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Quality Control Methods for Medicinal Plant Materials.


World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland. 1998. 115 pp. Softcover. $31.50. ISBN 92-4154510-0. ABC Catalog #B406.

Primary issues for the field of herbal dietary supplements in the United States today are assessing and ensuring proper botanical identity for ingredients, their purity and quality, and then assuring the quality control of finished herbal products made from those ingredients. In recognizing this need and its importance for the development of herbal medicinal products throughout the world, the World Health Organization has published this handbook with practical information for laboratory personnel, purchasing agents, and quality assurance managers in the herb and medicinal plant industries.

The information contained in this book is derived from tests published in international pharmacopeias. They have been picked by the book's editors presumably on the basis of the accuracy of the analytical methods and for their relative applicability in various commercial laboratories. The book includes most of the expected types of information, such as powder and sieve size, general advice on sampling of test materials, determination of foreign matter, macroscopic and microscopic examination, and thin-layer chromatography. In addition, determinations of various parameters include ash, extractable matter, water and volatile matter, volatile oils, bitterness value, hemolytic activity, tannins, swelling index, foaming index, pesticide residues, arsenic and heavy metals, and micro-organisms. This book provides methods for determining radioactive contamination raising culture media and strains of micro-organisms, and other technical information regarding reagents and solutions.

Unlike a pharmacopeia monograph, this book contains generic tests and procedures for virtually any vegetable material, not specific tests applied to specific botanical materials. Obviously, it is not the scope of the WHO to provide specific testing procedures and parameters for the hundreds of herbal materials sold in commerce throughout the world. In this sense, the book contains the essential guidelines for proper laboratory procedures that need to be applied according to the particular exigencies created by the plant material involved. At a time when the herb industry and the Food and Drug Administration are attempting to resolve final regulations for good manufacturing practices, this guidebook becomes an important and much-needed reference tool for every in-house laboratory in the herb and dietary supplement field, as well as for all commercial and university laboratories.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal