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ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Publishes Bulletin on Adulteration of Eleuthero Root and Extracts

Confusion in vernacular names considered to be the main reason for adulteration of eleuthero root

AUSTIN, Texas (January 18, 2022) — The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) has released a Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin on eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) root and extracts.

Eleuthero is a popular adaptogenic medicinal plant known to increase the human body’s ability to resist and cope with stress. Authorized product label claims in the European Union (EU) include “symptoms of asthenia such as fatigue and weakness.” In Russian medicine, eleuthero is considered an adaptogen and tonic. Long-term use at the appropriate dose level is considered safe.

Eleuthero root adulteration with related species from the genus Eleutherococcus, as well as Periploca sepium, also known as Chinese silk vine, has been documented in the medicinal plant literature. Additionally, industry experts have confirmed adulteration of eleuthero root with eleuthero aerial parts (fruits, leaves, stems) in commerce. One of the reasons for the increased use of aerial parts is the slow growth of eleuthero root, which has prompted some farmers to move to annual harvesting of faster-growing, more easily harvestable, and potentially more profitable fresh aerial parts.

The issue of eleuthero adulteration came to light in 1990 in the so-called “hair baby case” when a report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by a Canadian physician who attended to a woman who gave birth to a hirsute baby boy after reportedly consuming “Siberian ginseng.”¹ Siberian ginseng, the former popular name of eleuthero, is no longer permitted in the United States, although it remains in use in other countries. A subsequent investigation by the Canadian government revealed that the “Siberian ginseng” material was actually Periploca sepium. The JAMA report has been uncritically cited in the medical literature for more than 30 years as evidence of the potential toxicity of “Siberian ginseng” and eleuthero, when in fact the specific botanical material in this case did not contain any eleuthero at all.

The BAPP eleuthero bulletin was written by Sanem Hosbas Coskun, PhD, an expert in natural products chemistry and analysis at the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD), and herbal medicine expert and ABC advisory board member Josef Brinckmann, Research Fellow at Traditional Medicinals (Sebastopol, CA). The bulletin summarizes the published data on eleuthero root adulteration and some of the nomenclatural confusion surrounding eleuthero root. It also provides an in-depth review of the market and value networks (supply chains) and discusses analytical methods to detect eleuthero root adulteration. Twenty-one medicinal plant experts from academia, contract analytical laboratories, and the dietary supplement industry in the United States and internationally peer-reviewed and provided input to confirm the accuracy of the information in the publication.

Stefan Gafner, ABCs chief science officer, commented: “Eleuthero root adulteration is an example of the challenges of using vernacular names in the botanical ingredient trade. Ci wu jia is the Chinese pinyin name for the root, rhizome, or stem of Eleutherococcus senticosus, while wu jia pi is the root bark of the related Eleutherococcus nodiflorus. Chinese herbal literature refers to both species as ‘Eleutherococcus,’ suggesting both can be used interchangeably, but making it somewhat difficult to distinguish the two related species based on their common names. Additionally, a large portion of what is sold as Eleutherococcus in the Chinese domestic market is estimated to consist of a very distinct species, Periploca sepium, or Chinese silk vine. In TCM, Chinese silk vine is referred to by its pinyin name of xiang jia pi or northern wu jia pi.”

According to BAPP Collaborator Roy Upton, executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopeia: “This is a very interesting example of how adulteration can occur; it is like a second-generation adulteration. The primary adulteration is because traders are using Periploca instead of Eleutherococcus nodiflorus in the Chinese wu jia pi market. Then, in turn, the same wrong species, Periploca, is used when buyers are looking for other species of Eleutherococcus such as Eleutherococcus senticosusPeriploca is a botanical that is used completely differently from our use of eleuthero as a tonic.”

Upton continued: “This is why it is so important for herb traders to know the source of their material. There is no great economic incentive to do this; it is mostly based on the use of regional common names in southern versus northern China. Eleutherococcus senticosus grows in northern China; Periploca grows in the south. Just asking a few questions of suppliers can help to minimize the potential for adulteration.”

The eleuthero bulletin is BAPP’s 24th botanical adulterants prevention bulletin and 70th publication to date. As with all BAPP publications, the bulletins are freely accessible on BAPP’s website (registration required).

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC-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.

BAPP has published 70 peer-reviewed documents, including Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters, and articles on botanical adulteration in HerbalGram.

Reference

1. Koren G, Randor S, Martin S, Danneman D. Maternal ginseng use associated with neonatal androgenization. JAMA. 1990;264(22):2866.