Oregano Oil Health Benefits

Oregano oil is widely known as nature’s potent defense against harmful organisms. Not only is it highly respected within the natural health community, it is also being widely studied within the scientific community for its vast medical uses.

Research designed to examine oregano oil has encompassed many topics. Oregano oil also has extremely high levels of free-radical-fighting antioxidants, agents that protect the body.

Oregano oil may also provide support for indications of common infectious ailments including respiratory problems, skin problems, athlete’s foot, yeast infections and harmful organisms.

Research on Oregano Oil

Studies have shown its usefulness against Candida albicans, Aspergillus mold, staph, vaginal imbalance, Pseudomonas, and listeria. A study from the US Department of Agriculture showed that oregano essential oils presented potent action against Salmonella and E.coli. Other research holds the same, stating that oregano oil is such a powerful agent that it can be used to preserve food. Studies from the Department of Food Science at the University of Tennessee and the University of the Algarve found that similar results for oregano’s power against pathogenic germs.

A recent study from the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center stated the following in regard to the role of essential oils for infections:

    • “New, safe agents are needed to prevent and overcome severe bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Based on our previous experience and that of others, we postulated that herbal essential oils, such as those of origanum (oregano oil)…offer such possibilities.”

In an article published on Science Daily, oil of oregano was found to be effective in killing Staphylococcus bacteria.

Another study published in the journal, Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology found that oregano oil could lower the negative effects of induced colitis in rats and opens the door to new ideas about its benefit to the colon and liver.

More Health Benefits of Oregano Oil

  • Resistant to redness and swelling
  • Can help relieve congestion
  • Emmenagogue — Oregano oil can aid irregular menstruation and reduce the negative effects of menopause.
  • Calms sensitivities to environmental irritants. Oregano oils produce a sedating effect on the hyper-sensitivity of allergies.
  • Potent anti-oxidant capacity — Through neutralizing free-radicals, oregano oil helps us slow the process of cellular deterioration, thus slowing the process of aging.
  • Rosmarinic acid, a component of oil of oregano, is an antihistamine, and a more powerful antioxidant than vitamin E.
  • Digestive aid — Stimulates the flow of bile in the digestive organs
  • With regular use, oregano oil can help protect us against fungal infections.

Action Against Harmful Organisms

  • A recent study on the activity of multiple essential oils against harmful organisms found that both oregano and thyme oils showed the strongest activity.
  • Inhibition of the growth of enteric organisms. A 6-weeks study on individuals with organisms found that supplementation with 600 mg of oregano oil daily led to a complete disappearance of the harmful organisms. It may also protect us against a wide variety of infiltration within the body, as well as the physical environment. This includes round worms, tape worms, bed bugs, lice, fleas, and mosquitoes.

Oregano oil is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It is high in the vitamins A C, and E complex, as well as zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese and niacin.

I have used oregano oil for many different things over the years and highly recommend you keep some in your natural medicine cabinet. When researching oil of oregano products to buy, be sure to look at the amount of Carvacrol it contains, and also try to buy organic when possible. Oregatrex™ is the oregano oil product that I personally use and recommend for everyone.

Lung Cleansing Benefits of Oregano

Allergies, asthma, harmful organisms, and even inhalation of various pollutants may cause upper respiratory problems. Symptoms of respiratory problems can include chest congestion, difficulty breathing and irritated nasal or throat passages. If you, or someone you’re close to, has experienced these symptoms, you know they can be very disruptive.

As we enter into the time of year when respiratory ailments are common, it’s important to know that organic oregano is a powerful tool to include in your lung health arsenal. Effective, reliable and safe, organic oregano is naturally rich in carvacrol, flavonoids, and terpenes; all of which are natural decongestants and antihistamines.

Oregano as an Antihistamine

When pollen, dust, mold, chemicals, fungus, and bacteria are invading your body, it releases a chemical called histamine which causes a reaction similar to allergic reactions — nasal congestion, increased mucous production, and sneezing. Histamine reducing herbs like oregano aid in counteracting histamine and may help reduce these reactions.

Oregano also contains rosmarinic acid. An article summarizing a study that examined the ability of the Rosmarinic acid to inhibit allergic irritation appeared in a 2004 edition of Clinical & Experimental Allergy. It was discovered that rosmarinic acid reduces fluid buildup and even swelling during an allergy attack, making it a natural histamine-reducing compound.

Oregano for Cough and Overall Health

The research examined by the ENT Department at the Israel Institute of Technology Medical Center found the therapeutic potential for various aromatic herbs, including oregano. Oregano has direct, positive benefits on the respiratory tract, coughing reflex and nasal passage airflow.

Oregano also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, vitamins A and C, and niacin. Although these components don’t directly impact upper respiratory problems, all of them are required by the systems within the body, including the immune system. Adequate vitamin and mineral intake is paramount for maintaining a healthy body that can fight off problems, such as upper respiratory issues before they start.

If you suffer from symptoms of respiratory ailments or need to cleanse your lungs on a regular basis, try organic oregano or a lung cleansing formula such as Allertrex®.

What Is Carvacrol?

Carvacrol may not be a widely recognized household name, but its source — oregano, probably is. As it turns out, oregano offers more than a pleasant taste; research has shown that carvacrol, its active ingredient, offers a wide range of health benefits; including protective effects for the liver, antioxidant, activity against harmful organisms, and more. The next 8 facts about carvacrol are sure to make it a known name in your household.

1. Interesting Results Against Cancer Cells

I’m not going to tell you that carvacrol is a cure for cancer but it certainly is demonstrating some interesting activity in preliminary research. When tested against breast cancer cells, it expedited cancer cell death… while being non-toxic. Long Island University researchers reported similar results when putting it up against prostate cancer cells. Actually, carvacrol exhibits the same results regardless of cancer. Lung cancer cells, oral cancer cells, and malignant brain tumors… all have been on the losing end when pitted against carvacrol. Again, it’s important to remember that these reports are exploratory and solution potency was a factor in each experiment; regardless, the potential is exciting.

2. Cleans as Effectively as Chlorine

Produce is often washed before it’s made available for purchase. That’s great… except for the fact that chemicals like chlorine may be used. One study looked to compare the antimicrobial effect of carvacrol to chlorine as a wash for grape tomatoes. For the experiment, grape tomatoes were contaminated with Salmonella and then given a chlorine wash or carvacrol. The solution using carvacrol achieved significant reductions in Salmonella. The researchers also noted the natural solution did not affect nutritional value, antioxidant content, look or taste.

3. Great Against Harmful Organisms

Experiments repeatedly confirm the efficacy of carvacrol against Salmonella, e. Coli, Campylobacter jejuni, and Listeria. It’s had so much success, researchers decided to pit it against an even more serious problem — antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. When tested on Salmonella-infected celery, carvacrol eliminated Salmonella colonies immediately.  It’s believed this action may offer an alternative to keeping food clear of such harmful organisms.

4. Effective Against Candida

Many people are plagued by yeast infections and often times Candida albicans is to blame. They may occur in the mouth, digestive tract, or really anywhere that’s accommodating to fungus. When researchers tested carvacrol against Candida sampled from denture wearers, the results found carvacrol to be very effective; supporting the traditional use of oregano oil as a natural remedy for Candida.

5. Promotes Normal Lipid Levels

The oxidation of LDL cholesterol leads to accumulation along artery walls. The essential oil of oregano was one of several plant oils, which demonstrated protective effects for LDL against copper-induced oxidation. The most pronounced effect was observed with oregano oil and the activity was attributed to carvacrol.

6. Supports Balanced Blood Sugar

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Welfare in the former Soviet bloc country of Georgia approved an herb-based remedy containing carvacrol and other plant compounds as therapeutic support for blood sugar abnormalities. Although the carvacrol used didn’t originate from oregano, trials of this drug reported that it lowered blood sugar without side effects.

7. Fights Systemic Redness and Swelling

Redness and swelling are present with nearly all forms of injury or irritation. Clinical evidence suggests carvacrol may defend against redness and swelling. Tests have shown that it suppresses COX-2 expression, a primary cause of redness. While many plant-based essential oils have this potential, carvacrol is the best in class; research indicates it offers the greatest effectiveness.

8. Amazing Cleansing Abilities… In the Home!

Carvacrol can offer cleansing action outside your body, too. One study examined its effectiveness as a surface cleansing agent. Concentrations of oregano oil reportedly eliminated Listeria biofilms from plastic and stainless steel surfaces, confirming it as a cleaning agent even in non-organic environments.

In my opinion, the best source of carvacrol, easily, is oregano and oregano oil. While oregano can add to the taste of a meal, oregano oil provides the most potent form to encourage the greatest health benefits.

Oregano Oil Benefits to Support Your Health Naturally

Oregano oil is extracted from the oregano plant (Origanum vulgare), a perennial herb from the flowering plant family Lamiaceae. Thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants, carvacrol, and other critical vitamins and nutrients, the health benefits of oregano oil are truly staggering. Oregano oil may support gastrointestinal, respiratory, and skin health. Additionally, its chemical makeup is a powerful force against harmful organisms.

Unlike the dried leaves used in cooking, organic oregano oil provides the health benefits of both the leaf and flower in a few concentrated drops. The potency of oregano oil is due to carvacrol, the compound in the leaves and flowers that are responsible for most of the oregano’s positive health benefits. There are over fifty different types of oregano. Mediterranean varieties of oregano, like those grown in Turkey, usually have the highest amount of carvacrol. These varieties include Origanum heracleoticum and Origanum vulgare, among others.

According to Greek myth, oregano was a beloved and cherished herb of the goddess Aphrodite. She grew it in her garden atop Mount Olympus. Given this history, it’s no surprise that oregano has been studied intensely and its benefits for human health are well known. Below are the top nine you should know about.

1. Calms Lip Blemishes

Many people apply oregano oil to lip blemishes with the belief it will help soothe the area and accelerate healing time. Research is ongoing to pinpoint the validity of this use. Carvacrol may promote resistance against the harmful organisms that cause lip blemishes.

2. Helps with Food Preservation

Spices and herbs, like oregano, have a long history of food preservation and safety. Many types of food, especially raw meat, are a haven for harmful bacteria. Oregano oil may help resist harmful organisms. In one study, a concentrated application of carvacrol slowed the growth of lab cultures or caused them to stop multiplying altogether. Other studies show that essential oils, including oregano, halt the spread of organisms in spoiled fruit juice and aged meat.

3. Soothes Muscle Discomfort

Oregano itself is tremendously soothing and research shows that oregano oil may be helpful for reducing muscle discomfort. In one study, carvacrol was administered orally to mice and measured against opioid-based pain medication. The study concluded that carvacrol offered benefits similar to opioid drugs while being safer.

4. Promotes Intestinal Balance

Maintaining a proper balance of healthy bacteria in your intestines and gut is crucial for supporting good health. A healthy colony of intestinal flora encourages proper digestion and boosts the immune system. Good bacteria also support the immune system and help balance mood. Carvacrol may help promote gut health by creating an appropriate balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria.

5. Eases Bone and Joint Discomfort

Swelling and redness of the joints is an uncomfortable ailment that affects many people. Preliminary studies suggest that carvacrol may offer hope for soothing bones and joints.

6. Resists Harmful Organisms

If you travel to underdeveloped areas of the world, you’ll be exposed to organisms that can wreak havoc on your health. Avoiding the water may be insufficient. Harmful organisms in the natural environment carry a high risk, especially if the body is already in poor health. Research has shown that carvacrol may support the body’s natural response to toxic invaders.

