting the body to turn the energy-consuming process, or thermogenesis, back on has been the focus of recent research, especially in light of the so-called obesity epidemic.

The study authors think that cinnamon might be one such way to turn thermogenesis on. In their research, they found a higher expression of certain genes and enzymes that boost lipid metabolism in the adipocytes treated with cinnamaldehyde.

Additionally, they found a higher level of Ucp1 and Fgf21, which are regulatory proteins that help to induce thermogenesis.

Cinnamon may be better than drugs

In the study paper, Wu and team conclude, “Given the wide usage of cinnamon in the food industry, the notion that this popular food additive, instead of a drug, may activate thermogenesis, could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies against obesity that are much better adhered to by participants.”

The lead researcher emphasizes this conclusion.

Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it […] So if it can help protect against obesity, too, it may offer an approach to metabolic health that is easier for patients to adhere to.”

Jun Wu

So, this holiday season, we’re probably safe to add a bit more cinnamon — but not a massive amount — to our festive food.

The researchers caution that more research is needed to figure out the perfect way to use cinnamaldehyde to trigger thermogenesis without causing any side effects.

Antioxidant Content and Activity of Untreated and Processed Guayusa Tea

Guayusa (Ilex guayusa, Aquifoliaceae) is an evergreen tree native to South America with a long history of use by the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Traditionally, the twigs and leaves are infused in hot water to create a beverage. A distant relative of yerba maté (I. paraguariensis), this plant is a source of caffeine and is used as a pain reliever. The increasing commercial use of guayusa has led to more interest in its health benefits. The aim of this study was to characterize the phenolic and carotenoid content, as well as the antioxidant activity, of both untreated (green) and processed (blanched or fermented) guayusa.

Guayusa leaves were collected in Pastaza, Ecuador. Both green untreated and processed leaves were provided by the RUNA Foundation (the nonprofit arm of RUNA LLC, a beverage company that processes and sells guayusa; Archidona, Napo, Ecuador). The untreated and processed leaves were freeze-dried and made into separate powders. Blanching and fermentation of guayusa leaves were conducted at the manufacturing plant of the RUNA Foundation, following the standard protocols of the company. The leaf powders were extracted with alcohol-based solvents and assessed for total phenolic content (TPC), phenolic composition, carotenoid composition, and antioxidant capacity by chromatographic or biochemical assay techniques.

A total of 14 phenolic compounds were identified from all sources, nine of which were hydroxycinnamic acids or derivatives (neochlorogenic acid, chlorogenic acid, isochlorogenic acid, five other caffeoyl derivatives, and feruloylquinic acid), and five of which were flavonoids (four quercetin derivatives and one kaempferol derivative). Out of the hydroxycinnamic compounds, chlorogenic acid was the most abundant compound (24.10 mg/g DW [dry weight]). This concentration was similar or higher in comparison to maté and other Ilexspp., but lower than green coffee (Coffea spp., Rubiaceae). In terms of the flavonoids, the flavonol glycoside quercetin-3-O-hexose was the most abundant compound. The flavonol concentration of guayusa (11 mg/g DW) was around two, 20, and 28 times higher than described for yerba maté, other Ilex spp., and tea (Camellia sinensis, Theaceae), respectively.

Industrial processing (blanching or fermentation) did not alter the phenolic profile but did alter phenolic concentrations. As with the unprocessed green leaves, chlorogenic acid was the major phenolic compound found in the blanched samples, while isochlorogenic acid was the most abundant compound in the fermented samples. The TPC of the leaves without industrial processing was 54.86 mg gallic acid equivalents (GAE)/g DW. This is reportedly higher than yerba maté, but lower than green and black tea TPC. Blanching the guayusa leaves resulted in a significant increase in TPC (48.5%, 106.62 ± 4.41; P < 0.05), a concentration that is higher than what has been reported in maté and green and black tea. Fermentation resulted in no significant change in TPC compared to the unprocessed guayusa leaves.

A total of five carotenoid compounds were detected in the green and processed guayusa samples (α- and β-carotene, lutein, and violaxanthin + neoxanthin). In the unprocessed leaves, the concentrations of α-carotene and violaxanthin were higher compared to other teas, but β-carotene and lutein were about the same. There were no significant differences between the total carotenoids of unprocessed and processed leaves, but significantly more total carotenoids were found in the blanched guayusa vs. the fermented guayusa (P < 0.05). Higher contents of β-carotene and lutein were found in the blanched leaves compared to the green untreated leaves (305.39% and 141.52% more, respectively), but there were lower concentrations of α-carotene and violaxanthin + neoxanthin (55.27% and 22.38% less, respectively) (P < 0.05). Fermenting guayusa leaves had no significant effects on the concentrations of β-carotene and lutein. Overall, the results indicated that violaxanthin + neoxanthin was the most easily degraded carotenoid by industrial processing, with 77.6% and 92.5% lost after blanching and fermentation, respectively. Similar effects were seen for other teas.

Guayusa green leaves and blanched leaves had the highest antioxidant activity. The antioxidant activity of the green leaves (2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl [DPPH] assay: 32.98 mM Trolox/100 g DW; oxygen radical absorbance capacity [ORAC] assay: 154.03 mM Trolox/100 g DW) was similar to other studies on this plant species, yerba maté, and tea. The polyphenol and carotenoid content indicated there was a positive and direct correlation with antioxidant capacity, especially with the ORAC assay.

The authors conclude that guayusa has similar antioxidants and activity as yerba maté and tea and that blanching produces the highest concentration of polyphenols, as well as specific carotenoids. It would be interesting if this study also assessed hot water extracts of the tea rather than alcohol extracts since guayusa is often consumed as a hot water infusion. As the authors suggest, more studies are warranted that investigate the content and bioavailability of the bioactive compounds of guayusa to better understand the health benefits of this plant species.


García-Ruiz A, Baenas N, Benítez-González AM, et al. Guayusa (Ilex guayusa L.) new tea: phenolic and carotenoid composition and antioxidant capacity. J Sci Food Agric. September 2017;97(12):3929-3936.

Health Benefits of Moringa

Moringa oleifera is a plant, which is often called the drumstick tree, the miracle tree, the ben oil tree, or the horseradish tree.

Moringa has been used for centuries due to its medicinal properties and health benefits and has antifungal, antiviral, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Facts on Moringa:

  • The tree is native to India but also grows in Asia, Africa, and South America.
  • Moringa contains a variety of proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Moringa oleifera has few known side effects.
  • People taking medication should consult a doctor before taking moringa extract.

What is in Moringa?

Moringa oleifera
Moringa has medicinal properties and contains many healthful compounds.

Moringa contains many healthful compounds such as:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin), B-6
  • folate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • zinc

It is also extremely low in fats and contains no harmful cholesterol.

What are the benefits?

Moringa is believed to have many benefits and its uses range from health and beauty to helping prevent and cure diseases. The benefits of moringa include:

1. Protecting and nourishing skin and hair

Moringa seed oil is beneficial for protecting hair against free radicals and keeps it clean and healthy. Moringa also contains protein, which means it is helpful in protecting skin cells from damage. It also contains hydrating and detoxifying elements, which also boost the skin and hair.

