The American Botanical Council (ABC) recently announced the adoptions of two botanicals through its Adopt-an-Herb research and education program: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng, Araliaceae) by BOTALYS, a Belgium-based company that specializes in botanical ingredients and unique cultivation methods; and milk thistle (Silybum marianum, Asteraceae) by Euromed, a Spain-based herbal products research and development company.
These adoptions support ABC’s extensive HerbMedPro database, ensuring that this unique research and educational resource remains up to date for researchers, health professionals, industry members, students, consumers, and other members of the herbal and dietary supplements and natural medicine communities. HerbMedPro is a comprehensive, interactive online database that provides access to important scientific and clinical research data on the uses and health effects of more than 265 herbs, spices, medicinal plants, and fungi.
BOTALYS Adopts Asian Ginseng
According to Gaelle Stockman, marketing communications manager of BOTALYS, the company’s adoption of Asian ginseng constitutes “a great opportunity to increase the scientific knowledge” about this important plant. “We did not choose ginseng as a key botanical by coincidence,” Stockman wrote. “It helps people adapt to our challenging 21st-century lifestyle.”
She added that Asian ginseng has many health benefits. “Ginseng not only mildly stimulates the central nervous system, but it also modulates the immune and endocrine systems. It also works as a stress reliever, helping us live dynamically and serenely,” she wrote.
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal said: “ABC is deeply grateful to the people at BOTALYS for their adoption of Asian ginseng on ABC’s robust and unique HerbMedPro database. Asian ginseng has a long reputation as a major herb in traditional Chinese medicine and also in the West in the past 50 years as a premium tonic and adaptogenic herb. The adoption by BOTALYS will enable ABC to provide increased benefit to the international herb and medicinal plant community by ensuring that the HerbMedPro database is constantly maintained to reflect the most recent scientific and clinical publications on Asian ginseng.”
About Asian Ginseng
Asian ginseng is a slow-growing deciduous perennial that is native to eastern Asia, primarily China and the Korean Peninsula, where it has been used for at least 2,000 years. It is now rare in its original range but is cultivated extensively in China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Panax ginseng is one of about a dozen species in the genus Panax, all but two of which are found in Asia.
The genus name Panax, derived from the Greek pan, for “all,” and akos, for “cure,” reflects the 18th-century Western perception of the plant’s traditional use, though it was not actually used as a “cure-all” or panacea, according to Harvard University botanist Shiu-Ying Hu, PhD (1908-2012). Instead, the use of ginseng root was limited and specific in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The species name ginseng loosely means “essence of the earth in the form of a man” or “man essence.”
The earliest known written record of Asian ginseng reportedly is from The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing), which was written during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). Centuries later, Pierre Jartoux (1669-1720), a French Jesuit missionary, provided the first account of Asian ginseng by a Westerner after he encountered the plant on a mapping expedition in China in 1708 and 1709. He wrote: “Nobody can imagine that the Chinese and Tartars would set so high a value on this root, if it did not constantly produce a good effect. Those that are in health often make use of it, to render themselves more vigorous and strong.” His account propelled European interest in the plant and led to the European discovery of American ginseng (P. quinquefolius).
Ginseng roots traditionally have been used as a tonic and adaptogen (a substance that increases the state of non-specific resistance to stress). It is suggested their greatest value may be their normalizing, restorative effects on the whole body, rather than effects on specific body organs/systems or for specific diseases. Most of Asian ginseng’s effects are attributed to a mixture of saponins called ginsenosides.
Based in Ath, Belgium, BOTALYS was established in 2011 as Green2Chem, a consulting company that specialized in food and biotechnology and conducted preliminary research on vertical farming cultivation methods (in which plants are grown in stacked layers) to produce hydroponically grown plants. In 2018, with its new large-scale indoor vertical farm, the company changed its name to BOTALYS. It produces botanicals and ingredients for the food supplement, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries. It also values preserving the environment.
The company produces HRG80™, a pure and highly bioactive powder of P. ginseng root that contains 12% total ginsenosides, of which 80% are claimed to be bioactive. BOTALYS cultivates ginseng hydroponically in a sterile environment using a new vertical farming method. According to the company, this method enables it to grow bioactive plants that are difficult to cultivate with traditional agricultural methods. Ginseng plantlets are grown in a water solution, and, after harvesting, the roots are steam-cooked (with no extraction solvents) and then air-dried and ground into powder.
This cultivation method combines ancestral Asian knowledge with state-of-the-art technology. BOTALYS controls the process from beginning to end and claims it can ensure full traceability for each batch of ginseng produced. It also certifies that HRG80 is completely free of contaminants (e.g., pesticides, mycotoxins, and solvents) and not genetically modified or irradiated. According to the company, its production capacity will increase from 500 kg of Asian ginseng in 2018 to 2.2 metric tons by the end of 2019. For more information, visit www.botalys.com.
Euromed Adopts Milk Thistle
“We highly regard the work done by the American Botanical Council and believe the Adopt-an-Herb Program is an ideal channel to communicate to a growing and diverse global audience the vast amount of scientific and clinical research on milk thistle,” wrote Andrea Zangara, scientific marketing manager of Euromed.
