Plant food supplements (PFS) are gaining popularity in the western world due to the general trend of returning to natural and traditional products, but also the evolution towards self-medication, the questioning of allopathic medicines and the misperception that “natural” and “herbal” stand synonym for “safe” play a role (Rocha et al, 2016).
The popularity of PFS resulted in the development of a market offering a wide range of products, representing high profits. Unfortunately, this made these products also vulnerable for fraud and adulteration, especially when purchased via internet, an interesting platform for the trade in fraudulent products (Mosihuzzaman and Choudhary, 2008). In this context two possible health threats may occur: (a) the PFS does not contain the plant or herb declared on the packaging. This can be either due to falsification or fraud, or confounding. (b) adulteration, with the distinction between chemical adulteration and herbal adulteration. In the first case the PFS contains an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), not claimed on the package, representing a serious health risk. In the second case the product contains active plants or herbs which are not claimed on the packaging, and are regulated or toxic.
This paper deals with the problem of herbal adulteration and herbal fraud, i.e. the absence of the claimed medicinal plant. Polymeric Chain Reaction (PCR) analysis is the golden standard for the detection and identification of a specific plant, but in case of adulteration, complex mixtures or the necessity of screening for a series of plants it can become more tedious (Ichim, 2019). Here an approach is presented based on chromatographic fingerprinting and chemometrics to perform a targeted screening for three and two regulated plants, often found in PFS for potency enhancement and slimming respectively.