Adulteration in herbal medicine

Adulteration is a huge problem in herbal medicine.  As soon as a plant gets a reputation for working miracles, the demand shoots up, and sustainable harvesting gets lost in the goldrush.  Many remedies, especially ones that have avoided the limelight until now, are still gathered from the wild.  If demand outstrips supply, other things will be added to increase the crop – parts of the plant not normally used, or different plants altogether. 

Kava, or Piper methysticum, is a good (or bad) example of this.  Kava has been used for centuries in Polynesia; it’s a feel-good herb, and when the right parts of the plant are prepared in the right way, it’s guaranteed to make you smile.  The world got wind of this in a big way some years ago, and suddenly the cost rocketed so that the locals could no longer afford it.  Worse, after a while a few people using Kava began to develop liver problems, and it turned out that some parts of the plant, which are never used traditionally, contain toxic alkaloids.  Kava is now banned in the west, and a valuable remedy for depression has been lost to us.

How can you be sure you’re getting the herb you want?  Reputable firms do regular quality checks, and will not buy from suppliers who are not trustworthy.  They will also try to ensure that their products are harvested sustainably.  You may have to pay a little more, but what is the point of a cheap deal if you end up doing yourself harm?  Go to a professional practitioner, or a well-established company.  That way you’ll get what you pay for, and contribute to the protection of our healing plants.


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