7. Encourages Normal Yeast Balance

Yeast and fungus exist everywhere, even on and in the human body; total eradication is next to impossible. Balance, however, is both desirable and achievable with the help of carvacrol. In a study that examined the use of essential oils as a means to address fungus, carvacrol was among the most effective. Likewise, oregano oil is helpful for promoting balanced candida, a fungus that commonly falls out of balance from poor diet, stress, or antibiotics.

8. Supports Liver Health

Toxins exist in our water, food, and even the air we breathe. The ever-present barrage of toxins in our environment is extraordinary, and the burden it places on the liver is equally mind boggling. Carvacrol may support the normal function of the liver, the body’s primary detoxifying organ.

9. Boosts the Immune System

Gut health, toxins, and lifestyle all play a role in your body’s ability to stay healthy. Oregano oil supports many of the critical factors that ultimately contribute to a strong immune system. In addition to oregano oil’s ability to encourage better gut health, it supplies the body with powerful antioxidants. Eating a healthy diet rich in plants, like oregano encourages a balanced, healthy environment within your body.

Choosing the Right Oregano Oil

If you are looking for the best oregano oil, remember the importance of carvacrol. Global Healing Center has pioneered a new industry standard of high-quality oregano oil with Oregatrex™. It’s a liquid herbal extract that has a minimum carvacrol content of 80% and includes organic peppermint, cayenne, and olive oil. This potent blend supports digestive health and supports the body’s response to harmful organisms.

What About Fresh or Dried Oregano?

Like oregano oil, fresh or dried oregano is packed full of nutritional benefits. Oregano leaf is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, iron, calcium, and potassium. Fresh oregano is loaded with beneficial antioxidants. Oregano blended with other herbs can contain as many or more antioxidants as fruit, berries, and vegetables.

Tips for Growing Oregano

Can’t find the right organic, non-GMO oregano? Then maybe it’s time to grow your own. Like many herbs, it’s easy. With a little bit of work, you’ll be harvesting home-grown oregano in no time.

To start growing oregano, you need some oregano seeds (if you are using cuttings or container plants you can skip these first steps). The variety you should choose depends on your intended use. For a high carvacrol content, Mediterranean varieties are your best bet. Search for the Origanum vulgare variety, which is sometimes referred to as “Greek” oregano. Shop around for a trusted seed supplier who can provide organic, non-GMO seeds. The designation of “heirloom seeds” may assure that the seeds are non-GMO.

Once you have found your seeds, plant this perennial herb in early spring following the last frost of the year. Oregano does best in full sunlight. Check your soil and make sure it’s well drained and has a good mixture of sand, clay, and decaying organic material. If you are not sure if your soil is right, ask a local greenery for compost and fertilizer suggestions.

When your planting location is prepared, it’s time to plant. Place small groups of seeds approximately ¼ inch down and 10 inches apart. Next, cover the seeds with soil and water. Check your plants often. When the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to water thoroughly.

You may see sprouting after just five days, but exact timing may vary. Oregano leaves will be ready to harvest once the plant reaches about four inches in height, but you may want to wait until they are around eight inches high before taking the leaves. Don’t wait too long to harvest. The best flavors for culinary use come from the leaves before the plant flowers, usually sometime in early July. Instead of taking off individual leaves, harvesting may be done by cutting off whole stems with the leaves still attached.

After harvesting, tie the stems together and hang upside down in a cool, dry environment—preferably indoors—to dry. After 5-7 days, the oregano leaves should be ready. Remove the leaves and store them in an airtight, glass container for up to one year.

10 Uses for Organic Oregano Oil

Hands down, oregano oil is one of the best natural supplements you can get. It’s produced from the perennial herb oregano and loaded with free-radical-crushing antioxidants. A growing body of research has shown that oregano oil offers many positive health benefits and is one of the most potent natural remedies in existence. In particular, there has been a significant evaluation of its effects against harmful organisms; investigations even been made by major pharmaceutical companies. Let’s take a look at why there’s so much interest in oregano oil and its 10 best uses.

What Are the Top 10 Uses for Oregano Oil?

1. Immune System Support

There’s a lot of evidence to show that oregano oil is a powerful tool for the immune system, especially when it encounters outside invaders. One study straight from the United States Department of Agriculture reported that oregano oil has such a strong action against germs that it could easily defeat Salmonella.

These findings were echoed by researchers the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center who said, “New, safe agents are needed to…overcome harmful organisms… Based on our previous experience and that of others, we postulated that herbal essential oils, such as those of origanum (oregano oil) offer such possibilities.”

2. Protection Against Harmful Organisms

If you’ve consumed undercooked meat or impure water, or countless other risky actions, harmful organisms are likely to be residing inside of your body. Thankfully, oregano oil is shown to be extremely useful for getting rid of these unwanted invaders. One study examined the relationship between oregano oil and harmful organisms and found that taking 600 mg of oregano oil daily prompted a complete disappearance of harmful organisms in the body.

3. Promotes a Balanced Mood

Studies have found that some compounds in oregano oil, including carvacrol, thymol, and terpinene may positively influence the nervous system and mind. Aromatherapy with oregano oil seems to promote a healthy mood, reduce stress, and inhibit emotional abnormalities.

4. Digestive Aid

I’ve said it a million times—health begins in the gut! Good digestion is absolutely necessary to experience good health. While I recommend using an oxygen-based colon cleanser to clean out your digestive tract, stopping the build-up in the first place needs to be part of the plan, and oregano oil can help. Oregano oil is known to stimulate the flow of bile into the digestive organs, enhancing the digestive process.

5. Menstrual Aid

Irregular, uncomfortable periods and unpleasant effects from menopause are a big problem for many women; one of the best natural remedies is oregano oil. It may actually help support regular menstruation and protect against negative menopause experiences. For women, this is a substantial bonus to the already lengthy list of uses and effects of oregano oil.

6. Supports Graceful Aging

Perhaps the hottest health trend of the past few years is the science of combatting aging. It’s important to understand that aging is largely affected by oxidation and free radicals, which is why antioxidants are so effective. Oregano oil offers a huge amount of antioxidants that can aid in the defense against these aging-accelerators.

7. Allergy Support

If you suffer from allergies and environmental sensitivities, the soothing properties of oregano oil are appealing. Oregano oil can produce a sedating effect on the hypersensitivity of allergies, which ultimately encourages relief. For those wishing to avoid harsh medications, oregano oil may be a natural alternative for curtailing the undesirable effects associated with environmental sensitivities.

8. Weight Loss

In addition to its reputation as a natural immune booster, oregano oil also packs a punch against unwanted body fat. Its main active ingredient, carvacrol, is thought to modulate genes and reduce irritation in white adipose tissue. In one study, when fed a high-fat diet, mice not given carvacrol quickly became obese. In contrast, mice given carvacrol gained significantly less weight and even had lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood.

9. Eases Discomfort

Aches and stiffness can wreak havoc and negatively impact your quality of life. Many people use oil of oregano topically and say that it feels like it goes deep inside their skin to relieve sore joints and muscle discomfort. Simply create a 50/50 mixture of organic oregano oil and organic olive oil and apply topically to the affected area for relief. If you suffer from sore muscles, sports injuries, and backaches, this is one benefit you’ll appreciate.

10. May Help You Feel Better When You Have a Cold

Oregano oil isn’t a cure for the cold, but it can help you feel better. The essential oil can help promote easy breathing, calm a cough, and soothe a sore throat. Many people claim that when they start to feel under the weather, they place 3-6 drops into an empty capsule and take 2-3 times daily before meals. A 5-10 day regimen has been reported as doing wonders.

Supplementing with Oregano Oil

Oregano oil is an absolute must-have item for any medicine cabinet or emergency kit. The array of benefits it offers makes it one of the best all-around supplements you can get. Remember, as with any health product, quality matters tremendously.

Oregatrex™, Global Healing Center’s oregano oil blend, is organic, has an extra virgin olive oil base, and at least 80% carvacrol. It’s also blended with peppermint oil and capsaicin (the compound that gives peppers their heat) for added resistance to harmful organisms.

It’s easy to get started with an organic oregano oil blend like Oregatrex. Simply shake the bottle, place 1-6 drops in a vegetarian capsule (included), and take at the beginning of your meal, 2-3 times daily or as recommended by your physician. Capsaicin is a great ingredient and wonderful substance in its own right, but it is hot, so it’s best to avoid consuming oregano oil liquid directly. Keep it away from your eyes and don’t leave it where children or pets could get into it.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Thyme

There are few things a sprig of thyme won’t make immensely better. This versatile herb blends well with a myriad of flavors and is packed full of health-promoting compounds, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients.

Thyme belongs to the genus Thymus which is part of the mint family and closely related to oregano—another powerful herb. Native to the Southern Mediterranean regions, this perennial herb is now grown around the world for its culinary and therapeutic uses. While this herb will liven up your cooking, thyme may also help expel harmful organisms from your body and support your mental and physical health.

What Is Thyme?

Thyme is an evergreen herb that blooms with small white, pink, and purple flowers. They hybridize easily and grow quickly in sunny areas with well-drained soil. Thanks to its ease of cultivation and growth, there are over 300 varieties of thyme in existence today. Each variety has unique flavors and applications for cooking, oils, medicines, or decoration. Common thyme (T. vulgaris) and lemon thyme (T. citriodorus) are used for cooking, while Spanish thyme (T. zygis) and creeping thyme (T. serpyllum) are popular in many herbal supplements.

History of Thyme

People’s love and admiration for thyme is nothing new. The recorded history of thyme extends back to ancient Egypt and Rome. Egyptians used thyme as part of their mummification process and Romans ate it before meals and gave it to soldiers as a sign of courage and admiration. In fact, the Latin word for thyme, thymus, means courage and strength. This tradition of giving thyme to soldiers carried on through the middle ages when people in England started using thyme as a cooking herb.

Nutrients in Thyme

Thyme has remained influential over the years in part because of its health benefits, all of which are owed to its diverse profile of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutritional compounds. Thyme is an excellent source of fiber, calcium, iron, manganese, and vitamins A, B6, and C. There are also robust phenols inside the plant—thymol, eugenol, and carvacrol.

Here is the nutritional breakdown of one tablespoon of fresh thyme.

Nutrient Amount
Protein 0.1 g
Fiber 0.3 g
Calcium 10 mg
Copper .01 mg
Manganese .04 mg
Magnesium 4 mg
Iron 0.4 mg
Phosphorus 15 mg
Potassium 5 mg
Riboflavin 17.7 mg
Thiamin 0.117 mg
Riboflavin .01 mg
Zinc .04 mg
Vitamin A .03 mg
Vitamin B6 .008 mg
Vitamin C 3.8 mg
Zinc .04 mg

Top 10 Health Benefits of Thyme

Here is a list of impressive health benefits that have been corroborated by recent studies and research.

1. Resists Harmful Organisms

Thyme contains potent chemical compounds like thymol and carvacrol which are resistant to harmful organisms. Studies have found that thyme promotes fungal balance. Some studies even show compounds found in thyme and oregano oil are helpful as part of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with some types of organisms that are particularly aggressive.

2. Supports Respiratory Health

Respiratory health is important, especially for those with compromised immune systems. Thyme supports normal respiratory health in every season. Studies show that thyme combined with primrose root helps soothe your airways and promote normal lung health.

3. Promotes Heart Health

Blood pressure and cholesterol both play a significant role in heart health. Thyme contains nutrients that support normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

4. Mood Booster

Thyme may help maintain mental wellness. Daily consumption of thyme and oregano oil can influence neurotransmitters and boost your mood. One compound found in thyme oil, carvacrol, when consumed over a seven-day period, positively affected dopamine and serotonin status.

