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Herbals: at the forefront of testing and certification


Indena, Milan, Italy


Traceability and authenticity are key elements to support the consistency of the phytochemical composition of the herbs. DNA sequencing-based tests are emerging as powerful tools to authenticate botanicals, to identify the species and varieties of medicinal plants. Despite it is not mandatory for any regulatory framework, DNA testing has become relevant to guarantee quality, authenticity and a clean label to consumers. Genomic methods are contributing decisively to the authentication of botanicals, but they are not THE reference methods, they complement the botanical, chemotaxonomic and metabolomics analytical ones. So, which are the most appropriate tests and techniques to apply? Is a full genetic analysis of biological samples feasible in any setting? Is there a universal reference of DNA profiles available for herbals?

In recent years, the topic of potentially mislabelled botanical products has raised a debate at worldwide level about quality and safety and has led to concerns in general consumer confidence, especially with regards to dietary supplements. This followed the New York Attorney General’s activity who, in 2015, after an agency investigation unmasked that four out of five of tested herbal products did not contain any of the herbs promised in their labels, called the producers to conduct advanced genetic testing, to ensure that the herbal products contain the ingredients reported on the label. (1)

At the same time, the demand for natural and herbal supplements registers an unstoppable positive trend: the global supplements market grew by 5.7% in 2016, reaching $121.2 billion in sales; this growth is expected to reach $155 billion in 2020 and Herbs & Botanicals is increasingly becoming one of the most important categories, accounting more than 20% of the total supplements market. (2) Consumers are more and more keen to complete their dietary habits with products able to maintain the overall wellbeing: they are more mindful, especially millennials, who ask ...

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