It can be successful in curing skin infections and sores.

2. Treating edema

Edema is a painful condition where fluid builds up in specific tissues in the body. The anti-inflammatory properties of moringa may be effective in preventing edema from developing.

3. Protecting the liver

Moringa appears to protect the liver against damage caused by anti-tubercular drugs and can quicken its repair process.

4. Preventing and treating cancer

Moringa extracts contain properties that might help prevent cancer developing. It also contains niazimicin, which is a compound that suppresses the development of cancer cells.

5. Treating stomach complaints

Moringa extracts might help treat some stomach disorders, such as constipation, gastritis, and ulcerative colitis. The antibiotic and antibacterial properties of moringa may help inhibit the growth of various pathogens, and its high vitamin B content helps with digestion.

6. Fighting against antibacterial diseases

Due to it’s antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, moringa extracts might combat infections caused by SalmonellaRhizopus, and E. coli.

7. Making bones healthier

Moringa also contains calcium and phosphorous, which help keep bones healthy and strong. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties moringa extract might help to treat conditions such as arthritis and may also heal damaged bones.

8. Treating mood disorders

Moringa is thought to be helpful in treating depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

9. Protecting the cardiovascular system

The powerful antioxidants found in Moringa extract might help prevent cardiac damage and has also been shown to maintain a healthy heart.

10. Helping wounds to heal

Extract of moringa has been shown to help wounds close as well as reduce the appearance of scars.

11. Treating diabetes

Moringa helps to reduce the amount of glucose in the blood, as well as sugar and protein in the urine. This improved the hemoglobin levels and overall protein content in those tested.

12. Treating asthma

Moringa may help reduce the severity of some asthma attacks and protect against bronchial constrictions. It has also been shown to assist with better lung function and breathing overall.

13. Protecting against kidney disorders

People may be less likely to develop stones in the kidneys, bladder or uterus if they ingest moringa extract. Moringa contains high levels of antioxidants that might aid toxicity levels in the kidneys.

14. Reducing high blood pressure

Moringa contains isothiocyanate and niaziminin, compounds that help to stop arteries from thickening, which can cause blood pressure to rise.

15. Improving eye health

Moringa contains eyesight-improving properties thanks to its high antioxidant levels. Moringa may stop the dilation of retinal vessels, prevent the thickening of capillary membranes, and inhibit retinal dysfunction.

16. Treating anemia and sickle cell disease

Moringa might help a person’s body absorb more iron, therefore increasing their red blood cell count. It is thought the plant extract is very helpful in treating and preventing anemia and sickle cell disease.

Side effects

Moringa plant dried and powder
Although Moringa may have very few reported side effects, a healthcare professional should be consulted before it is taken.

Anyone considering using moringa is advised to discuss it with a doctor first.

Moringa may possess anti-fertility qualities and is therefore not recommended for pregnant women.

There have been very few side effects reported.

People should always read the label on the extract and follow dosage instructions.

Risks with existing medications

Some of the medications to be particularly aware of are:

  • Levothyroxine: Used to combat thyroid problems. Compounds in the moringa leaf may aid the thyroid function, but people should not take it in combination with other thyroid medication.
  • Any medications that might be broken down by the liver: Moringa extract may decrease how quickly this happens, which could lead to various side effects or complications.
  • Diabetes medications: Diabetes medications are used to lower blood sugar, which moringa also does effectively. It is vital to ensure blood sugar levels do not get too low.
  • High blood pressure medication: Moringa has shown to be effective at lowering blood pressure. Taking moringa alongside other drugs that lower your blood pressure may result in it becoming too low.

Can it aid weight loss?

Evidence has shown that moringa extract can be effective in reducing and controlling weight gain in mice. Its high vitamin B content helps with smooth and efficient digestion and can assist the body when converting food into energy, as opposed to storing it as fat.

Moringa is thought of:

  • reduce weight gain
  • help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • prevent inflammation
  • help the body convert fats into energy
  • reduce fatigue and improve energy levels

What are the studies saying?

 Like all supplements, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor moringa so there might be concerns about purity or quality. It is essential to understand the validity of the claims made by the manufacturers, whether it is safe to use, and what potential side effects there may be.

There is plenty of recent research to back up the benefits as stated above, though many of the studies are still in the preliminary stages or the tests have only taken place on animals as opposed to humans, so there is plenty more to be done.

Health Benefits of Organic Greater Celandine

Chelidonium majus, or greater celandine, has a long history of use in many European countries. Ancient Greeks, Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides all called celandine an effective detoxifying agent. The Romans used celandine as a blood cleanser. The French herbalist Maurice Mességué cited celandine tea for help with liver problems.

Its use also extends to traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s become an important part of western phytotherapy. Extracts of greater celandine have exhibited a broad spectrum of toxicity to harmful organisms as well as liver protecting activity. This has led to the inclusion of greater celandine in liver and gallbladder cleansing and support protocols.

Benefits of Greater Celandine

Greater celandine extract has strong antioxidant potential, specifically from the alkaloid and flavonoid components. The greatest content of the beneficial alkaloids has been found in the root, sometimes achieving 2-3% concentrations. This has prompted greater celandine to be included in preparations designed to support the biliary tract and liver, such as Livatrex®, our enhanced blend of herbs that help detoxify and support the normal function of the liver and gallbladder.

Greater celandine extract has been shown to support bile production. Extra bile helps the body’s digestion processes perform more effectively, specifically by breaking down fat and facilitating toxin removal.

Greater celandine contains chelidonic acid, which has been found to relieve discomfort and be aggressive against certain harmful organisms. In one study, chelidonic acid was found to temper indications of ulcerative colitis and provided the foreground for examination into greater celandine’s therapeutic role in relieving other intestinal irritation.

Defense Against Harmful Organisms

The School of Stomatology at China Medical University studied the effects of greater celandine extract on streptococcus; researchers noted significant activity against harmful organisms. The University of Milan in Italy also found greater celandine extracts and isolated compounds to exhibit significant activity against harmful organisms.

The Department of Tropical and Subtropical Crops at Czech University in the Czech Republic tested the activity of extracts from 16 Siberian plants against five species of microorganisms. Greater celandine was among the five plants shown to have the highest activity.


The preliminary reports really provide a positive glimpse into the potential for greater celandine. As always, consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplement, especially if a history of liver disease exists in your family. A few reports have been passed around of some people experiencing liver problems as a result of very large amounts; however, these reports are anecdotal. Regardless, if you’re pregnant or nursing, avoid greater celandine for the time being.

