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Herbs from China

I am writing this in May of 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have had numerous questions about whether any of the ingredients in this or that product comes from China or not.

The short answer is usually we don't know but with quality supplements, it doesn't matter because of extensive assays. Let me explain.

References to herbs and spices are in the earliest written and oral historical accounts of civilization. Egyptians used herbs and spices to preserve mummies. By 500 BCE Chinese and Korean were trading herbs and spices across the seas. The Spice Route was established shortly after that between Asia and Europe and later to the Americas. The Dutch East India Company trading in herbs and spices became one of the most powerful trading companies in history.

I mention this to say that the commercial trade of herbs has been global for centuries.

Not only is sourcing for spices and herbs global but it is dynamic too. It changes for many reasons from month to month and from season to season. Crops of any kind depend on weather, changing demand for that product, changes in planting and market prices, well you get the idea. Farmers have to plant the crop, tend to its growth, harvest and get it to market. In the market, brokers will facilitate the movement of that herb to an exporter who gets it packaged up and transported by truck, train, ship or plane.

It could be that a broker is used to getting hawthorn from North Africa but due to an increase in demand or maybe somebody else bought all of that supply or maybe it was just not a good season in that area for hawthorn berry production. That supply is exhausted so he or she will look to other sources. Maybe some is available from Viet Nam and some from Cambodia and some from China. These are purchased and sent to the supplement manufacturer. Because of the complexities of this supply chain, it isn't practical for a company to list the sources for each ingredient without including a small book with each bottle. Plus a company might work hard to get a specific source for some herb that has given particularly good results. They won't be excited to share that information with competitors. So some information will be proprietary.

In our conversations with supplement manufacturers, we learned that they do not assume anything about the type or purity of an ingredient. First they must have to herb assayed to verify that is the genus and species and maybe variety of that particular herb. Then it has to be assayed to ensure that it has the levels of active ingredients we want to see and doesn't have contaminants you don't want in a medicinal ingredient. These assays are third party assays meaning they contract with another company whose job it is to certify the identity and purity of the raw ingredients.

Once the type and purity are approved, it has to be combined with the other ingredients that have gone through the same process. Now you know why you can find such a wide range of prices for supplements that all look about the same on the label.

So do some of those ingredients in your supplement come from China? Maybe or maybe not. It is hard to say. In the grand scheme of things I wouldn't worry too much as long as you are buying quality items. If you pick up something at a big box store that is cheap, all bets are off.