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Nonprofit Consortium Publishes Review of Skullcap Adulteration

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 21, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The substitution and adulteration of skullcap with germander is a challenge that has plagued the herb industry in the United States and elsewhere for over 30 years, and the problem still persists today, according to an article in the Winter 2012 issue of HerbalGram (#93), which has just been released.(1)


In the article, noted botanist, author, and photographer Steven Foster traces the roots of common skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) adulterants, which can include inferior-grade, mislabeled, and, occasionally, potentially toxic substances. He continues with a discussion of modern cases of skullcap adulteration and suggests methods of verifying the herb's authenticity.

In a 2011 study featured in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, researchers at USDA's Food Composition and Methods Development Laboratory at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland found that of 13 skullcap-containing dietary supplements tested, all of which were purchased through the Internet, only 5 had a measurable amount of true skullcap.(2) Four supplements contained potentially toxic American germander (Teucrium canadense)—also sometimes known as wild germander, wood sage, and wild basil—which has been a known adulterant of skullcap products since the 1980s. Three supplements contained very low concentrations of skullcap and one sample contained Chinese skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis, rather than the American species (S. lateriflora).

Skullcap (also spelled "scullcap")—which has been used for centuries as a mild sedative and so-called "nerve tonic"—received international attention in the 1990s when some herbal products that claimed to contain it were associated with several cases of liver dysfunction. Analyses later revealed the source of toxicity to be European germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), another known skullcap adulterant.

Foster had previously written a short, non-bylined article in HerbalGram in 1985 alerting members of the industry about the skullcap-germander substitution problem.(3) In his new article, he describes a scientific paper from 1992 that first established germander as the source of harm.

"A clear chronological relationship was established between ingestion of germander and the onset of hepatitis," Foster wrote. "Liver dysfunction was reversed after use of germander products was discontinued."

"In 2010 and 2011, I gave about a dozen speeches about adulteration problems in the global herb market, and I referred to the skullcap-germander problem as an example of a former problem," said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. "However, I was disappointed to read the report from the USDA scientists this past summer showing that skullcap is still being adulterated with germander!"

There are those who believe that skullcap and germander may look similar, since they are both members of the mint family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae). Foster, and various herbal experts, believe that their physical characteristics are distinct enough to warrant an accurate identification with the naked eye, i.e., in the field.

According to an extensive quality control and therapeutic monograph on skullcap ("Skullcap Aerial Parts, Scutellaria lateriflora L.") produced by the nonprofit American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), the relatively comparable appearances of skullcap and other herbs can lead to accidental adulteration.(4) The AHP monograph states, "Skullcap has historically been adulterated with various species of the potential hepatotoxic germander (Teucrium canadense, T. chamaedrys) due to morphological similarity between S. lateriflora and T. canadense."

Foster recommends using the AHP monograph as a guide for properly identifying skullcap and germander species. "The most comprehensive and detailed information source on the topic is the 2009 AHP skullcap monograph which includes exhaustive information, illustrations, photographic images, and chromatograms on authentication, morphological difference, and chemical differences … of S. lateriflora, with an extensive discussion of adulterants."

The HerbalGram article contains some line drawings from the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) on parts of skullcap and germander to help distinguish them, as well as author Foster's beautiful 4-color photography of both plants. The drawings are taken from a book on botanical identification produced by MBG and ABC.(5)

The proper identification of herbal ingredients is paramount in helping prevent adulteration and protecting consumers. As Foster concludes, "Persistent, long-standing instances of adulteration and mislabeling of improperly identified botanicals, such as in the instance of skullcap adulteration with T. canadense, must be resolved to ensure that consumers get the herbal products they expect."

"In our view, all manufacturers of herbal dietary supplements and herbal teas, in the U.S. and globally, should read this article and the AHP monograph on skullcap to ensure that they are taking adequate measures to confirm that their skullcap raw material has not been confused with germander," said ABC's Blumenthal.

Foster's article is the second in a series of publications to come from the ABC-AHP-NCNPR (National Center of Natural Products Research) Botanical Adulterants Program, a nonprofit educational consortium that includes numerous third-party analytical laboratories and experts on herbs and herbal quality control. The program is preparing a technical laboratory guide to skullcap-germander adulteration, as well as a variety of review and technical publications on the adulteration of other herbs, herbal extracts, and essential oils. The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is an industry-sponsored, self-regulated, educational initiative designed to help members of the global herbal supply and finished products community obtain increased access to information that can help ensure the accurate identity and quality of plant-based ingredients and products. The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is supported and endorsed by over 60 companies and dietary supplement-related trade associations (see below). 

ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program Supporters*
(as of February 2012)AdvoCare International, L.P.

Law Office of Holly Bayne, P.C.Amin Talati, LLC

Markan Global Enterprises, Inc.Amway/Nutrilite Health Institute

Martin Bauer, Inc.Aveda Corporation

Metabolic Maintenance ProductsBI Nutraceuticals

Natural Factors Nutritional Products, Inc./Bioclinic NaturalsCepham, Inc.

Natural Products AssociationChemi Nutra

Nature's Sunshine ProductsConsumer Healthcare Products Association

Nature's WayCouncil for Responsible Nutrition

Naturex, Inc.Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps

NBTY, Inc.Enzymatic Therapy, Inc.

New Chapter, Inc.Ethical Naturals, Inc.

The New Frontier FoundationEuroPharma

Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community FoundationEuromed

Ningbo Greenhealth Pharmaceutical Co, Ltd.Eu Yan Sang International

Novel IngredientsFlavex Naturextrakte GmbH

NOW FoodsGencor Nutrients, Inc.

NSF InternationalGaia Herbs

Nu Skin Enterprises/PharmanexGNC, Inc.

NutivaHerbalife International, Inc.

Nutra CanadaHorphag Research

Thorne Research, Inc.Indena USA, Inc.

Traditional Medicinals, Inc.Nutraceutical Corp

Triarco Industries, Inc.Nutritional Laboratories International

United Natural Products AllianceParagon Laboratories

Valensa InternationalPerrigo Company

V.D.F. FutureCeuticalsPharmavite, LLC

Verdure SciencesPure Encapsulations

Virgo PublishingRainbow Light Nutritional Systems

Weil Lifestyle, LLCRFI Ingredients, LLC

Whole Foods MarketSabinsa Corporation

 Schwabe North America

 Standard Process, Inc.

 *By acknowledging the generous support of these companies and organizations, ABC, AHP, and NCNPR are not endorsing any ingredients or products that may be produced or marketed by them.References(1) Foster S. The adulteration of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) with American germander (Teucrium canadense). HerbalGram. 2012:93;34-41. Available here.

(2) Sun J, Chen P. A flow-injection mass spectrometry fingerprinting method for authentication and quality assessment of Scutellaria lateriflora-based dietary supplements. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 2011;401(5):1577-84.

(3) Foster S. Scullcap substitution. HerbalGram. 1985:2(3);3.

(4) Upton R, ed. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium: Skullcap Aerial Parts. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; 2009.

(5) Applequist W. The Identification of Medicinal Plants: A Handbook of the Morphology of Botanicals in Commerce. Austin, TX, and St. Louis, MO: American Botanical Council and Missouri Botanical Garden Press; 2006.About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants ProgramThe ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is a consortium of independent nonprofit organizations whose mission relates to education, scientific research, and quality of botanical dietary ingredients and related plant-derived materials. The consortium is endorsed and supported by over 60 companies, law firms, and trade associations involved in the production, supply, manufacture, distribution, and marketing of herbal dietary ingredients and supplements.

About the American Botanical CouncilFounded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinal plants. ABC's members include academic researchers and educators; libraries; health professionals and medical institutions; government agencies; members of the herb, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries; journalists; consumers; and others in more than 80 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas, where it publishes the quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), reference books, and other educational materials. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, a powerful herbal database, covering scientific and clinical publications on more than 240 herbs. ABC also co-produces the "Herbal Insights" segment for Healing Quest, a television series on PBS.

ABC is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. Information: Contact ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, Phone: 512-926-4900. Website:

About the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)AHP is a 501(c)(3) California-based nonprofit research organization. AHP's primary goal is to develop standards of identity, purity, quality, and testing for botanical ingredients and to provide industry with the resources needed to assure the authenticity and quality of botanical raw materials. Additionally, with most all monographs, AHP develops a Therapeutic Compendium that provides a critical review of the authoritative traditional and scientific data on herbal medicines to ensure a high level of accuracy, clinical applicability, and safety of herbal ingredients. AHP also provides industry with authenticated AHP-Verified Botanical Reference Materials for GMP compliance with identity requirements.

About the National Center for Natural Products ResearchThe National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, is a unique university-affiliated research center devoted to the study of natural products and the realization of their benefits in human health, agriculture, and other applications. The NCNPR is recognized as a Center of Excellence for botanical supplements by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 

Contact: Lucy Bruno
Phone: 512-926-4900 x121; Fax: 512-926-2345 Web site: 


SOURCE American Botanical Council
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