Drug Safety

, Volume 38, Issue 7, pp 611–620 | Cite as

DNA Barcoding and Pharmacovigilance of Herbal Medicines

  • Hugo J. de BoerEmail author
  • Mihael C. Ichim
  • Steven G. Newmaster
Leading Article


Pharmacovigilance of herbal medicines relies on the product label information regarding the ingredients and the adherence to good manufacturing practices along the commercialisation chain. Several studies have shown that substitution of plant species occurs in herbal medicines, and this in turn poses a challenge to herbal pharmacovigilance as adverse reactions might be due to adulterated or added ingredients. Authentication of constituents in herbal medicines using analytical chemistry methods can help detect contaminants and toxins, but are often limited or incapable of detecting the source of the contamination. Recent developments in molecular plant identification using DNA sequence data enable accurate identification of plant species from herbal medicines using defined DNA markers. Identification of multiple constituent species from compound herbal medicines using amplicon metabarcoding enables verification of labelled ingredients and detection of substituted, adulterated and added species. DNA barcoding is proving to be a powerful method to assess species composition in herbal medicines and has the potential to be used as a standard method in herbal pharmacovigilance research of adverse reactions to specific products.


Herbal Medicine rbcL Herbal Product High Resolution Melting Ginseng Root 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The research leading to these results has received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007–2013/under REA (Research Executive Agency) Grant Agreement No. PITN-GA-2013-606895 (to HdB), the Norway-Romania EEA (European Economic Area) Research Programme operated by the MECS-ANCSI PO (Ministerul Educatiei si Cercetarii Stiintifice - Autoritatea Nationala pentru Cercetare Stiintifica si Inovare Programme Operator) under the EEA Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 Project Contract No. 2SEE/2014 (to HdB and MI), the Core Program PN09-360402/BIODIV (MECS-ANCSI) (to MI) and the International Science and Technology Partnership Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (MEDI) (to SN).

Conflict of interest

Hugo de Boer, Mihael Ichim and Steven Newmaster have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hugo J. de Boer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mihael C. Ichim
    • 3
  • Steven G. Newmaster
    • 4
  1. 1.The Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Organismal Biology, Evolutionary Biology CentreUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.NIRDBS/“Stejarul” Research Centre for Biological SciencesPiatra NeamtRomania
  4. 4.Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO)University of GuelphGuelphCanada

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