Use of Stinging Nettle Extract Helps Improve Fasting Glucose, Hepatic Enzyme, and Inflammatory Markers in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus remains one of the most common diseases. One of its signs, hyperglycemia, is a major predisposing factor for oxidative stress, as it disrupts the natural equilibrium that protects the body from tissue-damaging effects of free radicals. In patients with diabetes mellitus, oxidative stress can lead to microvascular and macrovascular complications precipitated by the disequilibrium between antioxidant enzymes and free radicals. In traditional Iranian medicine, stinging nettle (common nettle; Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) is used for its hypoglycemic and anti-inflammatory properties. This randomized, double-blind, clinical trial evaluated the effects of a hydro-alcoholic extract of stinging nettle on blood lipids, hepatic enzymes, and nitric oxide levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Recruited from February 2014 to May 2014, 50 women with type 2 diabetes who attended the Diabetes Society of Shahroud affiliated with Shahroud University of Medical Sciences in Shahroud, Iran, were included in the study. The women were older than 50 years, had glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels ≤10% and triglyceride levels <400 mg/dL, and were using the diabetes medications metformin or glibenclamide. Those who had cardiovascular, liver or kidney disease, allergies, or who regularly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), warfarin, alcohol, or insulin injections were excluded.

The women were randomly assigned into 2 groups of 25 each and were to receive either 5 mL hydro-alcoholic extract of stinging nettle or a placebo of water, alcohol, and chlorophyll color 3 times daily after each meal for 8 weeks. Both treatments were placed as liquids in bottles of identical appearance. The hydro-alcoholic extract of stinging nettle and placebo were prepared by Giah Essence Company (Gorgan, Golestan, Iran). The patients were instructed to consume each portion dissolved in 1 glass of water and to complete a 24-hour dietary recall for 3 days (2 weekdays and 1 weekend day) at baseline and at the end of the study. The study investigators contacted each patient weekly for any reports of adverse effects, including nausea and reflux, along with the signs and symptoms of interactions with pharmacological medications.

Of the 25 patients in the nettle group, 1 withdrew voluntarily; in the placebo group, 2 discontinued the study because of a lack of efficacy. A total of 47 patients completed the study, with 24 patients in the nettle group and 23 patients in the placebo group. [Note: This is according to the study flowchart in Figure 1. There are discrepancies among the article text, Table 1, and Figure 1. The article text states that 48 patients completed the study, with 24 patients in each group; Table 1 has n=23 for the nettle group and n=24 for the placebo group.]

No significant between-group differences were seen at baseline in demographic and biochemical characteristics. At the end of 8 weeks of treatment, significant decreases were seen in fasting plasma glucose (P<0.01) and triglyceride levels (P<0.05) in the nettle group compared with the placebo group. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels increased significantly in the nettle group compared with the placebo group (P<0.05), which recorded decreased levels. No significant between-group differences were seen in changes in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. The effects on fasting blood sugar were thought to be due to stinging nettle’s inhibitory effects on alpha-glucosidase, resulting in lower blood sugar.

The determination of hepatic enzyme levels revealed significantly lower levels of serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase in the nettle group compared with the placebo group at the end of 8 weeks (P<0.05 in Figure 3; P<0.001 in the article text), but no significant between-group differences in changes in serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase levels. Increases in antioxidant levels were significantly greater in the nettle group compared with the placebo group after 8 weeks (for nitric oxide, P<0.01 in Figure 4 [P<0.001 in the article text]; for superoxide dismutase, P<0.05 in Figure 4 [P<0.001 in the article text]). In the placebo group, superoxide dismutase levels decreased during the trial.

This study was limited by its small sample size, lack of complete control of diet and exercise of the patients, and the short duration, which may have ruled out additional beneficial effects or adverse effects seen later with the nettle treatment.

In earlier studies, stinging nettle has been shown to cause antidiabetic and blood glucose-reducing effects and exert antihyperlipidemic and antihyperglycemic activities in type 2 diabetic rats. Another study concluded that common nettle protects against oxidative stress in hyperglycemic rats.

“Our results showed that hydro-alcoholic extract of U. dioica is an interesting source of bioactive compounds and may decrease the diabetes-related risk factors of cardiovascular incidence and other complications in patients with diabetes mellitus,” the authors conclude.


Amiri Behzadi A, Kalalian-Moghaddam H, Ahmadi AH. Effects of Urtica dioica supplementation on blood lipids, hepatic enzymes and nitric oxide levels in type 2 diabetic patients: a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016;6(6):686-695.


Potential of Wild Egyptian Artichoke for Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common chronic bloodborne infection. There are 7 major HCV genotypes (1-7), which vary regionally. Water extracts of wild Egyptian artichoke (wild cardoon; Cynara cardunculus var. sylvestris, Asteraceae) (WEA) leaves are used traditionally in Egypt for their choleretic (increasing bile secretion) and hepatoprotective (liver-protective) effects. In addition, 2 sesquiterpene lactones (cynaropicrin and grosheimol) isolated from WEA leaves can inhibit HCV infection in vitro. However, one study evaluating an artichoke extract, Hepar SL forte® (Sertürner Arzneimittel GmbH; Gütersloh, Germany), in 17 patients with HCV reported no benefit. The purpose of this study was to determine whether WEA leaf extract is active against HCV and to identify the bioactive chemicals.

The WEA leaves used in this study were collected in Sinai, Egypt, in October 2011. The leaves were freeze-dried, powdered, and put into 1.5-g packets for infusion as a tea. The tea was made by steeping in boiling water for 7 minutes. For analytical analysis, the leaves were boiled in water and freeze-dried to create the extract.

Clinical Investigation

Patients (n = 15; average age, 51 years) with serological-confirmed HCV participated in this pilot study conducted at Mansoura University; Mansoura, Egypt. In addition, 5 non-infected people served as controls. Excluded subjects met the following criteria: therapy with an interferon within the last 6 months prior to the start of the study, chronic hepatitis B co-infection, liver cirrhosis Child B or C, pregnancy or breastfeeding, and/or other serious health conditions. Included patients drank the WEA tea infusion 3x/day for 3 months. The primary outcome was the rate of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) normalization after 3 months. Secondary outcomes included changes in ALT, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and bilirubin levels; quantitative HCV RNA levels; subjective symptoms frequently associated with chronic hepatitis C (anorexia, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, nausea, and weight loss); safety; tolerability; and compliance. Blood was drawn for analysis at baseline and at 1, 2, and 3 months, then again at 6 months after stopping WEA therapy.

The levels of AST and ALT correlated with the degree of cellular liver injury. At 3 months, 12 patients were HCV-free and had normal AST and ALT levels. There was a linear decrease in ALT and AST levels over time; there was no change in AST or ALT levels in the control subjects. The only reported adverse event was “pseudo-arthritis,” which occurred in 6 of 20 participants (4 patients with HCV and 2 control subjects), and disappeared when the treatment ended. Excellent tolerability was reported by 80% of participants. Symptoms of HCV infections improved at 2 months. These findings contradict the findings with Hepar SL forte.

Analytical Analysis

Since the clinical findings with WEA differed from the findings with Hepar SL forte, the authors hypothesized that may be due to the artichoke variety (wild Egyptian vs. German). The authors used ultra-performance liquid chromatography with electrospray ionization quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UPLC/ESI-QTOF-MS) to quantitate the differences in their composition. The analysis revealed 57 metabolites in the WEA, including flavonoids (n = 8), hydroxy cinnamates (phenolic acids, n = 11), saponins (n = 6), sesquiterpenes (n = 6), oxylipids (n = 2), and organic acids (n = 5). The Hepar SL forte had a completely different metabolite profile pattern. They both had a different amount of grosheimol derivatives, which has been shown to inhibit HCV. Both extracts had similar levels of cynaropicrin. Orthogonal projection to latent structure-discriminant analysis (OPLS-DA) produced similar results.

