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Why use the highest grade of herbs?

19th June 2014

Herbs; they’re beautiful and they’re powerful, but they’re also misunderstood. It’s easy for shoppers to assume that if it says ‘peppermint’ on one packet and ‘peppermint’ on another, both options must contain the same quality of peppermint. The choice is just a matter of what flavour combination, brand, or price you, the customer, prefers – right? Unhappily, it’s not quite that straightforward. 

The quality gap

The herbal teas or supplements on offer today vary greatly in quality, even if they don’t differ in the amount of herb present. Sure, they might contain actual peppermint, but the phytochemical character (such as the tasty essential oil content) of that peppermint may be substandard.

As a result, the tea or supplement may not be as powerful (or tasty) as it could be; it might even be completely ineffective or have no nutritional value whatsoever.

The reason for the difference is down to the fact that herbs are graded according to their quality, which affects their price. There are several ‘grades’ of herbs that manufacturers can buy to make teas and supplements: these include the cheaper ‘food grade’ herbs and more exclusive ‘pharmacopoeial grade’ herbs.

What are food grade herbs?

Food grade herbs are typically used in the supplements and teas you’ll find lining the shelves of supermarkets and natural health stores. They are supplements that are fine to use, but their contents and purity aren’t up to the pharmacopoeial grade. Which means they may contain a lower quality of a particular herb, for instance with less essential oils.

What’s more, food grade isn’t a guarantee that the herbs you’re getting are the correct species used in normal herbal tradition.

What are pharmacopoeial grade herbs?

Pharmacopoeial grade is the other end of the scale; it’s a standard that simply means very high quality. A pharmacopoeia is a collection of quality standards for herbs (as well as vitamins and drugs) that ensures the herbs are of the right quality and can meet the criteria to deliver their expected effects. For example, there is a European Pharmacopoeia, a United States Pharmacopoeia, and an Indian Pharmacopoeia.

How do herbs become pharmacopoeial grade?

To be classed as pharmacopoeial grade, the identity of the species must be verified using various microscopic techniques and specialist equipment, such as chromatography (you will all have done something similar to this in school chemistry lessons, using blotting paper. At Pukka we use something called High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography).

Next, the quality of the species must be checked to ensure it has the right level of compounds, such as essential oils, polyphenols or flavonoids. And it’s these compounds that are associated with certain tastes and effects; for example, levels of sweetness or intensity of spiciness, or even specific textures that add ‘body’ and richness to our teas.

Then, of course, the herb is checked for hygiene ensuring it complies with the strictest standards of purity. Pharmacopoeial grade herbs are the purest of the pure; they are, what we call, ‘pukka’ herbs.

For us, only pharmacopoeial grade will do

At Pukka, we’re passionate about sharing the remarkable power of herbs with you; we want you to taste and feel their remarkable difference. So food grade herbs, or worse – dusty synthetic flavourings, just won’t do.

Every herb we use is held to the highest standard and, where we can, we follow the pharmacopoeial grade. To us it means our herbs must have been grown organically; harvested sustainably from a plant’s native habitat (because a plant’s provenance is essential for quality); and pass the rigorous quality standards of the Pukka laboratory.

Only after graduating through this Pukka quality process, are herbs allowed into our Organic Wellbeing range and our herbal teas.

Pukka – your guarantee of the best herb quality

So, the next time you pick up Pukka Three Mint tea, for instance, you can be sure that the peppermint, spearmint and fieldmint blended expertly inside is the very best quality nature can offer you. Nothing has been lost. Nothing has been substituted. Nothing is unnatural.

That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s the way it will always be. You have our Pukka word.

Meet the author

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I’m Co-founder and Herbal Director at Pukka Herbs. As well as formulating all our organic products, I run my own herbal practice in Bath which I’ve done since 1998. I’m a registered member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and the Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners. All this with the aim of using the principles of Ayurveda (the ancient art of living wisely) to help create positive change and positive health. Inspired by my time in India, I love cooking a vegetarian feast and rely on regular yoga practice and herbal supplementation to keep me well. I am passionate about running a business that inspires positive change and brings the benefit of the incredible power of plants to everyone we connect with. I live on a two acre garden-farm in Somerset where I grow a rainbow spectrum of medicinal and nourishing plants for my bees and family to live from. 

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