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Herbal Science Group Clarifies Safety Issue on Star Anise Tea

For Immediate Release

Austin,TX (September 12, 2003)

OnSeptember 10, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Consumer Advisoryregarding the agency’s concerns about some cases of poisoning related to thesubstitution of the toxic Japanese star anise for the safe Chinese star anise.

Thefollowing day many news outlets reported the story. Unfortunately, manyconsumers, reporters, and even natural foods and grocery industry members havebecome confused over FDA’s actions and the ensuing publicity, incorrectly suspectingproblems with all commercially manufactured herbal teas containing star anise.

Chinesestar anise (scientific name Illiciumverum) is a safe and flavorful component of some popular herbal tea blends,and it is also aflavor component of spice mixes used in food products. It has the samestar-shape as Japanese star anise (Illiciumanisatum), but the Japanese species contains some toxic compounds. Theherbal tea industry has long used the safe Chinese star anise, not the Japanesematerial. Chinese star anise is recognized as safe for food use by the FDA, asacknowledged in FDA’s advisory.

Becausethe two plants’ star-shaped seedpods look so much alike, the herbal teaindustry many years ago developed laboratory techniques to be able todistinguish the safe Chinese star anise from the unsafe Japanese star anise.In-house quality control laboratories at herb tea companies in the U.S. employmicroscopic analytical techniques as well as chemical tests to ensure that theherbal material they receive is the proper, safe herb before it is processedinto herbal teas released to the commercial market. Several authoritativereference books and European pharmacopeias have published analytical methods tohelp make the proper distinctions.

“Herbalteas sold by reputable companies in the United States are quite safe,” saidMark Blumenthal, founder and Executive Director of the American BotanicalCouncil (ABC). “People in the herb industry have known about the problem withthe two kinds of star anise for many years and have developed quality assuranceprograms to ensure that commercial herb teas use the safe Chinese star anise.”

Thecases of poisoning with Japanese star anise that the FDA cited were not relatedto herbal teas produced by reputable tea companies, Blumenthal added. Most ofthe poisoning cases probably involved cases where consumers purchased the toxicJapanese star anise in bulk and made their own teas. Japanese star anise hasbeen sold for many years for its use as an ingredient in potpourris because ofits shape and fragrance. It is not intended for internal use.

ABCalso pointed out that the public should not confuse star anise with anise,sometimes called aniseseed (Pimpinellaanisum), a member of the carrot family. Anise is a safe, commonly used foodflavoring that is also generally recognized as safe by the FDA. Because of itslicorice-like taste, anise oil is the main ingredient used in making “licorice”candies in the U.S.

About the AmericanBotanical Council

TheAmerican Botanical Council is the nation's leading nonprofit organizationaddressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinalplants. The 14-year-old organization occupies a 2.5 acre campus in Austin,Texas where it publishes HerbalGram,a peer-reviewed journal on herbal medicine, and published in 2003 a book andcontinuing education course for healthcare professionals, The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. In 1998 ABC published The Complete German Commission E Monographs,a 715-page reference book that was ranked second of all medical books publishedthat year. Information contact: ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345,ph: 512-926-4900, fax: 512-926-2345. Website: www.herbalgram.org.