Interaction with Drug-metabolizing Enzymes

Human liver samples of 10 Caucasian male and female donors were obtained from the University Hospital of Oulu; Oulu, Finland. The effects of WEA on cytochrome P450 (CYP) liver enzymes were evaluated. WEA strongly inhibited CYP2D6 and CYP2C19, and moderately inhibited CYP1A2, CYP2D6, CYP2E1, and CYP3A4. This indicates a possibility for herb-drug interactions in this population, and that WEA may alter the metabolism of certain drugs. Studies are needed to investigate other populations.

The authors conclude that both WEA and German artichoke extracts had different genotypes, and the WEA UPLC-MS fingerprint was unique. These differences could be attributed to the geographical origin, storage, harvesting time, or seasonal variation and need to be investigated further. The preliminary clinical findings of WEA on HCV are promising. The study needs to be repeated in a larger population.

Funding for the study was provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn, Germany) and the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), Ministry of Scientific Research (Cairo, Egypt).


Elsebai MF, Abass K, Hakkola J, Atawia AR, Farag MA. The wild Egyptian artichoke as a promising functional food for the treatment of hepatitis C virus as revealed via UPLC-MS and clinical trials. Food Funct. 2016;7(7):3006-3016.

American Botanical Council Publishes Online Version of The Identification of Medicinal Plants Book

Online access to identification book provides new quality control resource for herb industry

AUSTIN, Texas (October 19, 2017) — The American Botanical Council (ABC) announces a new benefit for its members around the world: the online publication of The Identification of Medicinal Plants: A Handbook of the Morphology of Botanicals in Commerce, a manual that addresses the macroscopic assessment of 124 medicinal plants used in North America and Europe.

The book was originally co-published in 2006 by ABC with the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. It was written by Wendy Applequist, PhD, associate curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center, and illustrated with botanically accurate black-and-white line drawings by artist Barbara Alongi.

Accurate identification of the correct genus and species of botanical raw materials is the first step in quality control of botanical preparations. While several methods of identification are addressed in the introduction — including macroscopic taxonomic identification, microscopy of plant cells, chemical analysis of plant constituents, and molecular analysis of the plant’s DNA — it is Applequist’s opinion that macroscopic analysis of whole plants and plant parts (when possible) is often a preferred method of species identification because it is quick and relatively inexpensive.

The drawings by Alongi emphasize various morphological features of plant parts to aid in the identification process. In some cases (e.g., to estimate the actual size of a plant part, or to illustrate small details), such drawings can be more useful than actual photographs.

“ABC is pleased to be able to make this important book available to its members, particularly those in academic analytical research and in the herb industry,” noted ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “Because many botanical raw materials used in the current herb industry are either cut plant parts (e.g., for use as teas) or powders (to be made into capsules or tablets), many companies never receive and process whole plants or whole plant parts. In such cases, microscopy, chemical analysis, and/or genetic (DNA) testing are required analytical methods. But for growers, wildcrafters, collectors, processors, and others who deal with whole plants and their whole parts, this manual is a highly valuable quality control resource.”

Part 1 of the text provides a succinct discussion of the main morphological features of medicinal plants; practical plant identification, including necessary tools and how to deal with dried plant materials; botanical nomenclature and its importance in the identification process; and a description of the format of the botanical entries included in the book.

Part 2 provides a detailed macroscopic description of each of the 124 plants included. Ordered alphabetically by Latin binomial, each entry includes the standardized common name per the American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce, 2nd edition, other common names, family, a brief taxonomic representation, plant parts in commerce, a description of the plant and key morphological characteristics, organoleptic characteristics such as taste and odor, information on potential adulteration, references, and botanical illustrations. Each plant entry a downloadable PDF for ease of use.

“Morphological identification of unprocessed botanicals, when it is feasible, is the most rigorous possible form of authentication and the lowest-cost and quickest,” said Applequist. “I hope that ABC’s making this work available online will help to encourage people who work with herbs to develop the skill of old-fashioned botanical identification.”

Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC’s chief science officer, added: “Macroscopic identification is an essential step in the identification of whole or cut crude herbal materials. Visual inspection not only helps to authenticate the material, but it also enables the detection of excess amounts of foreign matter such as dirt or sand, and improperly handled material that is rotten or filthy. Resources that help with the training and education of analysts in macroscopic analysis are scarce, and, as such, this is a very valuable book and one of the few texts in which information on macroscopic identification of many commercial botanical ingredients is gathered in one place.”

An appendix contains general references, a glossary that defines botanical terms, and illustrations of common leaf and flower characteristics. Finally, an index is included to facilitate easy access to the materials.

The Identification of Medicinal Plants will be available online to ABC members at the Professional level and above effective October 20, 2017. To become an ABC Member or upgrade membership levels, visit ABC’s membership page or call 512-926-4900.

Hops Extract Improves Anxiety, Depression, and Stress Symptoms in Healthy Young Adults

The female inflorescence of hops (Humulus lupulus, Cannabaceae) is used traditionally to treat insomnia, excitability, and restlessness. The German Commission E approved the use of hops for sleep disturbances and mood disorders such as anxiety and restlessness; however, according to the authors, there is a lack of high-quality, placebo-controlled studies evaluating the efficacy of hops in reducing stress-related symptoms. Hence, the purpose of this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study was to assess the effects of the commercially available hops dry extract on depression, anxiety, and stress levels in healthy young adults.

Healthy students (n = 42, aged > 18 years) attending Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, with at least mild self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress according to the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21) participated in the trial (study dates not reported). Exclusion criteria were any systemic disease (e.g., neurological or psychiatric disorders, including clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression) or systemic treatment (e.g., sedatives, antidepressants, or supplements), changes in body weight > 3% of total body weight within the past 2 months, changes in physical activity levels within the past 2 months, and drug and/or alcohol use disorders.

Subjects were treated with either 400 mg/day hops dry extract (Melcalin® HOPs; Biotekna Srl; Marcon, Venice, Italy) or placebo (not described; Biotekna Srl) for 4 weeks and then were crossed over to the alternate treatment after a 2-week washout period. Subjects were asked to abstain from consuming products containing hops (i.e., beer), taking other supplements/vitamins (i.e., valerian [Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae] root or St. John’s wort [Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae] aerial parts), and significantly changing dietary and activity habits. At the beginning and end of each study period, anthropometric measurements were taken; symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress were assessed with the DASS-21; and blood was collected to measure morning cortisol plasma levels. Adverse events (AEs) were collected via diary throughout the study.

Of the 42 subjects enrolled in the study, 6 (14.2%) did not complete the first treatment per protocol and were excluded from the analysis (3 in the hops group and 2 in the placebo group discontinued treatment, and 1 in the placebo group was lost to follow-up). Neither group had significant changes in body weight, body mass index, body composition parameters, or plasma cortisol levels (P > 0.05 for all).

