Your herbal tea could include a weed or two

herbal tea with an extra ingredientYou’re feeling a little frazzled, not too keen on further winding yourself up, so instead of a caffeine loaded espresso, you opt for a herbal infusion of rooibos.

You boil the water and pop the tightly woven little bag into the cup, then leave it to dangle for a few minutes. The flavours of the tea, percolate into the water and the earthy scents of mother nature’s antioxidant parcel, waft into your nose.

Already you’re feeling more relaxed.

But, what is this ? In your precious blend there is a WEED !

The extra ingredients in herbal products

Three teenagers under the guidance of some DNA bar-coding experts, analyzed the ingredients of 146 herbal products obtained from shops in New York City area. The products included in the study represented 33 different manufacturers spanning 17 countries.

Using a relatively inexpensive laboratory set up, the teenagers were able to isolate DNA from the products. The isolated DNA was then amplified and sent to be sequenced by a commercial laboratory. The resulting DNA sequences were then matched to DNA databases to confirm what was, was not, in the product.

What you see is not always what you get

Their findings indicated what you see on the label, is not always what you get. 35 % of the herbal products included unlisted ingredients.

Some specific examples included

  • a St John’s wort product, which had in addition to Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort), a hefty dose of material from a fern in the genus Terpischore
  • several fancy herbal infusions, which turned out to contain good old fashioned tea, Camellia sinensis, but this “tea” was not in fact listed as an ingredient.
  • a herbal tea officially containing – ginger root, linden, lemon peel, blackberry leaves and lemongrass, which ultimately matched the common weed, Poa annua, annual bluegrass.

What else popped up unannounced :

  • chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • parsley,
  • plus a host of common weeds

Does it matter ?

Probably for most people the details of the blend are irrelevant – as long as it tastes good, it is good.

But for the allergic type, extra ingredients, even in minute quantities, might pose a health risk, so for them it does matter.

Why are they there ?

Of course, the big question is why are they there – is it an accident or is it deliberate ?

Weeds could arrive accidentally – as the plant was being harvested, a nearby weed was picked as well. And the effect of one stray weed would be trivial.

But it is hard to see how chamomile, “tea” and parsley arrive in the blend, unexpectedly. There presence is deliberate – there purpose may be to add flavour, colour or bulk.

Quality a problem with herbal products

The study reinforces one of the biggest problems with using herbal “medicines” – you don’t always know what you are getting.

But don’t let a weed or two, put you off your antioxidant loaded beverage, even if something unexpected pops into your brew, the herbal tea is a much healthier way to quench your thirst than sugar laden fizzy cold drinks and fruit juices.

Commercial Teas Highlight Plant DNA Barcode Identification Successes and Obstacles. Scientific Reports (2011) 1:article 42. Mark Y. Stoeckle, Catherine C. Gamble, Rohan Kirpekar, Grace Young, Selena Ahmed, Damon P. Little.

 

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