Species Adulteration in the Herbal Trade: Causes, Consequences and Mitigation


The global economy of the international trade of herbal products has been increasing by 15% annually, with the raw material for most herbal products being sourced from South and Southeast Asian countries. In India, of the 8000 species of medicinal plants harvested from the wild, approximately 960 are in the active trade. With increasing international trade in herbal medicinal products, there is also increasing concern about the widespread adulteration and species admixtures in the raw herbal trade. The adverse consequences of such species adulteration on the health and safety of consumers have only recently begun to be recognised and documented. We provide a comprehensive review of the nature and magnitude of species adulteration in the raw herbal trade, and identify the underlying drivers that might lead to such adulteration. We also discuss the possible biological and chemical equivalence of species that are used as adulterants and substitutes, and the consequences thereof to consumer health and safety, and propose a framework for the development of a herbal trade authentication service that can help regulate the herbal trade market.

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The authors thank Dr. Amit Agarwal and Dr. K. Chandrashekara for their many incisive comments and suggestions to improve the article.

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All the authors took part in the discussions on the herbal product authentication. The authors RUS, GR worked on the conception and the article composition. RUS, GR, RS, JUSK and GSS contributed to the review and in writing the manuscript. RS, GR and RUS worked on the discussion and critical revisions. KNG, SGN and SR contributed by giving comments and editing the manuscript. All the authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gudasalamani Ravikanth.

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Work reported in the article was supported by a grant from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India (BT/IN/ISTP/05/RUS/2012).

Conflicts of interest

Ramanujam Srirama, J. U. Santhosh Kumar, G. S. Seethapathy, Steven G. Newmaster, S. Ragupathy, K. N. Ganeshaiah, R. Uma Shaanker and Gudasalamani Ravikanth have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Srirama, R., Santhosh Kumar, J.U., Seethapathy, G.S. et al. Species Adulteration in the Herbal Trade: Causes, Consequences and Mitigation. Drug Saf 40, 651–661 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40264-017-0527-0

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