Compared to placebo, the hops treatment significantly decreased DASS-21 subscores for anxiety (P = 0.009), depression (P = 0.001), and stress (P = 0.009). There were no significant correlations between any of the DASS-21 subscale scores and the other study variables (anthropometric measurements and plasma cortisol levels). There were no AEs reported for either group.

According to the authors, the extant literature on the clinical effects of hops pertains to trials evaluating combination products containing hops and this is the first placebo-controlled, randomized study to provide evidence that hops monotherapy significantly improves measures of self-reported depression, anxiety, and stress in otherwise healthy young adults. Cautions have been published regarding the use of hops in people with depression because the known sedative effects may heighten depressive symptoms and potentiate the soporific effects of antidepressant drugs; however, the results of the present study “suggest that hops may have an overall beneficial mood-enhancing effect without significant adverse/side effects in treatment-naïve individuals presenting with symptoms of both depression and anxiety/stress.”

Acknowledged limitations of this study include potential recruitment/selection bias, the use of subjective measures (although the DASS-21 is a well-validated instrument), the results cannot be generalized to other populations, only morning cortisol levels were measured (there may be diurnal variations), and other stress biomarkers were not assessed. The authors conclude, “Longer studies are required to explore the long-term efficacy and safety of this intervention, which should be also studied in older patients with depression and/or anxiety/stress disorders.”

This publication conformed with the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) guidelines, except for the reporting of funding sources. The Melcalin HOPs and placebo treatments were provided by Biotekna Srl. The authors report no conflict of interest.


Kyrou I, Christou A, Panagiotakos D, et al. Effects of hops (Humulus lupulus L.) dry extract supplement on self-reported depression, anxiety and stress levels in apparently healthy young adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot study. Hormones (Athens). 2017;16(2):171-180.


Adulteration of Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) Rhizome, Root, and Extracts

By Ezra Bejar, PhD,Roy Upton,b and John H. Cardellina II, PhDc

American Botanical Council, PO Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714
American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, PO Box 66809, Scotts Valley, CA 95067,
cReevesGroup, 1137 Treefern Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23451*Corresponding author

Keywords: Rhodiola rosea, rhodiola, rhodiola root, rhodiola root extract, arctic root, arctic rose, golden root, adulterant, adulteration, substitution, Rhodiola crenulata, Crassulaceae


Goal: The goal of this bulletin is to provide timely information and/or updates on issues of adulteration, substitution, potential interchangeable use, and mislabeling of Rhodiola rosea rhizome/root, in particular with other species from the genus Rhodiola, e.g., R. crenulata. The bulletin may serve as guidance for quality control personnel, the international herbal products industry, regulators, and extended natural products community in general. It is also intended to summarize the scientific data and analytical methods on the occurrence of species substitution and/or adulteration, the market situation, and economic and safety consequences for the consumer and the industry.

1          General Information 

1.1 Common name for Rhodiola rosea: Rhodiola1

The American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce, 2nd edition1 also applies the Standardized Common Name “rhodiola” to R. algida and R. kirilowii. (see section 1.10)


1.2 Other common names:

English: Arctic rose, king’s crown, roseroot, Arctic root, rosewort, snowdown rose, Tibeten rhodiola root1-4

Chinese: Hong jing tian (红景天)1,3,5-8

Danish: Rosenrod

Dutch: Rozewortel

French: Orpin rose, rhodiole, racine arctique, racine d’or

German: Rosenwurz

Italian: Rhodiola, rodiola, radice d’oro, radice ártica

Japanese: Iwa-benkei (イワベンケ)

Mongolian: Yagaan mugez, altan gagnuur9

Norwegian: Rosenrot

RussianRodióla rózovaya (Родиола розовая), zolotoy koren (золотой корень – golden root)

Spanish: Raíz dorada Siberiana, raíz del Ártico, rizoma de Rhodiola

Swedish: Rosenrot

1.3 Accepted Latin binomial: Rhodiola rosea L. 10


1.4 Synonyms: Sedum rhodiola DC., Sedum rosea (L.) Scop., Sedum roseum (L.) Scop. 10

1.5 Common names for Rhodiola crenulata:


English: Bigflower rhodiola root,11 Rhodiola crenulata1


Chinese: Da hua hong jing tian (大花红景天)5-7

1.6 Botanical family: Crassulaceae

1.7 Distribution: Rhodiola rosea is native to boreal areas of Eastern Europe, China, and North America; its range extends from China to Russia, US Northern states, northern Canada, and Alaska. In New England it occurs along the Maine Coast and in southern Vermont. Disjunctive populations extend from the southern Appalachians to North Carolina. Taxonomic lumpers include the genus Rhodiola in a broader concept ofSedum, though most modern floras follow Linnaeus in segregating Rhodiola from Sedum. It is important to be aware that some references to Rhodiola rosea may treat the species as Sedum rosea or Sedum roseum.In the Arctic, plants typically occur in crevices or among patches of moss and other vegetation, often near shores. 9,10 The highest plant densities are found on grassy or rocky slopes on the weather side of coasts (in the north) or mountains (in the south). Depending on the latitude, the plants grow at altitudes from 800–3000 m (2625–9843 ft). In China, Rhodiola rosea grows in the northern to central provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Shanxi, Hebei, and Jilin.

Rhodiola crenulata (J.D. Hooker & Thomson) H Ohba is native to the high mountains and plateaus close to the Himalayas of China, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Indian province of Sikkim. In China, R. crenulata is found in the southwestern provinces of Xizang (Tibet), Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan.12,13

1.8 Plant part and form: Rhodiola rosea raw material is sold in the United States in bulk, either in the form of dried rhizome, dried rhizome/root, or standardized extracts of dried rhizome or dried rhizome/root. According to the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), the raw plant material consists of the dried roots and rhizomes of R. rosea L. containing not less than (NLT) 0.3% of the phenylpropanoid glycosides rosarin, rosavin and rosin (these three compounds are also collectively referred to as ‘rosavins’) calculated as rosavin, and NLT 0.08% of salidroside, calculated on a dry weight basis.8 Hydro-alcoholic extracts of R. rosea roots and rhizomes should contain NLT 90.0% and not more than (NMT) 110.0% of the labeled amount of the above-mentioned phenylpropanoid glycosides (rosavins), and NLT 90.0% and NMT 110.0% of the labeled amount of salidroside.7 In Canada, R. rosea is sold as the dried root/rhizome, as an extract (standardized to contain 1-6% rosavins, or 0.8-3% salidroside), or as a tincture.14 Rhodiola rosea is sold in the EU as dried root/rhizome, an herbal tincture or dry extract, (drug:extract ratio 1.5-5:1, extraction solvent 67-70% ethanol, v/v).10

1.9 General use(s): Rhodiola rosea has a long history of use as a medicinal plant, appearing in the body of collected knowledge (materia medica) of many European countries15 and included in several traditional herbal systems in Asia and North America.5,6,14 Between 1748 and 1961, diverse medicinal applications for R. rosea have been reported in the scientific literature of Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Iceland, and the Soviet Union, principally considered as an adaptogen, or an agent stabilizing physiological processes and promoting homeostasis, with various health-promoting effects.2,15 In Europe it is considered a traditional herbal medicinal product used for temporary relief of stress symptoms, such as fatigue and sensation of weakness.5,16 Uses in the European Union (EU), Australia, and New Zealand include support of cognitive function, such as mental focus and mental stamina, a source of antioxidants, and a source of immune function-enhancing constituents. In North America and Brazil, it is primarily used as an adaptogen, and to improve athletic performance by reducing recovery time after prolonged exercise. 2,14,17-19 In Central Asia, R. rosea was used traditionally as a remedy for the prevention and treatment of cold and flu.2 In Mongolia, R. rosea is traditionally used for fever, lung inflammation, and strengthening of the body, as well as a mouthwash for bad breath. 62

The genus Rhodiola has about 90 species possibly having originated in the mountainous regions of southwest China and the Himalayas. Altogether, over 20 species are used throughout Asia, in some cases interchangeably. Specific uses are given today in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to R. crenulata, R. kirilowii, R. quadrifida, R. sacra, and R. yunnanensis; the last four species have been often used as a substitute and even sold as R. crenulata in the Chinese markets.9 Rhodiola crenulata uses include tonification of qi, activation of blood circulation, and unblocking the meridians.11 Other species also mentioned as being used in TCM include R. atuntsuensis, R. algida, R. coccinea, R. himalensis, and R. subopposita. In Tibetan medicine, species such as R. alsia and R. chrysanthemifolia have also been used as a substitute to the more popular R. crenulata.9

According to traditional Chinese medicine expert Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD, of the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, the herb entered into some folk applications (local uses, not tied to the theoretical framework of TCM), but it was not an herb commonly recorded in standard Chinese materia medica. Hong jing tian is the Chinese denomination given to the root and rhizome of several Rhodiolaspecies. It is described as an adaptogenic herb that regulates physiological functions, and is believed to have a central stimulant action. Its general tonic actions are similar to those of ginseng (Panax ginseng, Araliaceae) and root and rhizome of Eleutherococcus senticosus (Araliaceae). [email to S. Gafner, May 5, 2017]

1.10 Nomenclature considerations: In the United States, many rhodiola products in the marketplace bear the R. rosea binomial in the nutritional/supplement facts panel listing ingredients on the label. Due to this species-specific statement, any mixing, dilution, substitution, or replacement with other Rhodiolaspecies will lead to a product’s being considered misbranded. Regardless of the law, the interchangeable use of different species within the same genus may create some variations in chemical composition, which could affect quality, safety and efficacy.

The first edition of Herbs of Commerce (1992),20 formerly the basis for standard nomenclature for herbal dietary supplements in the United States and the official document for commercial nomenclature cited in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), does not include any Rhodiola species. The second edition of Herbs of Commerce (2000)1 includes R. algida, R. kirilowii, and R. rosea under the standardized common name “rhodiola”, which means these species should be labeled as “rhodiola” or with the correct scientific name. The roots and rhizomes of these species are also assigned the Chinese pinyin name hong jing tian. Rhodiola crenulata is listed separately with the standardized common name of “Rhodiola crenulata” and the Chinese pinyin name da hua hong jing tian. However, the CFR codification was not updated to include this second edition of Herbs of Commerce. In the Pharmacopoeia of the Peoples’ Republic of China (2010 Edition – Part I), the officially accepted species is Rhodiola crenulata and the medicinally used part is the dried root and rhizome. However, the Chinese pharmacopoeia lists hong jing tian rather than da hua hong jing tian as the common name of R. crenulata.

2          Market

2.1 Importance in the trade and market dynamics: The use of R. rosea as an ingredient in dietary supplements is quite extensive. According to the market research company SPINS, sales of R. rosea in the natural channel in the United States have been stable for four consecutive years from 2013-2016 (Table 1). Rhodiola rosea ranked #35 in 2013, and #36 in 2016, with sales in the range of US $2.2-2.5 million in the years 2013-2016. However, in the Mainstream Multi-outlet channel, R. rosea ranked #11 in 2013 with $17.7 million in sales, sliding to #28 in 2016 with $10.1 million in sales. The decrease in the Mainstream Multi-outlet channel is thought to be multifactorial.21

As noted above, the sales data for 2013-2016 (Table 1) indicate a gradual decrease in sales of R. rosea-based products in the United States. Retail pricing for the rhizome is in the range of US $30-100/kg dried rhizome, according to an informal Internet search conducted in September 2016. However, standardized R. rosea extract (3% rosavins/1% salidroside) is sold by suppliers to dietary supplement manufacturers in a price ranging from 80-110 €/kg in the EU and US $70-100/kg, depending on the extract quality. (A. Bily [Naturex] oral communication to E. Bejar, October 5, 2016)

Table 1. Rhodiola Dietary Supplement Sales in the US from 2013-2016

Channel 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$]
Naturala 35 2,214,255 32 2,561,873 35 2,461,235 36 2,588,730
Mainstream Multi-Outletb 11 17,716,775 17 14,188,978 27 10,624,592 28 10,080,448

aAccording to SPINS (SPINS does not track sales from Whole Foods Market.)
bAccording to SPINS/IRI (The Mainstream Multi-Outlet channel was formerly known as the Food, Drug, and Mass Market channel [FDM], exclusive of possible sales at Walmart, a major retailer in the US and beyond.)
Sources: Smith T, et al.22; T. Smith (American Botanical Council) e-mail to S. Gafner, September 2, 2015 and September 3, 2015. K. Kawa (SPINS) e-mail to S. Gafner, July 11, 2016.

2.2 Supply sources: The largest natural resources for R. rosea are in Russia. The major part of the growing range cannot be exploited due to difficulties in access or sparse populations. Most R. rosea raw material is collected in China by wildcrafters, whose subsistence depends on selling their fresh produce at regional collection sites. Most of the root plant material is gathered in the summertime from a minimum of four-year old plants by digging under the plant, removing most of the rhizome/root and (hopefully) leaving a part of the rhizome/root for the plant to regenerate over the next years. Rhodiola crenulata is often collected for the Chinese market in some regions in China and Mongolia where both species may share ecological niches. Wildcrafters should be able to distinguish R. rosea from R. crenulata easily during the collection season, since R. rosea has yellow flowers with yellow to reddish buds, while R. crenulata flowers are purple.12

The Xinjiang region is one of the most prolific producers of R. rosea with 4-5 collection sites selling about 500 tons of dry rhizomes annually. The dried roots/rhizomes are cleaned, dried, and sold to one of several East China extract manufacturers; most such extracts are sold abroad. Other regions of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and North America have a more limited supply of R. rosea, and their contribution to the US market is small, except for a few select products. Most Mongolian and Kazakhstani R. rosea end up in the Russian market at a higher price. (A. Bily and C. Pierron [Naturex] oral communication to E. Bejar. September 29, 2016).

Projects for cultivation of R. rosea exist in Denmark, Germany, Canada, Alaska, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Norway. Production in the latter two countries is small and limited to supply local and regional markets.

