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American Botanical Council Publishes a History of Adulteration

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Botanical Council announces the publication of "A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs" by noted botanist, author, and photographer Steven Foster(1). The article appears in the just-released Fall 2011 issue of HerbalGram (#92).(1)


In the paper, Foster—who is also ABC's Board of Trustees president—provides an overview of the history of adulteration stretching back to Greco-Roman Antiquity.

Foster defines "adulteration" in the paper as "accidental, negligent, or intentional variations in identity, strength, purity, and expected outcomes from a named or at least implied identity of a drug" or food, spice, or dietary ingredient.

The article begins by emphasizing, via a humorous quote, that the practice of botanical adulteration likely began much earlier than Classical times:

"Since the memorable occasion upon which young Eve palmed off the green apple on old man Adam, more or less fraud in food handling has occurred, as opportunity has offered and occasion for profit has suggested. In the adulteration of drugs even more elasticity of conscience has been necessary to permit the almost unlimited sophistication which has been practice from time immemorial."

In a detailed and compellingly narrative fashion, the article describes 1st century methods of adulteration detection, the medieval Islamic practice of having an amin present during medicine preparation to "thwart adulteration," legislative reaction to botanical adulteration in 19th century Britain, and the Ginger Jake epidemic that crippled many U.S. citizens during Prohibition. Foster then outlines contemporary incidents of adulteration.

"We commissioned Steven Foster to write this article as we believe it is important to frame the issue of accidental and intentional adulteration of botanical ingredients in the historical perspective," said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. "It is essential for people to realize that adulteration is an ancient and ongoing practice: unfortunately, people have been cheating in commerce since the beginning of civilization!"

"I have found the topic of adulteration fascinating ever since I first encountered catnip stem-chaff left over from catnip seed harvest masquerading as catnip herb over 30 years ago," said Foster. "Proper verification and authentication of botanicals and plant parts entering commercial trade is of increasing importance to discerning consumers demanding high-quality herbal products to deliver expected benefits. Quality is not a marketing slogan; it is a consumer right. A spectrum of sophisticated technology exists to thwart adulteration problems. However, history teaches us that there is no technological substitute for knowledgeable and experienced human perception. It is the foundation from which technology becomes useful."

The article contains historic illustrations and Foster's own plant photography. It was peer reviewed by five experts in the history of pharmacy and medicine and additional expert reviewers. The article is the first in a series of articles and white papers on adulteration of botanical materials used in foods, spices and food flavorings, dietary ingredients, drugs, and cosmetics as part of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, a recently-announced consortium of nonprofit organizations and independent analytical laboratories headed by the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi. 

"This program is the first time a wide range of members of the herb, dietary supplement, analytical laboratories, industry trade organizations, and others in various segments of the botanical ingredients industry have come together to support a self-regulatory educational process to identify and reduce the level of accidental and intentional adulteration of botanical materials used in numerous consumer goods," said Blumenthal. "But," he added, "as this article cogently demonstrates, adulteration has been with us for thousands of years. The best we can do is help suppliers and manufacturers identify problems and produce reliable ingredients, and hope that the regulatory agencies will do their part in enforcing existing laws and regulations."


(1) Foster S. A brief history of adulteration of herbs, spices, and botanical drugs. HerbalGram. 2011:92;42-57. Available here.

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program
The 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 by three trade associations in the herb and dietary supplements industry and is being financially underwritten by over 50 companies involved in the supply, manufacture, and marketing of herbal dietary supplements.

About the American Botanical Council
Founded 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 nearly 70 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 Research
The 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.

Underwriters and Supporters of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program (as of November 30, 2011)*

Amin Talati, LLC
Amway/Nutrilite Health Institute
Aveda Corporation
Bioclinic Naturals
BI Nutraceuticals
Cepham, Inc.
Chemi Nutra
Council for Responsible Nutrition
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
Enzymatic Therapy, Inc.
Ethical Naturals, Inc.
Eu Yan Sang International
Flavex Naturextrakte GmbH
Gencor Nutrients, Inc.
Gaia Herbs
GNC, Inc.
Herbalife International, Inc.
Horphag Research
Indena USA, Inc.
Law Office of Holly Bayne, P.C.
Markan Global Enterprises, Inc.
Martin Bauer, Inc.
Metabolic Maintenance Products
Natural Factors Nutritional Products, Inc.
Nature's Sunshine Products
Nature's Way
Naturex, Inc.
NBTY, Inc.
New Chapter, Inc.
The New Frontier Foundation Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
Novel Ingredients
NOW Foods
Natural Products Association
NSF International
Nu Skin Enterprises/Pharmanex
Nutra Canada
Nutraceutical Corp
Nutritional Laboratories International
Paragon Laboratories
Perrigo Company
Pharmavite, LLC
Pure Encapsulations
Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems
RFI Ingredients, LLC
Sabinsa Corporation
Schwabe North America
Standard Process, Inc.
Thorne Research, Inc.
Traditional Medicinals, Inc.
Triarco Industries, Inc.
United Natural Products Alliance
Valensa International
V.D.F. FutureCeuticals
Verdure Sciences
Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Whole Foods Market

*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.

Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link.
Mark Blumenthal

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


SOURCE American Botanical Council
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