|Herbs are hot. At last count, sales of herbal products in the U.S. were approaching $4 billion and climbing. This potential gold mine has now lured pharmaceutical giants like American Home Products (Centrum) and Warner Lambert (One A Day) into the U.S. herbal products market. It has also spawned a push toward standardization and accountability, even among smaller, but reputable and well-established companies. Yet choosing herbal products is still a daunting task. Here, EN offers some much-needed guidance.
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EN’s Choice Herbal Companies and Brands
Though many companies produce quality herbs, in EN’s discussions with experts, the following names crop up continually as reputable sources. (We recommend single herb product lines.)
Celestial Seasonings; (800) 351-8175; www.celestialseasonings.com. Well-respected, longtime maker of herbal teas, now offering supplements. Certified organic herb line.
Eclectic Institute; (888) 799-4372; www.eclecticherb.com. Unique source of freeze-dried herbal extracts.
Enzymatic Therapy/PhytoPharmica; (800) 558-7372; www.enzy.com and www.phytopharmica.com. Maker of Remifemin, leading European menopausal remedy. Certified organic herbs grown exclusively for them.
Gaia Herbs, Inc.; (800) 831-7780. Certified organic or wildcrafted.* Some products are “standardized full-spectrum extracts,” which maintain the natural chemical profile of the extract. Recommended by many experts.
Herbalist & Alchemist; (800) 611-8235. www.herbalist-alchemist.com. Small producer headed by noted herbalist David Winston. Quality extracts. Certified organic.
Herb Pharm; (800) 348-4372; www.herb-pharm.com. Small producer of certified organic herbs in business for 20 years. Whole herbs, not standardized, but recommended by many experts.
Indena; (206) 340-6140; www.indena.it. Well-respected Italian supplier to U.S. companies. Lichtwer Pharma; (800) 927-7663; www.lichtwer.com. German makers of Kwai garlic, Ginkai ginkgo and Kira St. John’s wort, all tested formulas.
Nature’s Herbs (TwinLab); (800) 437-4372; www.naturesherbs.com. Well-respected herbal company in business for 30 years.
Nature’s Way; (800) 962-8873; www.naturesway.com. In herbal business for 30 years; partners with Madaus and Schwabe, respected German companies. Maker of Femaprint chaste tree, Echinaguard echinacea, Ginkgold ginkgo, HeartCare hawthorn, Thisylin milk thistle, ProstActive saw palmetto and Perika St. John’s wort (standardized to hyperforin), all tested European formulas.
Pharmaton; (800) 451-6688; www.pharmaton.com. Maker of Ginkgoba ginkgo, Ginsana ginseng, Venastat horse chestnut and Movana St. John’s wort, all tested European formulas.
Warner-Lambert; (877) 782-6837; www.TakeYourQ.com. Maker of Quanterra Mental Sharpness with ginkgo, Quanterra Emotional Balance with St. John’s wort standardized to hyperforin and Quanterra Prostate with saw palmetto, all tested European formulas.
Whitehall-Robins (American Home Products); (877) 236-8786; www.centrumcenter.com. Maker of Centrum Herbals line of single, standardized herbs.
*wildcrafted-picked from the wild, not cultivated.
Buyer Beware. Quality and potency aren’t guaranteed when you buy botanicals, because they are not regulated like prescription drugs or even over-the-counter medications. Since 1994, herbal products have been classified as dietary supplements, which don’t need proof of effectiveness or safety prior to sale. Nor must products prove they are free of contaminants or that they even contain the ingredients claimed on the label. So, where does this leave you, the consumer? Pretty much in the dark. Your only defense is to find a company-large or small-to trust.
Are Standardized Herbs Better? In the absence of regulation, many manufacturers are turning to standardization. The advantage of a standardized product is that it consistently contains a certain level of “marker compounds.” These substances may be responsible for the herb’s actions in the body-the herb’s so-called “active compounds.” Sometimes not. More often, researchers simply don’t know.
At the very least, marker compounds serve as a guarantee that the plant used hasn’t been misidentified and ensures a consistent product despite varying geography, climate and soil conditions.
But even standardized products don’t always contain what they say they do. Analyses by the Los Angeles Times and Self magazine of standardized St. John’s wort products, for example, found that nearly three-quarters of the brands tested contained less than 90% of the marker compound hypericin that was listed on the label. Some had less than half.
Ironically, experts now believe the much ballyhooed hypericin-the compound most St. John’s wort in the U.S. is standardized to-is not responsible for the herb’s effects. Other components, such as hyperforin, are probably more important, though hypericin may still be a good marker compound.
This highlights a drawback to herbs that are standardized to only one ingredient and supports the rationale for ground-up whole herbs. Even so, most experts agree some whole herbs simply can’t provide enough active compound to be effective. With Ginkgo biloba, for example, only a concentrated, standardized extract is effective.
Bottom Line. Given the current lack of regulation, EN favors standardization, especially for herbs with identified marker compounds (see box). And we advise sticking to products based on single herbs. With combination products, you may get substances you don’t want or need, increasing the chance of unwanted side effects or interactions.
For standardized herbs, you probably can’t go wrong buying from established European providers or U.S. pharmaceutical firms, who have reputations to uphold. But big name brands may cost more. Moreover, small companies are favored by many herbal experts. Here, EN offers a list of companies, both large and small, that we trust.
For Your Bookshelf
For More Information
<font face=”Arial” size=”3″>20 Commonly Standardized Herbs
|Black cohosh||2.5% triterpene glycosides|
|Cranberry||30% organic acids|
|Echinacea||5% echinacosides, 15% polysaccharides|
|Garlic||5.4 milligrams allicin or 1,500 ppm allicin|
|Ginkgo biloba||24% flavone glycosides, 6% terpene lactones|
|Grape seed||95% proanthocyanidins|
|Green tea||30% to 40% polyphenols|
|Hawthorn||3.2% vitexin or 1% flavonoids|
|Horse chestnut||8% aescin|
|Licorice||2% to 2.5% glycyrrhizin|
|Milk thistle||70% to 80% silymarin|
|Saw palmetto||85% to 95% free fatty acids and sterols|
|St. John’s wort||0.3% to 0.5% hypericin|
|Valerian||0.8% valerenic acid|