5. Encourages Healthy-looking Skin

For years, nurses wrapped thyme into bandages to help wounds heal. Recent studies confirm that thyme does have the ability to support skin health. One study even noted thyme might contribute to reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

6. Natural Bug Repellent

Thyme is a favorite herb to grow at home. Not only is it convenient for cooking, but it may help keep your home bug free. Thyme acts as a natural repellent for mosquitoes and other pests.

7. Powerful Antioxidant

Thyme is a great source of antioxidants such as apigenin, luteolin, saponins, and tannins. These antioxidant compounds help neutralize free radicals before they can cause harm and oxidative stress. Thyme and iron are often taken together to help keep a better balance and reduce the chances of oxidative stress from occurring.

8. Soothes Occasional Coughs and Sore Throats

For years, thyme has been used to support seasonal wellness. Many studies have validated this use, showing thyme’s ability to help your body get over an occasional cough and sore throat.

9. Promotes Oral Health

Thyme, along with other herbs, can support good oral health. Thyme essential oils can protect against harmful organisms that target the mouth, and help prevent bad breath.

10. Food Safety and Preservation

While thyme is a well-liked addition to many dishes, it can be used for more than taste. Thyme’s resistance to harmful organisms is something that’s been observed and harnessed by large-scale food producers. Thyme essential oil is an effective, natural way to preserve food and increase shelf life.

Thyme Side Effects

Thyme has no documented side effects. The primary concern with using fresh thyme or thyme essential oils is the possibility of having an allergic reaction. Beyond any known allergies, thyme is considered safe and gentle to eat or apply topically.

Adding Thyme to Your Diet

You can grow thyme at home or buy it fresh at most grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Fresh thyme is perfect for making tinctures, teas, or adding to food dishes. Dried thyme is also found in any spice aisle and is an excellent way to keep the herb in your home at all times. Thyme essential oils are also a great way to access the benefits of thyme quickly and easily. Not all essential oils are food grade, but thyme essential oils can be used in a diffuser or applied topically.

You can also take thyme therapeutically to reap its many health benefits. While thyme is great on its own, its nutritional profile and unique properties make it a worthwhile addition to some supplement formulas. Global Healing Center uses the highest quality organic thyme in our revolutionary iron supplement, Iron Fuzion™. Thyme extracts in Iron Fuzion provide nutrients that can help your body absorb and use iron.

Thyme Oil Shows Success in Killing MRSA

Nearly 20 thousand Americans die each year due to complications that stem from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or better known as MRSA. This “Super Staph” has received a lot of media coverage, and for good reason, it’s scary. A regular Staph infection isn’t remarkably dangerous or difficult to treat. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for a healthy person to have some Staphylococcus bacteria living on their skin or inside their nasal cavity at any given time. The only time it becomes a serious issue is if it’s somehow able to penetrate the skin through an opening such as a cut or a surgical incision, at which point it can require medical attention.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is not regular Staph. It doesn’t respond to the normal treatment methods that work with other species of Staphylococcus bacteria, and because of this, it is much more dangerous. Because of it’s increased tenacity, MRSA is much more likely to eventually work its way below the skin into parts of the body where it can cause serious damage.

Once under the surface, MRSA can quickly contaminate the bloodstream and other systems such as the urinary tract. If left untreated, it can eventually work its way into the heart, lungs and other internal organs, where it can create a life-threatening situation even in otherwise healthy individuals. The overall impact on people with weakened immune functions (such as children and the elderly) can be obviously much more severe.

Staph is a remarkably resilient bacteria. It’s also able to quickly adapt to new antibiotics. In fact, less than half of today’s infections respond to the commonly used antibiotic, methicillin. Hence the name “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.” Less than 10 percent of the bacteria is believed to still be responsive to traditional penicillin-based antibiotics. These adaptations have forced many doctors to recommend much more powerful and potentially toxic antibiotic drugs to treat infections. That is, until recently…

New Study Offers Surprise Treatment for MRSA

A new study presented in the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics shows how simple thyme oil could be the solution the medical world has been searching for. A research team at the University of Brighton, East Sussex tested the effects of essential thyme oil on cultivated staphylococcus with great success. Their goal is to now determine its usefulness in actual patients infected with the resistant bacteria in order to develop better long-term treatment options.

Organic Thyme plant

The secret to the success of essential oils in treating MRSA may be the fact that no two batches of oil are exactly the same. The minor variations in plant chemistry are believed to make adaptation more difficult for bacteria. Certain other botanical oils, such as geranium, tea tree, and oregano oil, are also thought to be helpful in fighting resistant Staph. Some researchers theorize that some sort of cocktail treatment may offer the best overall solution to this ongoing problem.

In light of these recent findings, it’s a good idea to stock up on organic oregano oil and thyme oil.

Bitter Melon and Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that affects blood sugar levels and can lead to health issues if not properly managed. Could eating bitter melon be healthful for those looking to manage diabetes?

The bodies of people with diabetes do not produce enough insulin or are not able to use insulin effectively, which leads to there being too much glucose in the blood. Insulin is required so that cells can use it for energy.

A healthful diet and exercise are important for people with diabetes to help them manage their condition. Certain foods can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which is problematic.

In this article, we explore whether the bitter melon is healthful for people looking to manage diabetes. As part of this, we analyze the impact bitter melon may have on blood sugar.

Treating diabetes

bitter melons on a wooden table
Some people with diabetes look to natural treatments, such as bitter melon, to help manage their symptoms.

In type 1 diabetes, high blood sugar is the result of the body not producing enough insulin.

Type 2 diabetes, however, occurs when the body does not respond correctly to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and people of any age can develop it.

Many people with diabetes manage their condition well and do not experience further health problems. A range of medications and lifestyle changes can help people with diabetes live healthy lives.

However, drug therapies may have some side effects. As such, some people look to try natural treatments that are free of side effects. To make an informed decision about these, it helps to understand the science behind these options.

One such natural treatment method is better melon. Although further research is needed to draw reliable conclusions, some research suggests bitter melon may normalize blood glucose levels.

What is bitter melon?

Bitter melon has many different names, depending on where you are in the world. People all around the world have used it for both food and medicine for centuries.

Rich in vitamins and minerals, bitter melon grows on a vine of the Momordica charantia plant and is the most bitter of all fruits and vegetables.

Bitter melon grows in tropical and subtropical environments and thrives in:

  • South America
  • Asia
  • the Caribbean
  • some parts of Africa

An alternative remedy for centuries, people are said to have used it to manage:

  • colic
  • fevers
  • burns
  • coughs
  • skin conditions
  • childbirth

In parts of Asia and Africa, it has been used to manage symptoms of chicken pox and measles. And researchers from St. Louis University have even found evidence that bitter melon can hinder the growth of breast cancer cells.

How does bitter melon affect people with diabetes?

It is believed that bitter melon could have properties which lower blood sugar levels.

A number of clinical studies have examined the effect bitter melon has on diabetes to see whether it could be an effective treatment for normalizing blood glucose.

Effect on blood sugar levels

Researchers believe bitter melon contains substances that cause decreases in blood glucose and appetite suppression. In this way, it behaves similarly to insulin.

One study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that 2,000 mg daily of bitter melon lowers blood glucose levels considerably in people with type 2 diabetes. The effect was less than taking a 1,000 mg dose of metformin, which is a medicine often prescribed to control blood sugar levels.

Effect on glucose intolerance

Another study from 2008, suggests bitter melon improves glucose intolerance and suppresses blood glucose levels after meal consumption in animal studies.

However, other studies suggest any improvement is insignificant or inclusive.

Effect on hemoglobin A1c levels

Another study aimed to determine whether people with diabetes who took bitter melon supplements could decrease their hemoglobin A1c levels.

A1c levels are the average blood sugar levels over a 2-3 month period. The study looked to see if bitter melon could reduce A1c levels by at least 1 percent over this three-month period.

Two groups of people took part in the study:

  • people recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • those with poor glucose control, who had A1c levels from 7 to 9 percent

The participants were advised to take two capsules of bitter melon three times daily.

The results of the study, reported in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, uncovered a less than 0.25 percent decrease in A1c levels in the study group.

The placebo group showed no change. The authors noted that the study size was too small but showed potential for larger studies.

Compared to no treatment

A 2014 report from Nutrition and Diabetes, looked at four studies that compared treatment using bitter melon supplements to no diabetic treatment at all.

The authors of the study found no evidence bitter melon had any significant effects on A1c levels or fasting plasma glucose levels.

They further concluded most of the research to date is inclusive regarding glycemic outcomes. They believed larger sample sizes could better determine bitter melon’s effectiveness as a supplemental treatment for diabetes.

Further research

A 2016 report published in Current Pharmacology Reports similarly looked at several studies related to bitter melon including its effects on diabetes.

The authors did find merit in the theories that bitter melon may have hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) properties.

They also found it may help to reduce the adverse effects of diabetes but felt further study was warranted to come to any real conclusions.

Using bitter melon as a supplemental diabetes treatment

drinking a green juice after exercise
Bitter melon is also available as a juice.

Bitter melon is available in many forms, including as:

  • a fruit
  • a powder
  • an herbal supplement
  • juice

The fruit is available at most Asian grocery stores. Powders, Supplements, and juices are available at health food stores and sold by online retailers.

How much to consume

Anyone considering taking bitter melon alongside their diabetes treatment should consume no more than:

  • 50-100 milliliters daily (or about 2 to 3 ounces spread throughout the day)
  • one small bitter melon per day

Supplements should be taken according to the instructions on the packaging. People should check with their doctors to see if it is safe to include supplements to their treatment plan. This is because supplements may counteract the effects of diabetes medications.

Risks of consuming bitter melon

Excessive consumption of bitter melon may cause stomach troubles, including diarrhea. Another potential adverse effect is extremely low blood sugar.

Children should not take bitter melon as it has been known to cause vomiting and diarrhea. Pregnant women should not consume bitter melon in any form because it has been associated with bleeding, contractions, and miscarriage.


Bitter melon is generally safe for most adults. However, as reported by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, possible side effects caused by long-term use have not been studied.

Whilst there may be some benefits, no double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard of studies) has proven effectiveness or safety in all people with diabetes. People with diabetes should use bitter melon with caution, due to the associated hypoglycemia risks.

People with diabetes wanting to include bitter melon in their treatment plan should consult with their doctors. They should monitor their blood glucose levels closely because bitter melon may interact with diabetes medications that might reduce blood sugar to dangerous levels.

With more research, however, bitter melon may become a standard treatment for diabetes management.

Flow Injection Mass Spectrometry, Proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, and DNA Sequencing Can All Distinguish Black Cohosh from Likely Adulterants

Harnly J, Chen P, Sun J, et al. Comparison of flow injection MS, NMR, and DNA sequencing: methods for identification and authentication of black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). Planta Med. February 2016;82(3):250-262. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1558113.

Authentication and correct identification of botanicals in dietary supplements are critical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is potential harm from the inclusion of undesirable species. The process of identification may be complicated by material processing, variable preparation methods, and the existence of very similar related species. Current methods for identification of botanicals include morphological identification, DNA sequencing, and phytochemical and metabolic fingerprinting. As black cohosh (Actaea racemosa syn. Cimicifuga racemosa, Ranunculaceae) is a popular medicinal plant, adulteration is increasingly common. This basic research study coupled two methods of phytochemical fingerprinting, flow injection mass spectrometry (FIMS) and proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR), with DNA sequencing to determine how well they could identify different species of Actaea before and after processing.

