Occurrence and Characterization of Fungi and Mycotoxins in Contaminated Medicinal Herbs

Toxins (Basel). 2020 Jan 3;12(1):30. doi: 10.3390/toxins12010030.


Traditional medicinal herbs are widely used and may be contaminated with mycotoxigenic fungi during cultivation, harvesting, and storage, causing spoilage and mycotoxin production. We evaluated the predominant mycoflora and extent of mycotoxin contaminations in 48 contaminated samples of 13 different medicinal herbs. In total, 70.8% of herbs were slightly contaminated with aflatoxins (<5 μg kg-1). Codonopsis radix samples contained ochratoxin A (OTA) (360-515 μg kg-1), and Scutellariae radix samples contained OTA (49-231 μg kg-1) and citrinin (15-53 μg kg-1). Forty samples (83.3%) contained fungal contamination. Sixty-nine strains were characterized via morphological and molecular identification. The predominant mycoflora comprised four genera, Aspergillus spp. (26.1%), Penicillium spp. (24.6%), Rhizopus spp. (14.5%), and Trichoderma spp. (11.6%). Aflatoxins, OTA, and citrinin were detected in 37 cultures by high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Approximately 21.6% of Aspergillus and Penicillium isolates produced mycotoxins. One Penicillium polonicum strain isolated from Scutellariae radix synthesized citrinin. Multiplex PCR analysis showed that three Aspergillus flavus strains harbored aflatoxin biosynthesis genes. One Aspergillus flavus strain isolated from Amomi fructus produced AFB1 and AFB2. To the best of our knowledge, the citrinin production by Aspergillus chevalieri and Penicillium sacculum was first reported in this study, which poses a potential risk of mycotoxin contamination in medicinal herbs.

Keywords: HPLC-MS/MS; aflatoxins; citrinin; contamination; medicinal herbs; multiplex PCR; mycoflora; mycotoxigenic fungi; mycotoxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxins
  • Aspergillus
  • Aspergillus flavus
  • Citrinin
  • Food Contamination*
  • Food Microbiology
  • Fungi
  • Mycotoxins / analysis*
  • Ochratoxins
  • Penicillium
  • Plants, Medicinal / microbiology*


  • Aflatoxins
  • Mycotoxins
  • Ochratoxins
  • ochratoxin A
  • Citrinin

Supplementary concepts

  • Aspergillus chevalieri
  • Penicillium polonicum
  • Penicillium sacculum