AUSTIN, Texas (March 23, 2021) — The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) announces a new article detailing results from analytical laboratories on ingredients and products containing or claiming to be elder berry (frequently referred to as “elderberry”). The report confirms that adulterated and mislabeled materials are being sold as elder berry. The report covers bulk powder, bulk extracts, and finished dietary supplements marketed as containing European elder (Sambucus nigra, syn. S. nigra subsp. nigra) or American elder (S. canadensis, syn. S. nigra subsp. canadensis) berry. The article was published in the March issue of the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) HerbalEGram newsletter.
Dietary supplements containing elder berry are widely used medicinally to treat symptoms of upper respiratory infections associated with colds and flus. Several clinical studies support its benefits in the treatment of symptoms of the common cold. The use of elder berry supplements as a cold and flu remedy has experienced a rapid increase, to the extent that in the first six months of 2020 elder berry supplements were ranked as the top-selling herbal dietary supplement ingredient in the United States in both the mass market and natural retail channels.
The increased consumer demand for elder berry products combined with challenges in the supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to shortages in the availability of and higher raw material prices for elder berry ingredients. Industry experts have raised concerns that the situation could lead to an increase in the sale of adulterated elder berry products, but published data on the authenticity of commercial elder berry products in peer-reviewed scientific journals are lacking. In order to assess the quality and authenticity of commercial materials, BAPP asked elder berry ingredient suppliers and product manufacturers, and independent analytical laboratories that test elder berry ingredients and finished products to provide data from chemical or genetic assays evaluating elder berry authenticity.
The results of this initiative have been summarized in a paper co-authored by 15 botanical science experts with Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC chief science officer and BAPP technical director, as the lead author. Analytical data were provided by the industry laboratories Artemis International, Gaia Herbs, Nature’s Way, and Naturex, and the independent analytical laboratories Alkemist Laboratories, DNA4 Technologies, Eurofins, and NSF International. Of the 532 samples analyzed, 58 (10.9%) failed identity specifications. The results show that black rice (Oryza sativa) extract, a relatively low-cost ingredient that contains some but not all of the anthocyanidin compounds found in elder berry, is a frequent adulterant.
In addition to data on adulteration, the paper gives a brief overview on elder berry taxonomy, medical use, chemistry, and the market situation in the United States. The publication was reviewed by 15 experts from academia, non-profit organizations, contract analytical laboratories, and the herbal dietary supplement industry in the United States, Canada, and France.
Dr. Gafner commented: “I have been using elder berry syrup on several occasions over the past year and rely on the manufacturer to produce an authentic product that will provide the expected benefits. As a consumer, it is very disappointing to see that some of the elder berry ingredients and products offered are not what they claim to be. As a scientist, I am not surprised, since this adulteration follows a well-established scheme of using anthocyanin-rich extracts from low-cost sources as undeclared substitutes, which has also been observed, for example, with the adulteration of bilberry, blueberry, and cranberry extracts.”
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal, who is also the founder and director of BAPP, stated: “This is the first scientific publication that confirms what many scientific and botanical industry experts have suspected for a long time — that, unfortunately, like many other popular botanical ingredients used in some dietary supplements, elder berry is subject to adulteration and fraud by sellers who do not ensure the proper botanical identity and authenticity of their ingredients. Accordingly, companies seeking authentic elder berry ingredients for their products must use considerable caution and appropriate analytical methodology to ensure the proper identity of their ‘elder berry’ ingredient supplies. There are many responsible and reputable companies that perform the appropriate analytical due diligence on their elder berry ingredient supplies to confirm the identity of their ingredient and ensure the reliability of their elder berry products. However, the results of our paper strongly suggest that not all companies selling ‘elder berry’ products perform adequate quality control measures.”
Noting the significance of this publication, noted author, botanical authority, and ABC Board of Trustees member Steven Foster stated: "This comprehensive review of the prospects and problems of the elder berry dietary supplement product category helps to explain confusion in popular and scientific names of source plants and the differences seen in chemical profiles between American and European elder berry extracts. It also apprises manufacturers of the possibility of adulteration revealed by the analytical labs which contributed to this important paper."
The elder berry adulteration article is the 64th peer-reviewed publication by BAPP, all of which are available for free access on the BAPP site. Registration on the site is required to access the articles.
Initiated in 2011 the ABC-AHP (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia)-NCNPR (National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients sold in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program.
To date, BAPP has published 64 peer-reviewed documents, including Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters, and others. As with all of the program’s publications, this review of elder berry adulteration is freely accessible on the program’s website (registration required).