Root samples from various species of Actaea were procured from American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), Scotts Valley, California; Strategic Sourcing, Inc., Banner Elk, North Carolina; The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository (TNCAGR), Asheville, North Carolina; National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland; and from Chinese commercial sources. Liquids, tablets, and capsules were bought from local stores in Maryland, and additional samples were obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C. The roots and commercial samples were authenticated using DNA sequencing at AuthenTechnologies LLC; Richmond, California. DNA sequences from the nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and the chloroplast psbA-trnH intergenic spacer, obtained by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Sanger capillary sequencing, were used for authentication by comparing them to the reference sequences. To prepare samples for FIMS, root material, tablets, and contents of capsules were powdered and extracted in 70:30 methanol:water, sonicated, centrifuged, diluted 1:10 with methanol, and filtered. Liquid extracts were combined with 70:30 methanol:water and treated as described above. To prepare for NMR, samples were dissolved in dimethyl sulfoxide-d6 containing 0.47 mM 4,4-dimethyl-4-silapentane-1-sulfonic acid, vortexed, sonicated, and centrifuged.

Each sample was run on FIMS five times, with random sample order each time; most samples were run once for NMR. Raw data were exported into various computer programs for analysis. Data were normalized to unit vector length (this metric incorporates the sum of squares) and analyzed using principal component analysis (PCA, an analysis that displays data based on greatest variation) and four multivariate analysis methods, especially soft independent modeling of class analogy (SIMCA, an analysis based on modeling that fits a model to a single class, which is explained to be useful for authentication). Both methods of analysis were used to assess whether FIMS or NMR could distinguish various Actaea species. Because of the complexity of PCA plots in including all samples, the authors chose to analyze the data from only the following five American species: black cohosh, bugbane (A. cimicifuga), baneberry (A. pachypoda), American bugbane (A. podocarpa), and red baneberry (A. rubra).

In analyses of both FIMS and NMR data, samples of black cohosh generally clustered separately from other species; some analyses portray it as most similar to baneberry, suggesting a close relation, and more distant from other species. One sample of black cohosh was found to occur outside the black cohosh cluster, and one sample of baneberry clustered with black cohosh; repeated analyses starting from new raw material had the same result. Significant phytochemical variation was observed within species; in the FIMS analysis, samples from multiple sites supplied by TNCAGR clustered according to the site of origin. The authors noted that the potential causes of geographically correlated variation include not only genetic differences and environmental influences on the plants but variation in the presence of endophytic fungi, which are suspected of producing some of the secondary compounds in black cohosh. The models for FIMS and NMR were validated using bootstrap analysis, despite the authors’ concern about limited sample size. It was found that FIMS had a sensitivity of 91.4% and NMR had a sensitivity of 91.7%, with specificities of 100% for both. Overall, it was concluded that both FIMS and NMR are appropriate techniques for distinguishing the five species of Actaea, with sensitivity to the phytochemical composition.

For North American samples of multiple species, putative identities according to DNA sequencing were generally consistent with the AHP identification, although sequencing quality problems sometimes precluded identification. The two samples that seemed to be outliers (black cohosh and baneberry) in the FIMS and NMR analyses had DNA sequences consistent with the stated identity. This suggests that the species are biologically complex species with morphological or chemical variations greater than the genetic variations. Very few of the geographically diverse black cohosh samples from TNCAGR, which were subjected to chemical analysis, were included in DNA analyses.

Root samples procured from China were stated to belong to four different species;

nuclear ribosomal DNA (nrDNA) and chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) sequences indicated that the majority of samples, including one purported sample of A. racemosa, were Chinese cimicifuga (A. dahurica) and one was A. brachycarpa, while two contained non-Actaea spp. plant material and another had only fungal DNA amplified. All of these, as well as some North American Actaea spp. samples were said to be “mixtures” according to ITS data, and to some extent according to psbA-trnH data; it appears that this simply means that more than one ITS sequence variant was present in some samples, while other samples may contain hybrid plant material. DNA analysis confirmed that four of the seven capsule supplements purchased locally contained black cohosh, while one contained A. brachycarpa; the other two had no detectable Actaea spp. DNA (one had no DNA and the other had rice [Oryza sativa, Poaceae] DNA or excipient DNA only). Liquid extract supplements were not analyzed with DNA sequencing since they were not expected to contain retrievable DNA. In summary, the FIMS and NMR analyses showed diverse chemical profiles that were different from any of the raw materials tested, which is presumably due to differences in processing and extraction methods or systematic geographical variations. Moreover, the DNA sequencing of roots could be used for identification of Actaea species and also for validating the discrepancies that might arise in the chemical fingerprinting methods.

In conclusion, the three methods outlined here may be useful to aid in authentication of black cohosh in commerce and identify possible adulterants. However, more experimentation and adjustment of methods would be necessary to analyze finished botanical supplements.

Bulletin on Adulteration of Scutellaria lateriflora


The goal of this bulletin is to provide timely information and/or updates on issues of adulteration of Scutellaria lateriflora to the international herbal products industry and extended natural products community in general.

1 General Information

1.1 Common name: Skullcap3

1.2 Other common names:

English: Blue skullcap, helmet flower, hoodwort, European or greater skullcap, Quaker bonnet, mad-dog skullcap, mad weed, scullcap, Virginia skullcap4

French: Scutellaire, scutellaire latériflore, scutellaire de Virginie, toque, toque casquée5

German: Helmkraut, seitenblütiges Helmkraut5

Italian: Scutellaria

Spanish: Escutelaria, escutelaria de Virginia

1.3 Accepted Latin binomial: Scutellaria lateriflora L.6,7

1.4 Synonyms: Cassida lateriflora (L.) Moench; Scutellaria polybotrya Bernh.6,7

1.5 Botanical family: Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae)

1.6 Plant part and form: The flowering aerial parts of S. lateriflora are used fresh, or dried as an infusion, as a tincture, or in the form of a fluid extract.1 Suggested daily dosages vary depending on the author and correspond to 0.25-12 g of dried aboveground flowering parts.1,8,9

1.7 General use(s): Traditionally, skullcap is used to help relieve nervousness and anxiety, as a sleep aid (mainly for stress-related cases of insomnia), or as an antispasmodic.1,7,8

2 Market

2.1 Importance in the trade: Skullcap is not a widely traded botanical commodity. In 2001, approximately 16 tons (35,000 pounds) of material were reportedly harvested and sold worldwide.10 No statistics on more recent volumes of harvested skullcap material could be identified in the published literature. The limited popularity of the herb is also shown by recent sales data from the United States (Table1), where it ranked between #99 and #107 of all single herbal dietary supplements in the Natural retail channel, and between #149 and #157 in the Mainstream Multi-Outlet retail channel. (T. Smith e-mail to S. Gafner, September 2, 2015 and September 3, 2015)

Table 1: Sales data for skullcap dietary supplements from 2012-2014.

Channel 2012 2013 2014
Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$]
Naturala 107 556,856 106 577,065 99 625,734
Mainstream Multi-Outletb n/a 19,355 157 22,735 149 27,997

aAccording to SPINS (SPINS does not track Whole Foods Market sales, which is a major natural products retailer in the US)

bAccording to SPINS/IRI (the Mainstream Multi-Outlet channel was formerly known as food, drug and mass market channel [FDM], exclusive of possible sales at Walmart)
n/a: not available
Source: T. Smith (American Botanical Council) e-mail September 2, 2015 and September 3, 2015

2.2 Supply sources: Most supplies on the North American market appear to be obtained from cultivated sources both in the United States (e.g., Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington) and internationally (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico).11 According to a report for the Australian government, Australian growers formerly supplied skullcap, but production halted after 2003 when global prices dropped and local growers were not able to compete with the prices from abroad.12 The majority of the skullcap used in products sold in Australia is now imported (Hans Wohlmuth e-mail to S. Gafner, January 19, 2015). There is some commercial material available that is harvested in the wild in North America, but the majority (85% according to a report from 2001) is obtained from cultivation.10

2.3 Raw material forms: In the United States, many companies that manufacture products containing properly authenticated skullcap grow it themselves.11 Bulk skullcap raw material is mainly sold as cut and sifted, in form of a teabag cut, or as powdered aboveground parts, which may be more susceptible to adulteration, since the distinct features for macroscopic identification are no longer recognizable.

2.4 Market dynamics: In 2001, an estimated 16 tons of skullcap were harvested and sold on world markets at a price of US $9-13/kg.10 Since the cessation of production in Australia, prices for imported skullcap from North America have been gradually increasing and reached Australian (AUD) $42/kg (US $31/kg based on the exchange rate from June 1, 2006) for organic crops and AUD 25-30/kg (US $19-22/kg) for conventional crops in 2006.12 Based on a 2008 newsletter of the Australian raw material supplier Network Nutrition, growers in the United States have experienced issues with cultivation due to difficulties with seed germination, crop failure, and various other issues. This has led to a shortage in raw material and the appearance of material where skullcap was substituted with other species of Scutellaria.13 In recent years, the demand for skullcap has been has been subject to fluctuations but overall trended flat or was slightly increasing. Currently, growers under contract can obtain between US $18-19/kg for conventional and US $24-29/kg for certified organic skullcap (E. Fletcher e-mail to S. Gafner, January 20, 2015; L. Ballard oral communication to S. Gafner, January 28, 2015). Pricing for the consumer is in the range of US $43-47/kg for conventionally-grown herb and US $70-110/kg for organically grown skullcap, according to an informal survey, by co-author of this Bulletin (SG), of smaller companies that had listed pricing on the Internet.

  1. Adulteration

3.1 Known adulterants: Canada germander (Teucrium canadense, Lamiaceae); germander (T. chamaedrys); Scutellaria spp., e.g., Alpine skullcap (S. alpina), Chinese skullcap (S. baicalensis), hoary skullcap (S. incana), heartleaf skullcap (S. ovata), and marsh skullcap (S. galericulata).1,8

3.2 Sources of information confirming adulteration: The most comprehensive review on adulteration of skullcap has been published by Foster in HerbalGram for the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program.2 Other sources for information on skullcap adulteration include the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia monograph on Scutellaria lateriflora by Upton et al.,1 and the PhD thesis by Brock.8 Some of the adulteration seems to be due to the sale of mislabeled seed material, e.g., the inadvertent cultivation of S. incana in North America, or of S. ovata in the United Kingdom. 1,8 Leroy Ballard, president at Nature’s Cathedral, Inc., an American grower and supplier of native American medicinal plants, commented that there are still between 1350 and 1800 kg (3000 and 4000 lbs) of S. incana sold as “Scutellaria spp.” in the United States, but most of this material is exported overseas. (L. Ballard oral communication to S. Gafner, January 28, 2015). According to Brock, it is not clear how much of the skullcap material used by herbalists in the UK is actually S. ovata.8 Further evidence of ongoing adulteration of skullcap products available in the US market is demonstrated by the results from a study in 2011 by researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture, where 5 out of 13 commercial dietary supplements from US manufacturers purchased on the Internet were adulterated, reportedly with Canada germander and Chinese skullcap.14 [Note: The original publication does not state the source of the purchased products, but one of the authors has confirmed that they were from American (US) manufacturers. (P. Chen e-mail to S. Gafner, September 4, 2015)] Adulteration of commercially sold skullcap raw material with germander (species not identified) was also reported in 2012 by Walker and Applequist.15 Germander was formerly sold routinely as a bulk botanical in the United States but it is no longer offered by most herbal suppliers in the North American market (L. Ballard oral communication to S. Gafner, January 28, 2015).

