"Botanicals are complicated," says Lise Alschuler, ND, a practitioner at Naturopathic Specialists in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an educator of both consumers and health professionals. Plants are living entities, she points out, and the weather, soil quality, and even naturally present bugs influence each harvest in a particular year. So, how can you discern the quality of a given product?
"Look for as much transparency as possible," she advises. A popular buzzword in today's natural products industry, "transparency" means that a company discloses where its ingredients come from and how its manufacturing steps ensure quality. To evaluate information, Alschuler suggests:
- On the product label, look for an expiration date or best-before date.
- On a company's website, look for ingredient sources and testing, and quality controls in manufacturing.
- If you're a super sleuth, ask the manufacturer for a Certificate of Analysis for the herb you're considering buying.
For purity, raw materials should be tested for microbes, heavy metals (which are present in all soils, but should not exceed safe levels), and, if they are not certified organic or wild harvested in pristine regions, pesticides. Other tests should validate identity, meaning that the herb is not adulterated, and potency, to ensure a consistent dose per serving. And, check for solvents, used to make extracts. Water and alcohol are popular ones, but lower-quality products may use harsh solvents, which can leave a residue.