Authentication of Eleutherococcus and Rhodiola herbal supplement products in the United Kingdom

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2018 Feb 5;149:403-409. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2017.11.025. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus, Araliaceae) and roseroot (Rhodiola rosea, Rosaceae) are popular herbal supplements which have been shown to improve resilience to conditions such as stress and exhaustion. Using DNA barcoding methods we tested 25 Siberian ginseng and 14 roseroot products which are widely available to UK customers to test whether the herbal ingredient stated on the label is also in the product. All Siberian ginseng supplements contained E. senticosus, however, 36% also contained an Eleutherococcus species other than E. senticosus. In three out of the 13 roseroot products which produced amplifiable DNA, we could only retrieve sequences matching alfalfa (declared on the product label) and fenugreek (not declared). In the other 10 supplements Rhodiola was detected but only five matched the target species R. rosea. As DNA can get severely degraded during the manufacturing process we did not take the absence of Rhodiola DNA as proof for a compromised product. Contamination could explain the presence of non-target species such as fenugreek but is unlikely to be account for the detection of congeneric Rhodiola species in roseroot preparations. Our results therefore suggest that the substitution or mixing of the target medicinal ingredient in these two popular supplements with other species is common.

Keywords: Adulteration; DNA barcoding; Medicinal herbs; Quality control; Roseroot; Siberian ginseng.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis*
  • Dietary Supplements / standards
  • Eleutherococcus / chemistry*
  • Eleutherococcus / genetics
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Labeling*
  • Medicago sativa / chemistry
  • Medicago sativa / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Rhodiola / chemistry*
  • Rhodiola / genetics
  • Trigonella / chemistry
  • Trigonella / genetics
  • United Kingdom