Local habitat being overlooked in search for new natural products

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Herbal

Companies seeking to develop new natural health products are
overlooking local plants as potential sources for fear of the
regulatory hurdles involved in bringing them to market.

However many plants native to Europe have previously been used as remedies and may not need the extent of approval required by more exotic botanicals, says John Wilkinson, a UK-based medicinal plant specialist. Most innovation by the herbal supplements industry in recent years has been through marketing, developing different forms of extraction and identifying new activity in well-known medicinal plants, he told NutraIngredients.com. But there are up to a quarter of a million plant species in the world that people could be investigating. Firms could also look at remedies used in the past. "Although lots of companies are supplying natural ingredients, most of them offer the same ones. There are roughly 500 natural products traded in Europe. Yet around 100,000 plants are used locally around the world for food or medicine and few of these are in commercial use," explained Wilkinson. He added: "In Europe there are a lot of plants we're ignoring that may have been on sale in the early 1900's. This means they would probably be exempt from novel foods legislation." A growing European Union also offers access to a wider range of flora, he said. "We should also look closely at related species as it may be easier to get regulatory approval," added Wilkinson. For example, there are around 20 species of St John's wort, which is expected to be approved under Europe's Traditional Medicinal Herbals directive. New product developers could also investigate novel parts of plants. This approach has already benefitted companies supplying olive leaf or cranberry seed oil - both parts of plants better known for the properties of their fruits. "Companies need to get creative and help regulators to see things in a different light if they want to take advantage of new product opportunities," believes Wilkinson. His firm Herbal Sciences International works with about 800 academics, botanists and pharmacognicists around the world to locate new plants, identify their medicinal properties and help companies bring them to the marketplace. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in thisstory: Herbal Sciences International

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