3.3 Accidental or intentional adulteration: As indicated above, some of the adulterated material on the market may be due to rare accidental misidentification when material is harvested in the wild, or the cultivation of crops where the seeds have been mislabeled, which is likely the case for some of the adulteration with other species from the genus Scutellaria (except adulteration with Chinese skullcap, S. baicalensis, which does not grow in the same geographical area as S. lateriflora). The reasons behind the adulteration of skullcap with germander species is a matter of debate. Some experts suggest that it is accidental, but it is now believed that at least part of the adulteration is deliberate since the Teucriumspecies have a heavier dry weight than skullcap and therefore, a much higher yield is obtained when harvesting germander (E. Fletcher e-mail to S. Gafner , January 20, 2015; A. Chandra, e-mail to S. Gafner, January 23, 2015).12,16 Nomenclatural confusion may also play a roles, as pink skullcap is a common name applied to Canada germander.2

3.4 Frequency of occurrence: There is no comprehensive published study on the frequency of skullcap adulteration. The only study looking at the adulteration of skullcap dietary supplements included a limited amount of samples (n = 13) from manufacturers in the United States purchased over the Internet.14 In this study, 38% of the samples were found to be adulterated. On the other hand, a study looking at whole or minimally processed skullcap raw materials (n = 10) purchased from vendors within the United States, did not find any adulterated material, although the authors of the study specify that they “have seen a recent sample of commercial skullcap, not included within this study, that was over 50% Teucrium”.15 Similarly, a study investigating the authenticity of 11 commercial dietary supplements (10 extracts and one product made with crude powdered material) sold in the United States, using species-specific DNA primers, concluded that all nine samples from which DNA was obtained contained S. lateriflora. Two samples, including the product made with powdered raw herb, did not contain DNA of sufficient quality to determine the identity of the material (D. Harbaugh Reynaud e-mail to S. Gafner, January 14, 2016). No chemical assays were performed on these samples to confirm the results.

3.5 Possible safety/therapeutic issues: Substitution of S. lateriflora was a prominent issue in 2002 due to an Australian herbal product’s being implicated in the death of a patient due to liver failure.17According to the label, the herbal product contained kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, Passifloraceae) and skullcap. The authors of the case report suggested that the liver failure was possibly due to the ingestion of kava, a botanical that has been linked to rare occurrences of liver toxicity.18 However, the causative agent for the death of the Australian patient was never confirmed. The Australian Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) analyzed the product and determined that it did not contain skullcap. Some of the known skullcap adulterants, Teucrium species are known to cause liver injury in humans.19 The hepatotoxicity in Teucrium has been ascribed to the diterpenoid fraction.20 The liver toxicity of germander is influenced by a number of factors, including the diet, the type of germander preparation, and possibly genetic factors.21,22 In contrast to many of the germander neo-clerodane diterpenes, those with a tetrahydrofuran moiety did not show hepatotoxic effects. The neo-clerodane diterpenes isolated from skullcap by Bruno et al.23 are different since they are substituted with either a dihydrofuran-fused tetrahydrofuran moiety or a fused tetrahydrofuran-γ-lactone ring. The detection of these specific diterpenes may offer a way to uncover adulteration, although subsequent studies failed to detect diterpenes in skullcap.24,25

The root of Chinese skullcap (S. baicalensis) is widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are some reports of allergic reactions, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort after ingestion or injection of Chinese skullcap.26 There are also a small number of case reports that have linked Chinese skullcap to liver injury,27,28 but this implication is based on previous reports where causality between Chinese skullcap ingestion and liver injury reportedly has not been established,29 or on case reports implicating a proprietary mixture of flavonoids from Chinese skullcap, catechins from betelnut palm (Areca catechu, Arecaceae), and zinc bisglycinate sold as a medical food under the brand name Limbrel® (Primus Pharmaceuticals, Phoenix, AZ).28 Aboveground parts of barbed skullcap (S. barbata), a skullcap species native to China, are similarly used and theoretically could be substituted for S. lateriflora, though this has not been formally reported. Since S. lateriflora does not grow naturally in China, and based on current knowledge, is not generally cultivated there, there is a greater likelihood that attempts by companies to procure S. lateriflora from Chinese suppliers could result in use of Chinese species.

The substitution of skullcap with material from other species of Scutellaria does not pose an apparent safety risk, although the data on use in humans with the adulterating species is more limited. Scutellaria galericulata, which is also used in herbal medicine, is believed to have similar actions and indications as S. lateriflora.16 The ethnobotanical use of S. galericulata and S. incana in North America is described by Moerman.30 Scutellaria galericulata herb has been used by the Delaware tribe of Native Americans as a gastrointestinal aid and a laxative. The Ojibwe tribe used the aboveground parts for heart trouble.Scutellaria incana decoctions were used by the Cherokee as abortifacient, to treat diarrhea, against breast pain and as a gynecological aid, but ethnobotanical research suggests that Native American tribes used the root of the plant rather than the aboveground parts.30 In addition, the chemical composition of these species, with the exception of the flavonoids, has not been established in detail.

3.6 Analytical methods to detect adulteration: Confirmation of species identity and purity may be achieved by organoleptic methods, if conducted by qualified personnel (e.g., a botanist) for plant material in its whole form. For establishing the identity of cut or powdered raw material, a combination of a physical assessment test (e.g., macroscopic or microscopic) with chemical identification methods or a suitable genetic approach is considered appropriate. Results from a paper using species-specific primers to authenticate commercial skullcap supplements had a success rate of finding skullcap DNA in nine out of 11 products (82%) with the remainder not containing any identifiable DNA. Chromatographic methods, such as high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), can be used for chemical characterization of raw material and extracts. A comprehensive evaluation of publicly available methods for the authentication of skullcap and detection of adulterants in skullcap, the Skullcap Laboratory Guidance Document, is available through the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterations Program website.31

3.7 Perspectives: Industry expert Steven Foster, president of Steven Foster Group, Inc., believes that “there is no accidental misidentification of Teucrium canadense as Scutellaria lateriflora. That is a myth. One can easily harvest a pick-up truck load of T. canadense in a morning, whereas one would be hard-pressed to harvest a few pounds of any Scutellaria spp. from any wild habitat anywhere in the United States in a day. The adulteration of Scutellaria lateriflora with Teucrium canadense is pure and simple ‘under the radar’ economic adulteration.” (S. Foster, e-mail to S. Gafner, January 28, 2015)

4 Conclusions

Based on a survey in the United Kingdom,32 skullcap is a highly regarded medicinal herb with herbal medicine practitioners. It has remained relatively popular in the United States as a botanical to treat anxiety and stress-related conditions.1 The substitution of skullcap with germander species is particularly deplorable because of the known toxicity of species of plants in the genus Teucrium. Such adulteration is easily detected by a variety of analytical methods, a detailed report of which is available in the Skullcap Laboratory Guidance Document,31 and as such, the potentially dangerous presence of Teucrium material labelled as skullcap in botanical raw materials or finished products cannot be excused.

5 References

  1. Upton R, Graff A, Soria T, Swisher D. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium: Skullcap Aerial Parts: Scutellaria lateriflora L.: Standards of Analysis, Quality Control and Therapeutics. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; 2009.
  2. Foster S. Adulteration of skullcap with American germander. HerbalGram. 2012:(93);34-41. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue93/FEAT_skullgerm.html. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  3. McGuffin M, Kartesz JT, Leung AY, Tucker AO. American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce. 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; 2000.
  4. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines, 2nd ed. Montvale, NY: Medical Economics Co; 2000:678.
  5. The Plant List. Version 1.1 (September 2013). Available at: http://www.theplantlist.org. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  6. List PH, Hörhammer L. Scutellaria. In: Hager’s Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, Volume 6. Berlin: Springer Verlag; 1979:339-341.
  7. Tropicos.org. Missouri Botanical Garden. Available at: http://www.tropicos.org. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  8. Brock CA. American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.): a study on its effects on mood in healthy volunteers. PhD thesis. London: University of Westminster; 2012. Available at: http://westminsterresearch.wmin.ac.uk/12194/1/Christine_BROCK.pdf. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  9. Health Canada: Natural Health Products Ingredients Database. Skullcap. Available at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=159. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  10. Greenfield J, Davis JM. Medicinal Herb Production Guide: Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.). Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Consortium on Natural Medicines; 2004.
  11. Upton R. Skullcap Scutellaria lateriflora L.: An American nervine. J Herb Med. 2012;2(3):76-96.
  12. Yap G. Prospects for medicinal herbs: Assessment of market potential for selected medicinal herb products (Valerian, Arnica, Skullcap, Echinacea, Goldenseal). Barton, Australia: RIRDC. 2006.
  13. Gorman R. Buyer Beware: Scutellaria lateriflora. In: Nutralink. Network Nutrition Pty Ltd, Australia. 2008. Available at: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnetworknutrition.com.au%2Fcontent.cfm%3FLive%3D0%26ContentType%3DContent%26ContentID%3D84%26TEI%3D150%26TLI%3D0&ei=SEvJVMOXLu3GsQS0p4G4CQ&usg=AFQjCNFc5twJHGECqPA0znGIXbB62biP3Q&sig2=d4U1iWtoAjBOTAZvJU3MxA. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  14. Sun J, Chen P. A flow-injection mass spectrometry fingerprinting method for authentication and quality assessment of Scutellaria lateriflora-based dietary supplements. Anal Bioanal Chem.2011;401(5):1577-1584.
  15. Walker KM, Applequist WL. Adulteration of selected unprocessed botanicals in the U.S. retail herbal trade. Econ Bot. 2012;66(4):321-327.
  16. Wills RBH, Stuart DL. Generation of high quality Australian skullcap products. Barton, Australia: RIRDC. 2004. Available from: http://www.rirdc.gov.au/reports/EOI/04-020.pdf. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  17. Gow PJ, Connelly NJ, Hill RL, Crowley P, Angus PW. Fatal fulminant hepatic failure induced by a natural therapy containing kava. Med J Aust. 2003;178(9):442-443.
  18. Teschke R, Sarris J, Schweitzer I. Kava hepatotoxicity in traditional and modern use: the presumed Pacific kava paradox hypothesis revisited. Brit J Clin Pharmacol. 2012;73(2):170-174.
  19. Laliberte L, Villeneuve JP, 1996. Hepatitis after the use of germander, a herbal remedy. Can Med Assoc J. 1996;154(11):1689-1692.Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on teucrin A, major component of hydroalcoholic extracts of Teucrium chamaedrys (wild germander).
  20. European Commission, Health & Consumer Protection Directorate General. Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on teucrin A, major component of hydroalcoholic extracts of Teucrium chamaedrys (wild germander). Brussels, Belgium. 2003. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scf/out173_en.pdf. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  21. Nencini C, Galluzzi P, Pippi F, Menchiari A, Micheli L. Hepatotoxicity of Teucrium chamaedrys L. decoction: Role of difference in the harvesting area and preparation method. Ind J Pharmacol. 2014;46(2):181-184.
  22. Zhou S, Koh HL, Gao Y, Gong ZY, Lee EJ. Herbal bioactivation: The good, the bad and the ugly. Life Sci. 2004;74(8):935-968.
  23. Bruno M, Cruciata M, Bondi ML, et al. Neo-clerodane diterpenoids from Scutellaria lateriflora.Phytochemistry. 1998;48(4):687-691.
  24. Lin LZ, Harnly JM, Upton R. Comparison of the phenolic component profiles of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and germander (Teucrium canadense and T. chamaedrys), a potentially hepatotoxic adulterant. Phytochem Anal. 2009;20(4):298-306.
  25. Li J, Wang YH, Smillie TJ, Khan IA. Identification of phenolic compounds from Scutellaria laterifloraby liquid chromatography with ultraviolet photodiode array and electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2012;63:120-127.
  26. Gardner Z, McGuffin M (eds). American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. 2nded. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2013.
  27. Teschke R, Wolff A, Frenzel C, Schulze J. Herbal hepatotoxicity–an update on traditional Chinese medicine preparations. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014;40:32-50.
  28. Chalasani N, Vuppalanchi R, Navarro VJ, et al. Acute liver injury due to Flavocoxid (limbrel), a medical food for osteoarthritis. A case series. Ann Intern Med. 2013;156: 857-860.
  29. Dhanasekaran R, Owens V, Sanchez W. Chinese skullcap in move free arthritis supplement causes drug induced liver injury and pulmonary infiltrates. Case Reports Hepatol. 2013;2013:965092.
  30. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1988.
  31. Gafner S. Skullcap Adulteration Laboratory Guidance Document. Austin, TX: ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program. 2015. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/BAP/LGD/SkullcapLabGuidanceDocument.html. Accessed January 15, 2016.
  32. Brock C, Whitehouse J, Tewfik I, Towell T. The use of Scutellaria lateriflora: A pilot survey amongst herbal medicine practitioners. J Herb Med. 2012;2(2):34-41.

