Study tests safety and quality of medicinal plants

RushingA Clemson plant scientist is studying medicinal plants, or nutraceuticals, to see whether manufacturers are providing a safe, quality product. Nutraceuticals are not currently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. No formal standards for safety or quality of active ingredients exist, meaning that individual companies are free to set their own standards.

Jim Rushing, post-harvest physiologist at the Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, has begun to analyze the bacterial content of commercial products and of medicinal plants grown at the center. 

If he discovers harmful bacteria, the next step is to test methods to eliminate them. Irradiation seems the best option, the same way that spices are sterilized. Chemical fumigation is another option.

“Any treatment will have to preserve the active ingredient in the plant material,” said Rushing. “For example, feverfew is used for migraine headaches. The active ingredient is parthenolide. If we sterilize the product but destroy the parthenolide, we accomplish nothing,” said Rushing.

For information: Jim Rushing, 843-571-4654,