Africa looking to raise standards for herbals

Related tags Medicinal plants Africa Herbalism

A quality push for producers of African medicinal plants could help
bring more novel products onto Europe's herbals market, reports
Dominique Patton.

New herbal products are in "desperate demand"​ by European supplement companies, according to UK natural products consultant Denzil Phillips​, as industry seeks novelty and innovation to boost the rather slow sales growth in recent years.

Africa offers a rich and diverse source of little known medicinal plants - it holds more than 25 per cent of the world's biodiversity - and some of its products displayed at recent natural product exhibitions have generated "loads of enquiries"​, says Phillips.

However tough requirements for quality by leading supplement makers and a wave of new European regulations make it increasingly difficult for herbal products to enter the market.

A major research programme, aiming to develop a series of trading standards for the top 50 medicinal plants grown in Africa, could help to make this process a little easier, suggests Phillips.

The standards will be based on quality control, rather than monographs, he told, and are being worked on by a pan-African research group.

Quality standards for the first 20 products under review will be discussed at a meeting in South Africa next month.

"It is not easy launching any exotic product in Europe but these standards will be very useful for anyone looking to submit a dossier [to support a product under new herbal regulations],"​ he said.

Some African plants have become popular in Europe in recent months, including the herbal known as umckaloabo (pelargonium reniforme​), which is taken as a natural antibiotic and seeing strong interest in Germany under Schwabe's Sptizner business.

Hoodia is another African plant getting significant attention after a licensing deal between UK-based drug developer Phytopharm and global food manufacturer Unilever. Phytopharm has shown the plant to have appetite-suppressing qualities, although supplies, collected from the wild until the Phytopharm investment, are currently restricted.

Devil's claw and pygeum extract, a rival to saw palmetto, are also increasingly sought in Europe.

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