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ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Publishes Laboratory Guidance Document on Arnica Flowers

Bulletin focuses on adulteration and substitution of arnica flowers with other yellow-flowering species

AUSTIN, Texas (January 4, 2023) — The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) has released a Laboratory Guidance Document (LGD) on arnica (Arnica montana) flowers.* Arnica extract is a popular ingredient in topical gels and ointments for the relief of bruises, sprains, and localized muscular pain, and is also widely used in cosmetic preparations.

Due to the widespread use of the common name “arnica,” especially in Spanish-speaking cultures, yellow flowers of species other than Arnica montana are offered in commerce. Some of these materials may be used as legitimate substitutes in cases where there are locally accepted interchangeable uses, or sometimes they can be used as adulterants, if their inclusion is not transparently disclosed on ingredient certificates of analysis or on finished product labels. The best-known example is material labeled as “Arnica montana” that contains so-called false arnica (Heterotheca inuloides), also known as Mexican arnica.

Another issue is the current high demand for dried arnica flowers, which exceeds the volume that can be covered by wildcrafting and has led to a 7-to-8-fold increase in the price of raw materials in 2022 compared to prices in 2019. These high prices have led to an increased risk for economically-motivated adulteration.

The new BAPP LGD was written by Oleksandr Shulha, PhD, an expert in natural products chemistry and analysis based in Cherkasy, Ukraine. It provides an evaluation of 27 analytical methods, including macroscopic, microscopic, genetic (DNA-based), and chemical assays, with respect to their suitability to authenticate the proper identity of arnica flowers. Twenty-one experts in quality control of medicinal plants from academia and the herb industry in the United States and internationally provided peer-review input on the LGD to ensure its accuracy and relevance to current global market conditions.

Thomas Schmidt, PhD, Professor of Pharmaceutical Biology and Phytochemistry at the University of Münster, Germany, and an active arnica researcher for many years, explained: “Arnica flowers are a rather important botanical ingredient with a long tradition of successful medical use supported by loads of scientific evidence. However, as is often the case with successful medicinal plants, intentional adulteration or confusion with similar-looking plants is not uncommon. Of course, there is an official monograph in the European Pharmacopoeia, but additional methods for authentication exist and BAPP’s lab guide summarizing in detail all the possibilities for analytical identification of “the real thing” will certainly be helpful. It’s nice to know it exists now.”

“Most of the yellow-flowered species that may be labeled as arnica can be easily distinguished using macroscopic or microscopic tests, or methods based on chemical marker compounds,” commented Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of ABC and technical director of BAPP. “Even the North American Arnica species such as Chamisso arnica or heartleaf arnica, which can be legally sold as arnica in the USA, have a distinct chemical composition that can be used to differentiate among the species. Having all this information conveniently presented in one document should make it easy for industry, academic, and government regulatory analysts to select the most appropriate methods for their laboratory.”

The Arnica montana flower LGD is the 15th publication in the series of LGDs and the 78th peer-reviewed publication published by BAPP. As with all BAPP publications, LGDs are freely accessible to all ABC members, registered users of the ABC website, and all members of the public on the Program’s website (registration required).

* Botanically, the inflorescence of arnica is a flower head composed of exterior ligulate (ray-like) and central tubular flowers.

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC (American Botanical Council)-AHP (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia)-NCNPR (National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients sold in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program.

To date, BAPP has published 78 extensively peer-reviewed articles, including Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, and Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters.