Number 16
September/October 1998

Herbs in this issue:




A Note From Dr. Leung


A Dilemma

     Here is the scenario.  You are a very conscientious and ethical manufacturer.  Unlike other companies, in addition to regular QC assays (microbial profile, identity, qualitative, quantitative, etc.) you actually test for pesticides, mycotoxins, and heavy metals in your products on a routine basis, and not simply state in your brochure that you do so.  Your competitors, on the other hand, blithely go about selling their products without any testing whatsoever, at prices that are perhaps half of yours.  Not only do some of these companies have no idea of what herbs they use, their products may also be contaminated with pesticides, fungal toxins, and heavy metals.  Meanwhile, because of your conscientious actions, you are spending tremendous sums of money in hiring technical staff, exercising routine QA/QC measures, sending out samples for independent testing, etc.  All this is costing you at least double or triple what it is costing your competitors.  Then, to top it off, imagine your frustration and disgust to see manufacturers and consumers actually buying your competitors’ inferior and cheap products.  And they do so for 2 main


Dr. Leung is author of the Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics (Wiley-Interscience), which was published in 1980 and revised in 1996. He is also creator of PHYTOMED, a prototype computer database on Chinese herbal medicine developed under contract with the National Cancer Institute.


reasons: one is that they don’t know how to pick quality products, and two is that they buy based on price alone.  While your competitors’ products do little harm to the consumers, they don’t do anything for them either, because they are usually so diluted or artificially put together (with mostly inert carriers) that few of the natural materials from the herbs are present.  I know companies that make and sell these types of products.  It is not a figment of my imagination!  To make things worse for you, the conscientious manufacturer, analyses may show a time-critical shipment of an herbal extract to contain toxins that are slightly above the legal limit.  Should you reject the shipment and risk the loss of a customer to your competitors or should you blend the contaminated product with a batch that is less contaminated?  The irony is that your customer may not even require that you analyze for all these things, but your own established QA/QC procedures will not allow your shipment to pass your own specs, which your competitors don’t have.  This kind of decision should never be imposed on an ethical and conscientious manufacturer while the sleazy operators happily go on selling their products that contain much worse contaminants and adulterants, all with a “clear conscience.”  Something is not right here.  Nobody in the trade ever addresses this issue, other than paying lip service to it.  The reason is because no one wants to rock the boat.  There is too much money to be made, so they overlook one another’s shortcomings!  It is truly the “Wild West” in the herbal supplements era (see also Issue 13, p. 3 of this Newsletter)! 


What Extraction Companies Don’t Tell You

        I could write a book on this.  But the problem is that too few people would care or be interested in this kind of information.  Hence, it would be a losing proposition to publish such a book.  And typical of the American mentality, nothing seems to be worth the effort until a crisis is imminent or an action fits into one’s self-serving agenda.  Anyway, here are a couple of things few people know concerning what goes into herbal extracts, which I think you ought to know. 

        There are numerous carriers (excipients) currently being used by extract manufacturers to adjust the strengths of extracts or to facilitate their drying.  These include liquids such as corn syrup, nulomoline (invert sugar) propylene glycol, glycerin, and solids such as starch, hydrolyzed starch, cellulose, methylcellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, gums (e.g., gum arabic), lactose, tricalcium phosphate, silicon dioxide, etc.  Depending on the solvent(s) used, certain solid extracts (thick liquids) may separate into unsightly layers, unless a carrier is used to fold the layers into one.  The most commonly used excipients for this purpose are propylene glycol and glycerin.  They are commonly used for hydroalcoholic extractions whose water-insoluble components separate out during the removal of the menstruum, and these excipients/solvents keep them in solution. 

        Certain extracts, due to their content of hygroscopic or resinous compounds, cannot be simply dried by themselves.  Carriers are needed to facilitate their drying so that the resulting powdered extracts are free flowing and thus can be blended and compounded into finished solid products such as tablets, capsules, and powders.  Any one or more of the above-mentioned solid excipients can be present in any given powdered extract, sometimes up to 90% of the extract by weight.  While some extract producers provide their customers (finished-product manufacturers) with this information, others don’t.  And some of these customers don’t even want to know because they are under the assumption that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, and thus they don’t need to list these excipients on their product labels.  So the next time you happen to see the labels of two identical products from different companies, one with excipients listed while the other without, don’t believe the latter.  It is very easy for manufacturers or marketers to “neglect” to list these excipients or to feign ignorance about them.  After all, who is going to report this “oversight?”  Their rationale is: even if they get caught, what is the punishment for not listing a couple of excipients anyway? 

        As I have reported earlier (Issue 13, pp. 2-3) there are now many high-strength extracts on the market.  How could this be?  The chief reason is that our American mentality considers more to be better and the bigger the better.  This applies to extracts as well.  For example, if you start marketing a genuine Asian ginseng total extract of 3:1 strength, someone else would soon try to top you by marketing a “higher-strength” 6:1 ginseng extract.  But is this possible?  The answer is NO!  Unless of course this extract is not a total genuine extract but rather a partial extraction of Asian ginseng.  Indeed, a 6:1 extract of Asian ginseng can be made with pure ethyl alcohol.  You see, as I have explained earlier (Issue 13, pp. 2-3), the less materials you extract from an herb, the stronger (higher strength) the resulting extract will be.  Thus, normally, if you extract Asian ginseng exhaustively with water and ethyl alcohol, you will obtain literally 30% to 40% extractives.  The resulting extract is of a genuine 3.3:1 to 2.5:1 strength.  On the other hand, you can make a higher-strength extract by extracting with pure ethanol.  Since ethanol is less polar than water or methanol, it will not extract the active water-soluble polysaccharides or other polar compounds from ginseng.  What you get is only a fraction of the total components (extractives) being extracted from the herb, which is perhaps 10% to 20%.  The resulting extract is, of course, of high strength (10:1 to 5:1).  So, now you have an Asian ginseng extract with a strength as high as 10:1.  To ignorant manufacturers and marketers, this is a “superior” extract.  Even if bought at the same price as the genuine 3:1 extract, it would be a “good” deal for these manufacturers/marketers.  And when this is offered at a lower price than the genuine extract, it would be a “steal.”  But the fact is that this is NOT a good Asian ginseng extract.  In addition, do you ever wonder what the extract processors do with the marc that remains after ethanol extraction, which is still rich in polysaccharides, ginsenosides and other water-soluble goodies?  One thing I know is that they don’t throw it away.  Whatever extracts they prepare from this marc they also call “ginseng extracts.”  The difference, this time, is that they can standardize these extracts to any amounts (up to 90%) of ginsenosides and sell them as “standardized ginseng extracts!”  I have spoken about this before and I want to say it again: These are NOT genuine ginseng extracts.  Rather, they are “ginsenoside concentrates” and should be labeled as such.  As long as this is done, these types of extracts are not mislabeled or adulterated.  However, there are some well-known “ginseng” drinks currently on the market, which contain these ginsenoside concentrates.  Unlike ginseng itself, these ginsenosides do not have a long and safe use history.  Hence, their long-term safety is unproven, and the consumers are the guinea pigs.  Furthermore, Asian ginseng is traditionally not meant for everyone.  It is a yang tonic that is more appropriate for people who are yang deficient.  These are people who have been weakened by a long-term illness or who generally have a weak constitution.  On the other hand, it is not for people who are generally robust, full of energy, or tend to have high blood pressure.  Over the past few thousand years, Asian ginseng has always been used according to traditional Chinese medical principles, with precautions geared to the individual’s constitution and health condition.  Consequently, it has enjoyed a long safety record.  In contrast, Asian ginseng has been introduced into the American mass market in the form of soft drinks only in the past few years, which contain no warning or precautions whatsoever.  People who should not be consuming them are doing so.  They include athletes; young, healthy and robust people; people full of energy; and people with hypertension.  With whole ginseng or its extracts, at least we know what not to do.  With selectively extracted ginsenosides, we have no traditional safe use records on them and hence we don’t know their effects on humans.  They are more like new drugs, whose long-term safety is uncertain.



Herb Notes


         Schisandra (wuweizi: dried ripe fruit of Schisandra chinensis).  If you keep up-to-date even slightly with Chinese herbs being used in North America as supplements or in disease treatment, by now, you should have heard of schisandra (see this Newsletter, Issue 7, p. 3).  It is a traditional tonic that has been used for over 2,000 years for treating numerous conditions, including cough, asthma, insomnia, impotence, chronic diarrhea, physical exhaustion, neurasthenia, night sweat, etc.  It is traditionally used either decocted, in wine, or as a powder.  In recent years, a lot of research on schisandra has concentrated on its antihepatotoxic or liver-protectant effects as well as on its use in treating viral hepatitis and in lowering serum alanine aminotransferase (SGPT) levels.  Much of these activities have been shown to be due mainly to lignans (called schizandrins & gomisins, etc.) that are present mostly in the seeds.  Consequently, a simple decoction of whole schisandra berries (which come with the shrunken flesh wrapped around a large kidney-shaped seed) would not give you any appreciable amounts of the antihepatotoxic lignans.  In order to make a preparation of schisandra that would produce effects that are beneficial to the liver, one must get to the seed itself.  To do so, one must mill the whole fruit along with the seed and then ingest the resulting powder or use it for decoction or commercial extraction.  Only then will you be able to obtain a full spectrum of beneficial ingredients from schisandra berries; extracting the whole berry will yield only a partial extract, as the ingredients from the seed are not extracted when it is in the whole form. 

        Lowering SGPT with schisandra powder.  For the past 30 years, schisandra has been used in China to lower SGPT in patients with viral hepatitis.  However, results of this treatment have not been consistent.  This is due to the fact that many traditional Chinese doctors prescribed it to be decocted, which is normally done with the whole fruit; but this method does not extract the active lignans from the seed.  The correct method of usage is to place the berries in an oven until they are completely dried.  Then mill it to a fine powder and take 3-5 g three times a day with water.  An alternative method is to decoct the powder and take the equivalent daily doses.  It is reported in the July 1998 issue of the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Zhongyi Zazhi) that this treatment normalizes SGPT in 1 to 3 months.  Other herbs frequently used along with schisandra for this purpose include shanzha (Chinese hawthorn), baishao (white peony root), mume (smoked plum), danshen (red sage), huzhang (giant knotweed), kudzu root, lycium fruit, yejuhua (wild chrysanthemum flower), nuzhenzi (Ligustrum lucidum fruit), licorice root, and shengma (Cimicifuga rhizome).1,2 

        Other uses of schisandra. Also reported in the same issue of the Zhongyi Zazhi are results of using schisandra in the successful treatment of diabetes, atrophic gastritis, diarrhea in children, itchy throat and cough, dryness of throat resulting from radiotherapy of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, dilation of the pupil due to physical trauma, excessive tearing due to unknown origin, and chronic foot ulcer (topical).3 

   The treatment for chronic foot ulcer is so simple that I want to give you a little more detail, just in case.  The report describes treating a 65-year-old woman with a chronic ulcer (1 year 7 months) on her right instep, which had not healed after repeatedly being treated with both modern and traditional Chinese medicines.  After treatment with schisandra powder (3X), the ulcer healed completely, and no recurrence was observed in a 2-year follow-up.  The preparation of schisandra powder involves stir-frying (baking will also work) the dried fruits until thoroughly dry and milling them into a fine powder.  The powder can be stored in a sterile bottle for later use.  Before applying the powder, the ulcer is first cleaned by standard procedure, and a small amount of schisandra powder is then sprinkled on the ulcer, which is then covered with sterile gauze.  The medicine is changed every other day.  The reason for using minimal amounts of the powder is that larger amounts can form a hardened layer on the ulcer and thus will prevent healing.4

(1) J.R. Gao, “Use of Schisandra in the Treatment of Hepatitis,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 39(7): 389-390(1998);  (2) J.G. Wang, “Comments on the Methods of Administration of Schisandra in Lowering SGPT,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 39(7): 390(1998);  (3) Various authors, Zhongyi Zazhi, 39(7): 389-392(1998);  (4) Y.Z. Zhang, “Healing Sores with Topical Application of Schisandra,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 39(7): 392(1998);  Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd Ed., Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1996, pp. 469-472;  Leung, A.Y., Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs & Food, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N. J., 1995, pp. 83-84.



Healing Foods


          Garlic for hypersensitive dentin.5  So much has been written about garlic that, I admit, I simply can’t keep up.  There is a chance you may already know about this use.  But, in any case, this is reported from a hospital in Shandong Province (where they eat a lot of garlic, hence experienced in it).  The author claims a 95% cure rate.  The usage is so simple and obviously innocuous that it certainly won’t hurt to give it a try when the occasion arises. 

Method: Remove the skin from 70 g of garlic cloves.  Chop them up and macerate with 100 ml 95% alcohol for 1 week in a closed jar.  Then strain the alcohol extract through cheesecloth or muslin.  Store the extract in a closed jar.

Application: Soak a small cotton ball or Q-tip with the liquid and apply it to the sensitive/painful area repeatedly for a few minutes.  Then let it dry.  It’s that simple – according to the author! 

Typically, like many Chinese reports, the author does not give details, such as: How many applications are required for relief of symptoms (1, 2 or 100)?  Or how many patients treated?  Etc.  I guess the method is simple enough for one to experiment with.

(5) Y.Q. Xiao, “Garlic Tincture for Treating Hypersensitivity,” Shizhen Guoyao Yanjiu, 9(2): 109(1998).


         Clinical uses of honey.6  Results of these uses are reported from another hospital in Shandong Province.  I have no idea if these can be duplicated elsewhere.  Scientists generally consider honey solely as a sweetener and a source of calories, and most of them frown on honey’s medicinal properties and uses, even though honey has been a food and medicine for peoples around the world for thousands of years.  Personally, I feel, of all people, we as scientists should be the ones with an open mind.  So for you scientifically trained folks, here are some clinical uses of honey to keep an open mind about.

        Coronary disease – Take 70-100 g of honey per day with warm water, half in the morning and half at night.  The authors claim that the treatment, on a long-term basis, can strength the patient’s body, improve sleep, and alleviate disease symptoms.

        Hypertension and arteriosclerosis – Take 60 g of honey per day with warm water, half in the morning and half at night, for 15 days.  According to the authors, this treatment will slowly normalize blood pressure, enhance the elasticity of vessel wall, and prevent the hardening of arteries.  Here again, no details are given.  I can see blood pressure being normalized in 15 days.  But the last two claims are another story.

        Chapped nipples with inflammation, heat, and pain – Simply apply honey to the affected areas.  It is reported that after 2 hours, pain, hot feeling, and itching gradually subsided.  The condition healed after 2 days, with 2 applications per day.

        Drunkenness and motion sickness – Take 40 g of honey with boiled water to relieve drunkenness.  To prevent motion sickness, drink a cup of tea containing 40 g of honey 2 hours before taking a boat or car ride. 

        Mouth sores (cankers) – After rinsing mouth with water, place 15 g of honey on the canker.  Leave it there for 1-2 min before swallowing.  Do this twice daily.  The authors claim that pain will lessen after 1 day, and the sore will heal after 2 days.  Sounds good to me!  Certainly won’t hurt to give it a try!

(6) Y.Xia Fang and J. Cheng, “Clinical Uses of Honey,” Shizhen Guoyao Yanjiu, 9(2): 110(1998); Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd Ed., Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1996, pp. 299-300;  Leung, A.Y., Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N. J., 1984, pp. 85-86.