by David Bunting
Herb Pharm has always prided itself on our "Seed to Shelf" quality philosophy towards herbal medicine. The phrase Seed to Shelf encompasses a lot of activities, but at its core it means control throughout, and traceability within our supply chain. From plant part specification to harvest timing, extraction and quality assurance testing, we set exacting standards for every phase of our operations.
While proper execution of every phase is critical, in this article we will focus on the initial phases, which ensure that nothing but the best materials are used to create an Herb Pharm extract. We know that the only way to make superior quality herbal medicine is to start with superior quality herbs. And while the highest quality herbal ingredients will not guarantee high quality medicine, there is no way to achieve the best medicine with anything but the best herbs. Whether from our own Certified Organic farm a couple minutes down the road or from a growing partner on the other side of the globe, sourcing is at the core of quality.
So, what factors contribute to herb quality? The most basic criterion is the choice of the species used and its proper identification. Allied with the species but a distinct quality component is the actual part of the plant used. Species and plant part are supported through the historical medical literature that documents tradition-based herbal therapy as well as, in many instances, modern scientific publications.
Identity of every lot of herb is verified by one of our in-house herbalists using two methods. First, the unique morphological characteristics of the plant material are identified using macroscopic evaluation.
The organoleptic or sensory characteristics are then evaluated, primarily using color, aroma, taste and mouthfeel parameters. So, our herbalists will touch, examine, smell and taste the herb and compare the results of these physical tests against our established standards. When properly performed, both organoleptic and macroscopic evaluations are accepted tests under the dietary supplement cGMPs (current Good Manufacturing Practices). Secondly, identity of our herbs is also confirmed by our Botanical Sciences laboratory through batch testing using high-performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC).
Plant parts that do not conform to our specifications are considered to be superfluous material that can dilute the plant medicine. For example, Lavender flowers should just be the flowers and not the flowering branches with stem and leaves. With other herbs such as the flowering tops of St. John's Wort, the quality can vary widely based on how much of the top is included. Four to five inches of the flowering tops, the specification used by Herb Pharm, are very different than mass produced St. John's Wort herb, which may be cut off at the ground in a shortcut effort to get more herb from fewer plants.
Herb Pharm is very fastidious and diligent in assuring that only the proper plant parts are used, because choosing the most potent plant part in turn yields the most potent and vibrant plant medicine.
For every extract we make, proper plant species and plant parts are carefully documented in our raw material specifications. Non-conforming raw materials are simply rejected at this point in the process.
Simply selecting the optimal plant part is not enough; the herb must be harvested at the ideal time. The timing of harvest usually follows the seasonal energy movement in the plant when the desired plant part is in its prime. This is easiest to see in aerial parts. Leaves are harvested during their vibrant growth phase, flowers as they are nearing full bloom and fruits and seeds just as they ripen. Underground plant parts are dug at the end of the growing season, as the plant's energy recedes. They may be dug again just as the plant wakes up in the early spring. Barks are also harvested during these transition times, when energy is moving through the plant.
Choosing dried or fresh, undried plant material is another element tied directly to maximizing the desired chemistry of the plant. Delicate plants such as Shepherd's Purse and Black Walnut go through phytochemical degradation during the drying process, necessitating that they be extracted while fresh. At the opposite extreme are plants like Cascara Sagrada and Buckthorn that are not only dried, but are then aged so that the extracts are better tolerated. In between these extremes are plants that, through experience and testing, prove to make superior extracts in one state or the other.
Together, all of these elements – species verification, plant part selection, harvest timing, and fresh vs. dried extraction consideration - combine to create the superior quality herbal remedies that Herb Pharm has been dedicated to producing for over 30 years. Still, one of the most important components of our Quality Assurance program has not been addressed. It is the care and pride of every individual involved in the process that stands behind every bottle of Herb Pharm medicine that we make.