Ayurvedic botanicals, like any other botanical, are affected by soil, environmental and genetic variability. They are particularly vulnerable to external contamination. Several studies conducted in different parts of the world—including the United States—have raised concerns on quality and contamination of Ayurvedic botanicals. (JAMA. 2008;300(8):915-923). Contaminated botanicals are a major cause of concern for users of Ayurvedic products.
Manufacturers of Ayurvedic botanical-based products often assume that by adopting GMPs (good manufacturing practices), following health and safety standards, and maintaining clean and hygienic conditions, the problem of contamination can be contained. While these are critical and essential prerequisites for producing safe and quality Ayurvedic products, these alone are unlikely to result in eradication of common botanical contaminants such as heavy metals and fecal pollutants.
To understand how the problem of contamination of Ayurvedic botanicals occurs and how it can be eliminated, it is important to understand the nature of these commodities. Ayurvedic botanicals are sourced from either the wild or from farms.
Plants collected from forests grow in natural, uncontaminated conditions. Terminalia paniculata, Terminalia chebula, Saraca asoca and Withania somnifera are some botanicals gathered from forests across India. Any contamination observed in such botanicals is most likely to have occurred post-harvest. Contaminants get added when product is stored in poor sanitary locations. Unprotected transportation of botanicals also makes them vulnerable to external contamination.
Botanicals collected from non-forest sites like along roads, water bodies, etc., are most likely to show high levels of contamination. Such sites are often polluted with heavy metals and exposed to fecal matter.
On the other hand, botanicals cultivated and collected from farms are less likely to be contaminated. Turmeric, ginger, pepper and holy basil are some examples of cultivated botanicals. Contamination here occurs when cultivation is done in contaminated soils, fields are irrigated with polluted water, or from factors such as unsanitary storage and exposed, unprotected transportation.
Learn more about safe sourcing of ayurvedic botanicals in INSIDER’s Ayurvedic Botanicals Digital Magazine.
Sudhir Ahluwalia (sudhirahluwalia.com) is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of the book “Holy Herbs.” Ahluwalia was also a member of the Indian Forest Service.