Bulletin on Adulteration of Hydrastis canadensis root and rhizome


The goal of this bulletin is to provide information and/or updates on issues regarding adulteration of goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) root to the international herbal industry and extended natural products community in general. It is intended to present the available data on the occurrence of adulteration, the market situation, and consequences for the consumer and the industry.

1 General Information

1.1 Common name: Goldenseal1,2

1.2 Other common names:

English: Yellow root, yellow puccoon, ground raspberry, wild curcuma*, Indian dye, eye root, eye balm, Indian paint, jaundice root, Warnera3,4

French: Hydraste du Canada, hydraste, fard inolien, framboise de terre, sceau d’or5

German: Goldsiegelwurzel, Kanadische Gelbwurz, Kanadische Orangenwurzel5

Italian: Idraste, radice gialla6

Spanish: Hidrastis, hidrastis de Canadá, raíz de oro, scello de oro5

1.3 Accepted Latin binomial: Hydrastis canadensis7,8

1.4 Botanical family: Ranunculaceae

1.5 Plant part and form: Whole fresh or dry roots and rhizomes, powdered dry roots and rhizomes, hydroalcoholic and glycerin-water extracts and powdered dry extracts.9,10 Dried whole or powdered roots and rhizomes complying with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) are required to contain not less than 2.0% of hydrastine and not less than 2.5% berberine.10

1.6 General use(s): Native American tribes used goldenseal root and rhizome preparations as eye washes, treatments for skin disorders, bitter tonics, and for respiratory ailments and the infectious diseases brought by European settlers.11 The plant was included in The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics12 and King’s American Dispensatory,13 which increased its use substantially among Eclectic physicians for infections, mouth ulcers, and thrush, inflamed mucous membranes, chronic gonorrhea, jaundice, gastrointestinal complaints, as a bitter tonic and as a uterine tonic. Goldenseal preparations are now used as antimicrobial agents to treat infections of the mucosal membrane, including mouth, upper respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, eyes, vagina, as well as for wounds.9


2 Market

2.1 Importance of the trade: Echinacea-goldenseal combination dietary supplements were ranked #15 in sales in the natural food channel in the United States in 2013 and in 2014 (Table 1), with estimated sales exceeding $5 million in 2014. Sales in the Mainstream Multi-Outlet retail channel (excluding sales data from Walmart and Club stores in 2013 and 2014, which were not available) were lower, with echinacea-goldenseal products ranking between #41 and #53. (T. Smith [American Botanical Council] e-mail to S. Gafner, September 2, 2015, and September 3, 2015)14,15

Goldenseal root/rhizome-only supplements did not rank in the top 50 best-selling herbal supplements in the natural food channel or the Mainstream Multi-Outlet retail channel from 2012-2014 (Table 2).

Table 1: Sales data for echinacea-goldenseal dietary supplements from 2012-2014. 

Channel 2012 2013 2014
Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$]
Naturala 18 4,400,290 15 4,824,801 15 5,116,708
Mainstream Multi-Outletb 41 2,665,724 53 1,697,591 53 1,566,916

Table 2: Sales data for goldenseal-only dietary supplements from 2012-2014.

Channel 2012 2013 2014
Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$] Rank Sales [US$]
Naturala 68 1,046,775 70 1,111,038 69 1,110,546
Mainstream Multi-Outletb 60 1,287, 453 106 217,617 102 207,312

aAccording to SPINS (SPINS does not track Whole Foods Market sales, which is a major natural products retailer in the US)
bAccording to SPINS/IRI (the Mainstream Multi-Outlet channel was formerly known as food, drug and mass market channel [FDM]; possible sales at Walmart and Club stores are excluded in 2013 and 2014)
n/a: not available
Source: T. Smith (American Botanical Council) e-mail September 2, 2015, and September 3, 2015

2.2 Supply sources: Historically, the majority of the goldenseal root and rhizome on the market has come from the wild-harvested material, with Kentucky and Tennessee as the major producers. Other states along the Appalachian Mountains and in the northeastern United States provide additional supplies.9 There is no credible evidence that H. Canadensis is cultivated commercially outside of the United States and Canada.

2.3 Conservation status: In 1997 goldenseal was listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,17 which also controls global trade and markets for H. Canadensis.18 Several states consider H. Canadensis in need of conservation: Pennsylvania lists the plant as vulnerable, at high risk of endangerment in the wild; Maryland, Michigan and New York list the plant as threatened, at risk of extinction in the wild sometime in the near future; Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont list the plant as endangered, at high risk of extinction in the wild; North Carolina and Tennessee list the plant as endangered with special concern, at critically high risk of extinction in the wild.19

2.4 Raw material forms: Bulk goldenseal root and rhizome raw material is sold as whole roots and rhizomes (fresh or dry), cut and sifted, or as a powder.

2.5 Market dynamics: Despite a general trend of price increases since 1986, the costs vary considerably from year to year. Prices per kg paid to collectors of dried wild goldenseal root and rhizome ranged from the US $44–$77 between 1996 and 2005, and $77 wild to $110 for organic woods-cultivated material for the same time frame.20 The price per kg of dried wild root and rhizome peaked at $77 in 2001, dropping to $44 per kg in 2005, and fluctuating between $44–55 per kg through 2010.21 In its tonnage report, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) reported an average yearly harvest of 10 metric tons (MT) of cultivated compared to 30 MT of wild-harvested dry goldenseal root and rhizome between 2004 and 2010. The amounts of fresh goldenseal root and rhizome have remained below one MT in the same timeframe. Generally, the quantities of goldenseal root and rhizome harvested between 2004 and 2010 have been relatively steady.22

3 Adulteration

3.1 Historical adulterants: At the height of the Eclectic medical movement in the United States during the early 1900s, the price of goldenseal had risen to the point that several plant species were being used as economic adulterants on a regular basis; these included goldthread or coptis (Coptis spp., Ranunculaceae), yellow root (Xanthorrhiza simplicissima, Ranunculaceae), European peony (Paeonia Officinalis, Paeoniaceae),and twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla, Berberidaceae).23,24 The adulteration of goldenseal with Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria, Aristolochiaceae), which is of concern due to its content of nephrotoxic and carcinogenic aristolochic acids, was initially documented in 1892 and described again in 1900.25 However, there are no reported cases of adulteration with Virginia snakeroot in recent times. Additional historical adulterants and contaminants of goldenseal that have been documented include Athyrium filix-femina (Athyriaceae), Stylophorum diphyllum (Papaveraceae), Cypripedium calceolus(Orchidaceae), Collinsonia canadensis (Lamiaceae), Trillium spp. (Melanthiaceae), Caulophyllum thalictroides (Berberidaceae), and Polygala senega (Polygalaceae) as admixtures or contaminants.26 It is unlikely that adulteration is occurring with these species in commerce today.

3.2 Recent adulterants: Over the past 20–30 years, economic adulterants have reappeared in goldenseal products,27-29 based in part on the erroneous use of goldenseal to negate illicit drug testing in the 1980s.30 The adulterating species include Japanese goldthread (Coptis japonica), yellow root (Xanthorrhizasimplicissima), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, Berberidaceae), celandine (Chelidonium majus, Papaveraceae), barberry (Berberis spp., Berberidaceae), and yellow dock (Rumex spp., Polygonaceae) root.2,9,27 There is a single case of the sale of other root materials labeled as goldenseal, e.g., plantain (Plantago spp., Plantaginaceae) root, nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) root, or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, Passifloraceae) root colored with a yellow dye, as reported on the website of an analytical laboratory.31

Historically, market pricing for H. Canadensis has displayed instability.20 As noted above, over the more recent 15 years the price has ranged between $44-110/kg for dry root and rhizome material. Assuming that the relatively higher goldenseal price level drives intentional economic adulteration, the addition and/or substitution with several of the adulterating plant species would represent substantial cost savings to an unscrupulous supplier. Over the past 20 years, dried roots of the species Mahonia have sold at $6.1-$8.8 per kg and Berberis at $7.3-14.30 per kg. Over the past 10 years, the price/kg of adulterating species ranged as follows: celandine $3.7-6.9, barberry $5.6-19.3, yellow dock imported $9.5-10.1 and domestically grown $12.9-14.8. (S. Yeager [Mountain Rose Herbs] e-mail, August 25, 2015) The price/kg for Coptis spp. was approximate $14.1 per kg in 2011 and $11.0/kg in 2015.32

3.3 Sources of information supporting confirmation of adulteration: Goldenseal adulteration can be detected through the presence or absence of several alkaloids, namely the presence of berberine, canadine, hydrastine, and hydrastinine, and the absence of palmatine.9 Although most species used as adulterants contain berberine, the alkaloids hydrastine and canadine are unique to goldenseal.9 The presence of palmatine is indicative of adulteration by Coptis spp., the most common adulterant of goldenseal.27 An analysis of several dietary supplement products marketed as goldenseal root extract using the AOAC official method 2008.04-2008, a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) method for the analysis of goldenseal material, revealed that several products contained palmatine.33

A validated HPLC-mass spectrometry (MS) method was used to analyze H. Canadensis root from three suppliers along with the common adulterants – Coptis spp. root, M. aquifolium root, Berberis spp. bark, and C. majus herb.29 Of the three commercial lots that were purchased, all contained the expected goldenseal alkaloids: hydrastinine berberastine, tetrahydroberberastine, canadaline, berberine, hydrastine, and canadine. However, one product contained additional alkaloids not associated with goldenseal – palmatine, coptisine, and jatrorrhizine – thus suggesting admixture of an adulterating species. Avula et al. used an ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) method to detect the non-goldenseal constituents palmatine, coptisine, and jatrorrhizine in a commercial goldenseal product.34 An emerging adulterant problem stems from the use of goldenseal leaf material, which contains both berberine and hydrastine, but in a different ratio from goldenseal root.27


A recent report by a company specializing in DNA-based species identification analyzed several off-the-shelf goldenseal products, including those from a company described as “a major manufacturer.” The company used their proprietary ConfirmIDNATM method, a DNA barcoding method using universal primers, to identify plantain root, nettle root, or passionflower root rather than goldenseal. In addition, the product was colored with a yellow dye.31 No additional tests were carried out to confirm these findings.