Blumenthal added: “ABC is deeply grateful to our good friends at Euromed for their adoption of milk thistle on ABC’s highly useful HerbMedPro database. This adoption is quite fitting since Euromed is known internationally for its pioneering leadership in producing its clinically tested standardized milk thistle extract.”
Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of ABC, commented: “Milk thistle extract is one of the main botanical ingredients to maintain liver health. The effects of silymarin have been researched extensively, and we are grateful to Euromed for helping to make this research available in an easily accessible manner through our HerbMedPro database. This will be a great resource for health care professionals and other people with interest in this important medicinal plant.”
About Milk Thistle
Native to the Mediterranean region, milk thistle is an herbaceous annual or biennial that has been naturalized around the world. It belongs to the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and is one of two known species in its genus, along with S. eburneum. The plant can grow to five feet and is recognizable by its thistle-like, purple-pink flowers with spiny bracts (specialized or modified leaves) and large, prickly, lobed, rosette-forming leaves. In many places, milk thistle is a common wayside plant and may be invasive.
The leaves have distinctive white blotches along the veins and exude a white fluid when crushed, hence the name “milk.” The genus name Silybum derives from the Greek silybon, meaning “tassel” or “tuft.” The species name marianum owes to the plant’s symbolic association with the Virgin Mary.
First-century Greek physician Dioscorides, to whom the genus name is attributed, prescribed the leaves to treat snakebites. Also in the first century, Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted that the plant’s juice, mixed with honey, was used for “carrying off bile,” which may be the first mention of the plant’s liver-related uses. In her treatise Physica (ca. 1150), German herbalist and mystic Hildegard von Bingen wrote about the uses of milk thistle. Centuries later, the 17th-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that the plant is effectual “to open the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and thereby is good against the jaundice.”
The leaves have been eaten in a way similar to artichokes (Cynara spp., Asteraceae), and the seeds, when roasted, have been brewed as a coffee (Coffea spp., Rubiaceae) substitute. In Europe, the plant has been cultivated as a vegetable and for ornament. The seeds also have been used traditionally as a galactagogue to increase production of breast milk. Seed extracts have validated benefits for hepatitis, cirrhosis, and jaundice. They also have been used both preventively and curatively to protect the liver from toxins, including alcohol, aspirin, acetaminophen, heavy metals, and the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides, Amanitaceae).
Silymarin, a mixture of flavonolignans obtained from the seeds (technically fruits), can neutralize harmful free radicals that result from metabolism of toxic substances. It also has shown the ability to stimulate synthesis of liver-protective bile salts and alter cell membrane permeability, which prevents toxins from entering liver cells. Additionally, silymarin can increase production of glutathione, an antioxidant that is important for liver detoxification.
Based in Mollet del Vallès, Spain, Euromed was founded in 1971 by the German pharmaceutical group Madaus to ensure vertical integration and superior quality for its leading phytomedicine, a standardized milk thistle extract, and for other phytomedicines. Plantations were established, and the whole supply chain was integrated and verticalized. Since then, Euromed has grown into a leading global botanical manufacturer, and has maintained milk thistle extract as one of its flagship products, according to Zangara.
Now, a sustainable farming program in Central Europe yields milk thistle fruits used to produce Euromed’s milk thistle extract, which is indicated for liver support. Traceability begins with seed selection and identification of growing areas. Plants and seeds are collected from several places and then planted. From the most desirable plants, the primary flowers are isolated to prevent cross-pollination of any kind, and then self-fertilized, which leads to uniform quality, according to Zangara.
Biannually, the fields are audited to confirm there is no contamination of the soil or groundwater. The harvesting machinery helps preserve the chemistry of the seeds that are used in the production of Euromed’s extract. Steps are taken to prevent cross-contamination by pollutants, pesticides, and aflatoxins during the harvest and drying processes. After that, the raw material is dried, packaged, coded, and shipped to Euromed’s Innovation Center in Barcelona, where it is tested by the company’s quality control department with internationally recognized laboratory methods. According to Zangara, this testing results in consistent quality from batch to batch and year to year, to assure biological activity, as per Euromed’s PhytoProof quality seal. Euromed’s standardized milk thistle extract has been clinically studied over the past few decades in more than 5,500 patients worldwide.
About Adopt-an-Herb and HerbMedPro
BOTALYS and Euromed are among the 59 US and international companies that have supported ABC’s educational efforts to collect, organize, and disseminate reliable, traditional, and science-based information, including clinical studies, on herbs, medicinal plants, and other botanical- and fungal-based ingredients through the Adopt-an-Herb program. This program encourages companies, organizations, and individuals to “adopt” one or more specific herbs for inclusion and ongoing maintenance in the HerbMedPro database. To date, 64 herbs have been adopted.
Each adopted herb is continuously researched for new scientific articles and botanical, chemical, pharmacological, toxicological, and clinical studies, ensuring that its HerbMedPro record stays current and robust. Access to the studies is conveniently organized by publication type, with each study condensed to a one-sentence summary with a link to the study’s official abstract on PubMed (the US National Library of Medicine’s free-access database) or other publicly accessible database.
HerbMedPro is available to ABC members at the Academic level and higher. Its “sister” site, HerbMed, is available to the general public at no cost, with access to 25-30 herb records from the larger HerbMedPro database. In keeping with ABC’s position as an independent research and education organization, herb adopters do not influence the scientific information that is compiled for their respective adopted herbs.