2.3 Raw material forms: Dried rhizome/root is sold in whole or powdered form, or after extraction with alcohol-water mixtures and subsequent spray-drying. The extract may contain suitable added substances as carriers. Various lots of extracts are often mixed to meet standardization requirements of the USP monographs.7,8

Because wildcrafters collect the rhizome (with root material) exclusively, and leave parts of the root with the aerial parts of the plant behind to regenerate, it is rare to find adulteration of R. rosea rhizome with aboveground plant parts. However, suppliers from China sell R. rosea aerial plant (herb), flowers, and stems according to their certificates of analysis. The sale of R. rosea herb and flower extracts, correctly labeled as such, is not within the scope of this bulletin.

3          Substitution

3.1 Known substitutes and adulterants: The main concern regarding the authenticity and quality of R. rosea is the admixture of, or substitution with, rhizome/root material from other Rhodiola species. Over 90 Rhodiola species have been documented in the world and in China 73 different Rhodiola species have been reported, mainly in the northwest and southwest regions, such as Tibet and the Sichuan province.19 ManyRhodiola species have similar pinyin names (hong jing tian)23 and are used interchangeably in China and other parts of Asia, including R. crenulata R. heterodontaR. kirilowiiR. quadrifida, and R. semenovii.1,15,19However, R. crenulata is the only species formally accepted in the PPRC.11 Because of the number of imports from Asia, mainly from China, to the United States and to the European herbal supplement industry, R. rosea raw materials are often mixed or interchanged with other Asian species, including R. crenulata, but also other Rhodiola species.19,23 Adulteration with materials other than those from the Rhodiola genus, e.g., with 5-hydroxytryptophan, has been described by Booker et al.,19 but seems to be infrequent.

Herbal medicine experts have expressed contrasting views about the interchangeable use of R. rosea and other Rhodiola species in standard-setting documents and reference textbooks. The European Medicines Agency’s community herbal monograph specifies the use of R. rosea for rhodiola-containing products that are marketed as an herbal drug for temporary relief of symptoms of stress.4,5  Similarly, the highly regarded German textbook Wichtl – Teedrogen und Phytopharmaka24 indicates that rhizomes from other Rhodiola species may appear as adulterants of R. rosea. However, the USP Herbal Medicines Compendiumlists R. crenulata, R. kirilowii, R. sacra, R. sachalinensis, and R. yunnanensis, as confounding materials for R. rosea rhizome.8 This is a more accurate way to characterize the substitution or admixing of related species within a genus. In the United States, by regulatory definition, replacement by, or admixing with a species that is listed under the same common name in the American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce, 1st edition,20 is considered substitution, unless the product label notes a particular species in the ”active ingredients” section. Hence, products labeled to contain “rhodiola”, but not specifying a particular species of Rhodiola, may be derived from a number of Rhodiola species (see section 1.1).

3.2 Sources of information supporting substitution of rhodiola and frequency of occurrence: With the use of a rapid resolution liquid chromatography (RRLC, a variation of high-performance liquid chromatography [HPLC]) method, Ma et al. found that approximately one-third of the commercial rhodiola rhizome powder extract samples they tested did not show a consistent RRLC profile and lacked the characteristic peaks of rosarin, rosavin, and rosin present in authentic R. rosea rhizome.25 However, absence of rosavins may not always be indicative of adulteration. If not handled properly, rosavins may be subject to enzymatic degradation and thus not be present in a finished product (Y-C Ma email to S. Gafner, May 26, 2017).

Booker et al. analyzed 39 raw materials of products from different vendors in the United Kingdom (UK) labeled as R. rosea. Most products were sold without any registration (i.e., generally unlicensed food supplements available on the internet or from retail outlets), although the researchers included two Traditional Herbal Medicine products registered under the traditional herbal medicine products directive (THMPD).19 Registration of a product under the THMPD requires the submission of appropriate data supporting the safety of the product (qualitative and quantitative composition, manufacturing process and controls, potential risks to the environment, therapeutic benefits and dosage, contraindications and known adverse reactions, pharmacovigilance data, and packaging information), but does not include the need for preclinical or clinical data. Products were compared to R. rosea crude drug reference material and two bulk powders. The samples were analyzed by 1H-NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy and high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC). Results from 1H-NMR were evaluated statistically using principal component analysis (PCA). Rhodiola rosea products registered under the THMPD were confirmed to contain authentic R. rosea, but seven (about 25%) unregistered food supplements labeled as R. roseaproducts were determined to be substituted with various other Rhodiola species, and in one instance adulterated with synthetic 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). The PCA model used to analyze 1H NMR spectroscopy data appeared to discriminate poorly between dietary supplement products containing R. rosea extracts and those extracts containing R. crenulata or other Rhodiola species when using the entire NMR spectrum, likely due to the presence of excipients. Restricting the 1H NMR spectrum to the aromatic region allowed the distinction among R. rosea and various other Rhodiola species. The HPTLC method detected both admixed/substituted and adulterated samples effectively.19

Several analyses of crude samples of R. crenulata rhizome confirmed that the rhizome does not contain rosavin, but does contain salidroside and other p-tyrosol derivatives, a class of compounds also found in R. rosea.15,26 Salidroside is associated with increase of exercise tolerance.27 Another Rhodiola species, R sachalinensis, was found to contain both rosavin and salidroside, but at lower concentrations than R. rosea;23,29 contrarily, a TLC analysis by Kurkin et al.28 did not find any rosavins in R. sachalinensis.23,29Booker et al. verified the identity of 45 commercial samples (labeled to contain R. rosea [N = 11], R. crenulata [N = 7], R. sachalinensis [N = 4], R. quadrifida [N = 3] or Rhodiola spp. [N = 20]), collected from retailers, local markets, and the internet in China and the United Kingdom, by HPTLC and 1H NMR with subsequent statistical analysis. An analysis of the 11 samples labeled to contain R. rosea indicated that eight (72.7%) contained other Rhodiola species, with four samples containing R. crenulata and one R. serrata23,29 Three of the seven purported R. crenulata samples were also composed of the incorrect species, containing either R. serrata (N = 2) or an unknown material (N = 1).

An unpublished investigation from 2008 by researchers of the University of Ottawa and the Montreal Botanical Garden of the quality of 20 commercial products sold as tablets, capsules, or liquid extracts on the North American market found salidroside (14.4-45.7 mg/g of product) and rosavins (6.1-68.5 mg/g of product) to be present in every sample. The data, obtained using HPLC-UV, suggest that these products contained authentic R. rosea rhizome and root (A. Cuerrier [Montreal Botanical Garden] email to S. Gafner, November 8, 2016).