Although this publication is focused on H. Canadensis root, commercial trade in H. Canadensis leaf does occur. Dried leaf harvest for the years 2004-2010 was estimated to range from 3.5-8.5 MT.22 During that time the price was approximate $2.2-11.0/kg (E. Burkhart [Pennsylvania State University] e-mail, September 21, 2012). Goldenseal leaf is an article of commerce, and there are allegations of its use as a low-cost adulterant.27 Actual evidence of non-declared goldenseal leaf as an adulterant to goldenseal root/rhizome is rare. One analysis of hydrastine and berberine in goldenseal leaf found levels of these alkaloids ranging at 0.27-0.29% and 0.36-0.39%, respectively, while levels in the root were 2.25-3.32% and 2.61-3.75%, respectively. As part of this 2002 study, three commercial echinacea/goldenseal products were tested with one containing only berberine in the expected range of goldenseal-derived isoquinoline alkaloids, which may indicate an adulterant species was used. Another contained very low alkaloid content suggesting possible leaf adulteration.29


3.4 Accidental or intentional adulteration: Historically as well as recently, the use of adulterating species appears to be motivated primarily by economic gain,24-29 particularly when bulk goldenseal root is selling for up to $110 per kg.

3.5 Frequency of occurrence: There is no comprehensive study on the frequency of goldenseal adulteration. One analysis in 2003 of three lots of purchased commercial goldenseal root powder found goldenseal alkaloids hydrastinine, berberastine, tetrahydroberberastine, canadaline, berberine, hydrastine, and canadine in all samples, while only one sample from a single supplier also contained palmatine, coptisine, and jatrorrhizine, presumably indicating that adulteration with coptis occurred in that one sample.29

3.6 Possible therapeutic/safety issues: Although no systematic investigation into human toxic effects associated with the use of Berberis spp., Coptis spp., or M. aquifolium could be found, no other spontaneous or anecdotal reports of adverse effects could be found. The second edition of the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook (BSH2) lists B. Vulgaris and C. Chinensis as class 2b safety ingredients, meaning that these botanicals should not be used during pregnancy. The safety concerns in the BSH2 are based on studies using pure berberine, and may not directly apply to extracts made from barberry or coptis. Mahonia aquifolium, which also contains berberine, is presented as a safety class 1 ingredient, which is a botanical that is considered to be safe when used appropriately. Nevertheless, use of Oregon grape during pregnancy is not recommended. In addition, all berberine-containing plants are not recommended for use during lactation.35

Case studies of Chelidonium majus herb in Germany have associated consumption of the herb with liver toxicity. Ad hoc causality assessments in 22 spontaneous cases employing a liver-specific, standardized, quantitative assessment method (Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences) found causality to be highly probable (n = 2), probable (n = 6), possible (n = 10), unlikely (n = 1), and excluded (n = 3). The pattern of liver injury was observed predominantly among female consumers. The average treatment was 36.4 days, and the latency period until first symptoms and jaundice was 29.8 and 35.6 days, respectively. The study did not identify which of the constituents were responsible for the liver injury.36 No product analysis was conducted and manufacturer observance of cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) was assumed. As such, it is unknown if adulterated products impacted the reported adverse effects.

3.7 Analytical methods to detect adulteration: Brown and Roman conducted a multi-laboratory collaborative study utilizing an HPLC-ultraviolet (UV) detection method, previously validated using AOAC International single-laboratory validation guidelines, to measure hydrastine and berberine in goldenseal root raw materials, extracts, and dietary supplements at concentrations of 0.4 to 6% (w/w). In addition to the quantification of berberine and hydrastine, the method also detected the presence of palmatine, an indicator of adulteration with Coptis spp.33 Based on the results of the study the method was subsequently adopted as AOAC official method 2008.04-2008.37 Weber et al., generated different alkaloid profiles for H. Canadensis root and two berberine-containing Coptis species using a validated HPLC-MS method.38 Kamath and colleagues investigated alkaloid compositions of H. Canadensis, American goldthread (C. trifolia) and coptis (C. Chinensis). They determined that the spectrum of alkaloids in C. Chinensis was different from those in H. Canadensis and C. trifolia, showing that the alkaloid fingerprint was suitable to distinguish the species.39 Another HPLC-MS method was shown to separate 10 analytes (berbamine, berberine, canadine, chelerythrine, coptisine, hydrastinine, hydrastine, jatrorrhizine, palmatine, and sanguinarine) from six different plant species (H. Canadensis, Coptis japonica, B. vulgaris, Chelidonium majus, M. aquifolium andS. Canadensis), allowing analysts to quantify the presence of adulterants at concentrations as low as 5%.40More recently, a UPLC method with UV detection was used to identify the non-goldenseal constituents palmatine, coptisine, and jatrorrhizine in a commercial goldenseal product.34

Govindan and Govindan developed a thin-layer chromatography (TLC) method to detect hydrastine, hydrastinine, and berberine of several goldenseal preparations.41 Their analysis identified three samples containing only berberine and one sample that contained none of the alkaloids, potentially indicating economic adulteration. The results of the TLC analysis were confirmed by subsequent HPLC tests.41 The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia adopted a validated high-performance TLC (HPTLC) method that simultaneously detects palmatine, which is found in adulterants, plus berberine, hydrastine, and hydrastinine. Upton noted the usefulness of hydrastinine as a reliable marker for old or poor quality H. Canadensis, since it is formed as a degradation product of hydrastine.42 Finally, a TLC/desorption electrospray ionization (DESI)-MS method was shown to detect non-goldenseal alkaloids from adulterants in goldenseal products.43

Several official compendial methods exist that may also be applied to adulterant detection, including theEuropean Pharmacopoeia44 and the United States Pharmacopeia–National Formulary.45 Criteria to perform identification using macroscopic and microscopic examinations of goldenseal rhizome and root are presented in several references.42,44,45 In addition to the macroscopic and microscopic characteristics of goldenseal, the AHP monograph also lists such characteristics for Oregon grape, Coptis spp., yellow dock, and yellow root.42

Other, unique analytical systems have been developed that detect both major and minor H. canadensis alkaloids. These methods, including capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry (CE-MS),46 pH-zone-refining counter-current chromatography (CCC),47 shift subtracted Raman spectroscopy (SSRS),48 and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) linked to an HPLC,49 may be adapted for the detection of adulterants.

4 Conclusions: Habitat destruction in some areas of the eastern United States, goldenseal’s native range, has decreased the availability of this important medicinal plant. Pricing pressure has historically increased the incentive for economically motivated adulteration of goldenseal root. Although the actual extent of adulteration of goldenseal root and rhizome in the current market is not clear, a number of authenticated methods exist to detect such adulteration, including some that have been validated.

*Although it has sometimes been called wild Curcuma, goldenseal should not be confused with turmeric root (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae).

5 References

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Bulletin on Adulteration of Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) Extracts


The goal of this bulletin is to provide timely information and/or updates on issues of adulteration of bilberry extract to the international herbal industry and extended natural products community in general.

1 General Information

1.1 Common name: Bilberry3

1.2 Other common names:

English: European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry4

Chinese: Hei guo yue ju (黑果越桔)

French: Myrtille, ambroche, ambreselle, brimbelle, gueule-noire, raisin des bois, vigne des montagnes

German: Heidelbeere, Blaubeere, Schwarzbeere, Waldbeere, Bickbeere, Moosbeere

Italian: Mirtillo, ampulette, asaire, bagole, baggiole, cesarelle, giasine, lambrune, mirtillo nero, murucule

Spanish: Arándano azul, mirtilo

1.3 Accepted Latin binomial: Vaccinium myrtillus L.5,6

1.4 Synonyms: Vaccinium myrtillus var. oreophilum (Rydb.) Dorn, Vaccinium myrtillus subsp. oreophilum (Rydb.) Á. Löve, D. Löve & B.M. Kapoor, Vaccinium oreophilum Rydb.5

1.5 Botanical family: Ericaceae

1.6 Plant part and form: Bilberry extracts are made from fresh bilberry fruit.1 The extracts are often standardized to 25% anthocyanidins or 36% anthocyanins. Products that claim these levels of compounds may in actuality contain the same amount as the differences are most often due to different quantitative values obtained from using different analytical techniques. In the case of bilberry, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) provides a lower quantitative value than ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometry (UV/Vis).7 Also found on the market are bilberry leaf extracts, or combinations of bilberry fruit and leaf extracts. Extracts made entirely from bilberry leaves and properly labeled as such are not within the scope of this document.

1.7 General use(s): The indications for bilberry fruit include the symptomatic treatment of dysmenorrhea associated with premenstrual syndrome, circulatory disorders in patients with capillary leakage or peripheral vascular insufficiency, and ophthalmic disorders.1,4,8 In addition, bilberry fruit is used topically for mild inflammations of the oral mucosa.4,8

2 Market

2.1 Importance in the trade: In the United States, bilberry was among the top 20 herbal supplements between 2007 and 2012 in the food, drug and mass market with annual sales above US $1.4 million in this channel.9-13 The market volume has been fairly steady in recent years (D. Stanek oral communication, January 23, 2015).

2.2 Supply sources: Commercial bilberries are sourced mainly from Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. The World Blueberry Acreage & Production report lists Poland as the major producer of bilberry, followed by Russia, Ukraine and Scandinavia. Commercial bilberry for the production of bilberry extracts is sourced mainly from Eastern European (Lithuania, Romania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine) and Scandinavian (Sweden, Finland, Norway) countries, but also from France, Italy, and the Netherlands. (D. Stanek oral communication, January 23, 2015; E. M. Martinelli e-mail, November 16, 2015)

2.3 Raw material forms: Bilberry extracts are prepared from fresh berries that are frozen and then extracted with aqueous ethanol or aqueous methanol, and further concentrated according to the manufacturer’s proprietary processes. Generally, the extract yield is approximately 100 times lower than the initial weight of raw material, i.e., 1 kg of fresh bilberry will provide ca. 10 grams of bilberry dry extract (D. Stanek oral communication, January 23, 2015). Dry extract materials using other manufacturing processes are also available.

2.4 Market dynamics: Tracking the bilberry harvest volume is difficult as the fruit is generally harvested by local people (i.e., wildcrafted) who then sell the fruit to brokers. A report from the North American Blueberry Council indicates that the total harvest for wild Vaccinium species (mostly bilberry, but other Vaccinium species, e.g., bog bilberry [V. uliginosum], are collected as well) in Europe was 11,340 metric tons (25 million lbs.) in 2008, 7,710 metric tons (17 million lbs.) in 2010, and 19,500 metric tons (43 million lbs.) in 2012.14

For 2012, the harvest in Poland was around 10,000 metric tons, but the harvest was mainly destined for the domestic market for confectionary and baked goods. Russia, Ukraine, and Scandinavia provided at least an additional 6,000 metric tons to the overall harvest.14 According to the report, the harvest in 2012 was particularly strong despite unfavorable weather conditions; since the economy was depressed in European countries, many people harvested wild blueberries for additional revenue.

