Our Echinacea Story
Echinacea is MediHerb®’s earliest quality story and a good example to explain the Quantified Activity program.
CAPTION: Echinacea spp. from Warwick Gardens
When MediHerb first started manufacturing in 1986 there was confusion in the global herbal industry over what constituted authentic Echinacea. Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea were routinely being substituted by unsuspecting manufacturers with another herb, Parthenium integrifolium. The substitution was made possible due to the uncanny physical similarity of the roots of Parthenium and especially Echinacea purpurea.
Assessing Herbal Quality
The earliest methods we employed to assess herb quality and identity relied on a trained herbalist checking the herb’s physical appearance, colour, odour and taste. Taste was of importance because of the insight it gave into the herb’s chemistry -the presence of alkylamides in the root which caused an intense tingling sensation in the mouth. When chewed, Parthenium root did not cause any tingling sensation so this was one very simple solution to differentiate the two herbs.
The solution implemented by MediHerb to guarantee supply of authentic Echinacea led to the development of the “Quantified Activity” program which exposed the Parthenium/Echinacea substitution and helped establish MediHerb’s credibility in the herbal industry.
As we developed more sophisticated analyses, thin layer chromatography (TLC) was adopted which allowed the gross aspects of Echinacea’s chemistry or its “chemical finger-print” to be compared to a certified reference sample from the correct species.
We understood that alkylamides were important for the efficacy of Echinacea and began to investigate methods to quantify the alkylamides along with other important compounds such as cichoric acid. At the time there was no published test methodology for alkylamides and the process of developing the high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) methodology took MediHerb a number of years. Once armed with the HPLC methodology for identifying quality in terms of alkylamide content, MediHerb worked with Echinacea growers to determine appropriate growing conditions and handling parameters to ensure optimum retention of the alkylamides.
We have established protocols to ensure optimum retention and stability of alkylamides during all phases of the production process; from receipt of the raw material to completion of the finished product. Alkylamides are very delicate compounds and are easily damaged or lost during processing, hence developing these protocols took many years to conclude.