Arnica extract is a popular ingredient in topical gels and ointments for the relief of bruises, sprains, and localized muscular pain, and is also widely used in cosmetic preparations. According to data from the market research firm SPINS, sales in all channels (excluding sales in Walmart, Whole Foods, club and dollar stores) of topical arnica products, sold predominantly as homeopathic remedies, exceeded $20 million in 2015.
Research has shown that some of the raw botanical materials labeled as “Arnica montana” contain so-called false arnica (Heterotheca inuloides), also known as Mexican arnica, or other yellow-flowering species from the family Asteraceae. The new Bulletin, co-authored by Wendy Applequist, PhD, associate curator at the William L. Brown Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of the American Botanical Council, provides information on the cultivation, harvest, and market importance of arnica. It also lists the known adulterants, potential therapeutic and/or safety issues with the adulterating species, and analytical approaches to detect adulterants. Thirteen expert peer reviewers have provided input on the Arnica Bulletin.
The goal of the Botanical Adulterant Bulletins is to provide accounts of ongoing issues related to botanical identity and adulteration, thus allowing quality control personnel and lab technicians in the herbal medicine, botanical ingredient, dietary supplement, cosmetic, conventional food, and other industries where botanical ingredients are used to be informed on adulteration problems that are apparently widespread and/or that may imply safety concerns. As with all publications in the Program, the Bulletins are freely accessible to American Botanical Council (ABC) members and registered users on the Program’s website.
“Arnica is a widely used ingredient in topical products in the United States and internationally, including in the homeopathic medicine industry,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and director of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program. “Our research suggests that it is possible that a considerable amount of the ‘arnica’ being used in some of these products may be adulterated with a totally different species. We hope that industry members will heed this Bulletin and double- and triple-check their incoming arnica raw materials to ensure that they are purchasing the authentic arnica plant.”
Stefan Gafner, PhD, who is also technical director of the Botanical Adulterants Program, explained: “The occurrence of arnica adulteration with Heterotheca inuloides has been known for over half a century, and is readily detected by macroscopic, microscopic, chemical, and/or DNA analysis. Nevertheless, reports as recent as 2012 show that arnica adulteration is still quite common in the marketplace. Some of this may be due to the use of the common name ‘arnica’ for a number of different plant species, particularly in Spanish-speaking communities. However, the comparatively high price for the authentic arnica raw material has also provided an incentive for economically motivated adulteration.”
The Arnica Bulletin is the sixth publication in the series of Botanical Adulterants Bulletins. The Bulletins on goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) root and rhizome and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) root and rhizome were published in June 2016, preceded in April by the first three Bulletins on bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) fruit extract, grape (Vitis vinifera) seed extract, and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) herb.