3 Adulteration

3.1 Known adulterants: Materials that are used to adulterate bilberry extracts typically have an intensive dark blue color, such as anthocyanidin-containing extracts or red food coloring such as amaranth dye (FD&C Red 2, E 123). Anthocyanidin-rich extracts known to be used as substitute for bilberry include those from bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea), blueberry species (V. angustifolium, V. corymbosum, V. floribundum), cranberry (V. oxycoccos and V. macrocarpon), raspberries (Rubus spp., Rosaceae), wild cherry (Prunus avium, Rosaceae), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, Rosaceae), European elder (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae) berry, black soybean (Glycine max, Fabaceae) hull, black rice (Oryza sativa, Poaceae), and mulberry species (Morus australis, M. nigra, Moraceae).2,15-18

The common names “blueberry” and “wild blueberry” have different meanings depending on the geographical location. In the US dietary supplement trade, the name “blueberry” is restricted to three species, Vaccinium angustifolium, V. corymbosum, and V. pallidum.3 In Europe, V. myrtillus is often called blueberry, though bilberry is the English word which refers to this species in the trade.3 The hybrid cultivated blueberries from which the majority of the commercial food supply is derived are generally called blueberries. North American wild blueberry, common blueberry, common lowbush blueberry, low sweet blueberry, and lowbush blueberry refer to V. angustifolium which grows in the Northeastern U.S. and is commercially harvested in its habitat. Velvet leaf blueberry (V. myrtilloides) is also traded as “wild blueberry,” and is mostly wild-harvested in the Canadian maritime provinces. It is safe to assume that “wild blueberry” in a commercial sense refers to both V. angustifolium and V. myrtilloides (Steven Foster, e-mail, July 1, 2015).

3.2 Sources of information confirming adulteration: There have been a number of publications on bilberry adulteration, such as the reviews by Foster and Blumenthal,2 Giacomelli et al.,16 Upton et al.,1 the presentation by Pace et al.,19 and the doctoral thesis by Primetta.20 Foster and Blumenthal distinguish between the deliberate adulteration of bilberry extracts by addition of extracts from anthocyanin-rich sources such as blueberry, cranberry, European elder, sweet cherry, and others, and the adulteration occurring in the markets in China, where extracts of lingonberry and bog bilberry are wild-harvested and offered as “homemade Chinese bilberry” and “Chinese domestic bilberry” extracts at prices as low as $10/kg.2 This is in contrast to the much more expensive authentic bilberry extract (see section 3.3 below). Two additional studies regarding adulteration of commercial bilberry extracts were published in 2013 and 2014.15,21 The investigation into the quality of 20 dietary supplements purchased in a store or over the Internet in Japan by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) with detection by visible light at 535 nm provided evidence for adulteration in one sample. The product in question was labeled to contain a mixture of bilberry and black currant (Ribes nigrum, Grossulariaceae) extracts, but instead consisted entirely of black currant.21 Gardana et al. analyzed 26 commercial bilberry materials including 14 bulk extracts, six food supplements, and six juices by UV/Vis spectrophotometry and by UHPLC using a photodiode array detector (DAD). The samples were purchased either directly from the supplier (bulk extracts), or from herbal shops and local markets in Italy. The authors found an admixture of black mulberry in five samples (two extracts, three food supplements), and substitution of bilberry with chokeberry in two extracts and with a material tentatively identified as blackberry (Rubus spp.) in one extract. One food supplement did not contain any anthocyanins at all. Five of the juices were consistent with products made from bilberry fruit, while one juice did not contain measurable amounts of anthocyanins.15

3.3 Accidental or intentional adulteration: The limited supply and high commodity prices of bilberry raw materials have created an incentive for economically-motivated adulteration. In 2015 authentic bilberry extracts sold for a price of US $600-800/kg extract (D. Stanek oral communication, January 23, 2015). More easily accessible anthocyanin-containing fruit species can be collected in larger amounts than bilberry in a comparatively short time since many of these are readily available from cultivated rather than more expensive wild sources. The fruit from these other species can be made into extracts at a significantly lower cost than bilberry and can be priced below bilberry market rates while producing a profit for the producer/seller.

3.4 Frequency of occurrence: There are very little data on the extent of adulteration of commercial bilberry extracts and dietary supplements. A presentation by Pace et al. suggested that “adulteration of bilberry is rampant”;19 Roberto Pace, PhD, Director of Quality Control at Indena S.p.A. (Milan, Italy), the world’s leading marketer of bilberry extract whose use has been confirmed in clinical trials, commented that “bilberry is one of the most economically adulterated ingredients of the health food market” (R. Pace oral communication, November 5, 2015). As noted above, one study included results of 20 commercial products purchased in Japan, with only 13 of the products labeled to contain bilberry. Of these 13 products, one was found to be entirely composed of black currant, while the remainder did contain authentic bilberry.21 Another study looked at bilberry extracts from different manufacturers and supplements purchased on local markets in Italy. The results indicated that six out of 14 extracts and four out of six supplements were adulterated.15 Lee analyzed 15 commercial bilberry supplements purchased in the states of Washington and Idaho in the United States. Five products contained authentic bilberry material, and two samples could not be evaluated because they were composed of a mixture of anthocyanin-containing fruits, including bilberry. The remaining eight products were found to be adulterated.18 Based on the limited published data available, it is not possible to come to any conclusions about the frequency of bilberry adulteration, but it is accurate to say that it is not uncommon.

3.5 Possible safety/therapeutic issues: Most of the known adulterants of bilberry have a long-standing history of safe use in food and therefore do not represent a safety concern. However, adulteration of bilberry extracts with amaranth dye is of possible safety concern. Amaranth dye has been prohibited for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1976 due to concerns about carcinogenicity, which are mainly based on two controversial studies in rats.22,23 The use of amaranth dye is still permitted in Europe but is limited to 0.15 mg/kg per day.24 Most botanical adulterants are cultivated plants and might be potentially contaminated by pesticides, largely used in the growing of berries. Conversely, pesticides are not an issue with wild-harvested bilberry.

3.6 Analytical methods to detect adulteration: The most suitable way to authenticate bilberry extracts and detect adulteration is by chemical analysis based on the specific anthocyanin fingerprint using either high-performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC) or high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with ultraviolet/visible (UV/Vis) and/or mass spectrometric (MS) detection. The monograph of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP)26 recommends use of HPLC, while that of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)1 and European Pharmacopoeia (EP)27 utilize the UV/Vis method after adequate identification tests have been performedThe use of UV/Vis spectrophotometry alone will allow measurement of total anthocyanins in bilberry extracts, but is not specific enough as an identity test. It can be applied as a quantitative tool only after the identity of the raw material has been assured. A comprehensive evaluation of 39 publicly available methods for the authentication and detection of adulterants in bilberry extracts, the Bilberry Extract Laboratory Guidance Document, is available through the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program.25

3.7 Perspectives: Don Stanek, US Sales Director at Linnea Inc., a European producer of bilberry extract, commented that adulteration of bilberry extracts is likely to persist, since the authentic material is so expensive (oral communication, January 23, 2015). Furthermore, explains Giovanni Appendino, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University ofEastern Piedmont (Novara, Italy) and consultant to Indena, the leading producer of bilberry extract, the price of the berries is subjected to significant variations due to the effect of climate on the labor-intensive harvest (e-mail, July 20, 2015).

4 Conclusions:
The adulteration of bilberry extracts continues to afflict the natural products industry. Since the raw material is harvested in the wild, the control of the supply chain is more challenging and adequate testing of the incoming raw material is crucial. Test methods outlined, e.g., in the USP,26 the EP,27 or in the AHP1 are able to detect adulteration of bilberry extracts and should be in place in every quality control laboratory to prevent manufacturers of bilberry extract products from becoming victims of companies providing fraudulent ingredients.

5 References

  1. Upton R, Graff A, Petrone C, Swisher D. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium: Bilberry Fruit. Vaccinium myrtillus L.: Standards of Analysis, Quality Control and Therapeutics. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; 2001.
  2. Foster S, Blumenthal. The adulteration of commercial bilberry extracts. HerbalGram. 2012;96:63-74. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue96/hg96-feat-bilberry.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  3. McGuffin M, Kartesz JT, Leung AY, Tucker AO. American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce. 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; 2000.
  4. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J (eds). Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:16-21.
  5. The Plant List. Version 1.1 (September 2013). Available at: http://www.theplantlist.org. Accessed February 24, 2015.
  6. Tropicos.org. Missouri Botanical Garden. Available at: http://www.tropicos.org. Accessed February 24, 2015.
  7. Artaria C, Pace R, Maramaldi G, Appendino G. Different brands of bilberry extract: A comparison of selected components. Nutrafoods. 2007;6:13-18.
  8. World Health Organization: WHO monographs on selected plants, Volume 4. Fructus Myrtilli. WHO Press 2009;210-225.
  9. Cavaliere C, Rea P, Blumenthal M. Herbal supplement sales in United States show growth in all channels.HerbalGram. 2008;78:60-63. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue78/article3263.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  10. Cavaliere C, Rea P, Lynch ME, Blumenthal M. Herbal supplement sales experience slight increase in 2008.HerbalGram. 2009;82:58-61. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue82/article3400.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  11. Cavaliere C, Rea P, Lynch ME, Blumenthal M. Herbal supplement sales rise in all channels in 2009. HerbalGram.2010;86:62-65. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue86/article3530.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  12. Blumenthal M, Lindstrom A, Lynch ME, Rea P. Herbs sales continue growth – up 3.3% in 2010. HerbalGram.2011;90:64-67. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue90/MarketReport.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  13. Blumenthal M, Lindstrom A, Ooyen C, Lynch ME. Herb supplement sales increase 4.5% in 2011. HerbalGram.2012;95:60-64. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue95/hg95-mktrpt.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  14. Brazelton C. 2012 World Blueberry Acreage and Production Report. North American Blueberry Council. 2013.
  15. Gardana C, Ciappellano S, Marinoni L, Fachechi C, Simonetti P. Bilberry adulteration: identification and chemical profiling of anthocyanins by different analytical methods. J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62(45):10998-11004.
  16. Giacomelli L, Appendino G, Franceschi F, Togni S, Pace R. Omne Ignotum pro Magnifico: characterization of commercial Bilberry extracts to fight adulteration. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014;18(24):3948-3953.
  17. Filippini R, Piovan A, Caniato R. Substitution of Vaccinium myrtillus L. for Aronia melanocarpa (Michx.) Elliott in acommercial batch. Plant Biosyst. 2011;145(1):175-181.
  18. Lee J. Anthocyanin analyses of Vaccinium fruit dietary supplements. Food Sci Nutr. 2016. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.339.
  19. Pace R, Morazzoni P, Appendino G. Omne ignotum pro magnifico: Getting bilberry out of the adulteration swamp. Talk presented at: 9th Oxford International Conference on the Science of Botanicals; April 14, 2010; Oxford, MS.
  20. Primetta A. Phenolic compounds in the berries of the selected Vaccinium species – the potential for authenticity analyses. PhD thesis. Kuopio, Finland: University of Eastern Finland; 2014.
  21. Yamamoto M, Yamaura K, Ishiwatari M, et al. Degradation index for quality evaluation of commercial dietary supplements of bilberry extract. J Food Sci. 2013;78:S477–S483.
  22. Andrianova MM. Carcinogenous properties of red food pigments – amaranth, SX purple and 4R purple, Vop. Pitan. 1970;29:61-65.
  23. Baigusheva MM. Carcinogenic properties of the amaranth paste, Vop. Pitan. 1968:27:46-50.
  24. European Food Safety Authority. Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of Amaranth (E 123) as a food additive. EFSA Journal. 2010;8(7):1649.
  25. Gafner S. Bilberry Extract Adulteration Laboratory Guidance Document. ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, Austin, TX. 2015. http://cms.herbalgram.org/BAP/LGD/BilberryLabGuidanceDocument.html. Accessed August 25, 2015.
  26. United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Powdered Bilberry Extract. In: USP 37-NF 32. Rockville, MD: United States Pharmacopeial Convention. 2014.
  27. The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines. European Pharmacopoeia (EP 7.5). Myrtilli fructus recentis extractum siccum raffinatum et normatum. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe; 2012:1130-1132.