3.3 Accidental vs intentional substitution: Both intentional and accidental Rhodiola substitution seems to occur during collection based on anecdotal (A. Bily and C.Pierron [Naturex], oral communication to E. Bejar, September 29, 2016) and scientific evidence. 23,29,30 This has been confirmed in a systematic field collection study, which identified several factors contributing to a substitution of Rhodiola species: (1) the lack of genuine raw material, (2) confusion over the (vernacular) Chinese pinyin name of the plant when sourcing from China, and, (3) deliberate substitution during the (collection and) manufacturing of a dietary supplement. 23 In the Altai region, an area in southern Siberia in Russia, there are 24 different species of the genus Rhodiola that could be misclassified as R. rosea by collectors.15

Resource depletion and habitat destruction have led to the disappearance of Rhodiola species in many locations, as most raw materials are wildcrafted and the plant needs several years to regenerate. In some geographical areas, the two most frequently used species, R. crenulata and R. rosea, are becoming vulnerable or at-risk (one source uses the terms “threatened” and “critically endangered” when referring to specific areas),31 making them more expensive to obtain. 23,30,31

Lack of proper collection procedures and the possible interchangeability of Rhodiola species may also contribute to R. rosea and/or R. crenulata being frequently substituted by or accidentally substituted with other Rhodiola species. The fact that most Rhodiola species (in particular, R. rosea and R. crenulata) are morphologically distinct suggests that the lack of raw material definitions and collection guidelines leads collectors to pick or substitute with whatever Rhodiola is locally available. After removal of the aboveground parts, the similarity in the root/rhizome morphology makes it practically impossible to distinguish one species macroscopically from the other and separate them before processing, although they can be distinguished chemically.

Different Rhodiola species, including R. rosea and R. crenulata, can be found on the Chinese market. Often, these are neither sold separately nor well-identified; therefore, there is a high potential of substitution and admixing among these species. While R. crenulata root/rhizome is preferred over R. rosea in TCM, this species is sometimes substituted with R. rosea, R. serrata, or other Rhodiola species. 23,30

The prevalence of R. crenulata on the Chinese market is most likely due to its greater abundance; it is not considered to be a substitute or an adulterant for R. rosea. Overall, the Chinese market is driven by Chinese names, not Latin names, and the Chinese name hong jing tian as an umbrella term generally refers to multiple species of Rhodiola, of which R. crenulata is the most abundant in trade. In China, it is rare for vendors to differentiate the various species, and most vendors have little knowledge about rhodiola because it has a short history of use in TCM and trade. They sell it because it is popular as a general health food item but most vendors know little about it beyond its province of origin, which does not always correlate to the species or morphological form.

As certain Rhodiola species, e.g., R. rosea and R. crenulata, are becoming scarce in the field, other Rhodiola species such as R. fastigiata, R. quadrifida, R. sacra, and R. serrata appear to be replacing them in the market. 32 For example, in a recent analysis of raw material samples purchased from drug stores and hospitals in China, only 40% of the samples labeled to contain R. crenulata were conclusively identified as such, while 40% were replaced with R. serrata, and the remaining samples with other Rhodiola species. 32As demand for the rhizome of R. rosea and R. crenulata increases, so does the cost, creating a greater risk that species substitution will occur.

Although substitution of R. rosea products with R. crenulata is considered the main problem with respect to authenticity of R. rosea species, 19,29 field work data suggest that other species are being implicated. A particular case is R. sachalinensis, a species that has a similar composition to R. rosea, containing rosavins (the marker compounds used to identify R. rosea), as well as salidroside, and is considered by some botanists to be the same species as R. rosea.23,32,33 To complicate matters, different populations of R. sachalinensis may display differences in their high-performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet detection (HPLC-UV) fingerprints, making accurate species identification based on chemical analysis difficult.32However, substitution with R. sachalinensis may become less of a concern, since its growing range has decreased significantly and it is now considered to be critically endangered in China.Conversely, as the various species of Rhodiola are used interchangeably within traditional systems, differentiation may be necessary only when claiming to sell a specific species.

3.4 Possible safety issues: According to an assessment report by the European Medicines Agency and a more recent safety review, ingestion of R. rosea is considered safe.4,34 Although no assessments of R. crenulata or other Rhodiola species that might be used as substitutes have been published, there are no apparent health concerns when R. rosea is substituted with other materials from the same genus. There is a report about herb-drug interactions based on the fact that Rhodiola species rhizomes contain various amounts of salidroside. Salidroside has been found to significantly inhibit CYP3A4, which is an important drug-metabolizing enzyme. Although the potential for this interaction is based mostly on in vitro data, one clinical case report suggests this could be of clinical relevance leading to amplification of the effects of drugs with CYP3A4 mediated metabolism.34

3.5 Analytical methods to detect substitution: Roots and rhizomes of R. rosea can be distinguished from roots/rhizomes of R. crenulata and other Rhodiola species by trained experts using botanical, TLC, HPLC, NMR, and genetic methods. The color of the flower allows distinguishing R. rosea from R. crenulataand other purple-flowering species botanically.8,9,12,35 Dried rhizomes of various Rhodiola species, however, cannot be differentiated macroscopically from one another, but can be distinguished by chemical comparisons to authentic reference materials.

One of the approaches to distinguish R. rosea rhizome from other Rhodiola species is the presence/absence of rosavins by TLC. The first TLC method to detect rosavins was reported by Kurkin et al.28 Several other methods have been developed since then, including an HPTLC method with very clear criteria to distinguish R. rosea from other Rhodiola species.23,36,37

Kurkin et al. noted that salidroside was common in the genus Rhodiola, but among 11 Rhodiola species that were tested, only R. rosea contained the rosavins, allowing one to use the presence or absence of these compounds to possibly differentiate among species.28 The lack of rosavins in R. sachalinensis was later refuted by other researchers.23,29 Various HPLC methods have been reported in the literature to distinguish R. rosea chemically from other species. 38-40 The use of rosarin, rosavin, and rosin as marker compounds is critical to ensure identity of R. rosea products. Identification of R. rosea products containing other Rhodiola species may require not only identification of the presence of the rosavins, but also quantification of the amount of each and their ratios. Other methods have been suggested, including NMR-based metabolomics, 23,41 and HPTLC. The suite of methods appears to be helpful in detecting irregularities in commercial R. rosea products.

A DNA barcoding approach to identify Rhodiola species, based on 189 accessions representing 48 of the 55 species of Rhodiola described in the Flora of China,7 has been reported.42 The results suggested that the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) genomic region was best suited for use as a single-locus barcode, resolving 66% of the Rhodiola species. Combining five loci (rbcLmatKtrnH-psbAtrnLF, and ITS) increased the resolution to 81% of the species. However, the DNA method may not be considered adequate when used alone in quality control procedures, since close to 20% of species cannot be distinguished, and also due to the inability to discern the plant part. Various DNA-based approaches have also shown little success in species identification of highly processed botanical ingredients, e.g., extracts.

4          Conclusions

Substitution or mixing of R. rosea root/rhizome raw material and extracts with other species, especially R. crenulata, remains an issue of regulatory concern for manufacturers and marketers of products labeled as R. rosea. Substitution of R. rosea with other Rhodiola species can be detected botanically and through chemical analysis (e.g., HPTLC, HPLC and NMR). The increasing scarcity of wildcrafted R. rosea and R. crenulata, as well as reliance on complex supply chains involving many stakeholders (especially many collectors in diverse regions, particularly in China), is increasing the likelihood for substitution and admixing with other Rhodiola species, particularly R. fastigiata, R. quadrifida, R. sacra, and R. serrata.

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Revision Summary

Version # , Author Date Revised Section Revised List of Changes
Version 1, E. Bejar, R. Upton, J.H. Cardellina II n/a n/a none