How to Spot Counterfeit Herbs: 3 Ways to Determine Quality

Counterfeit Herbs

At Phoenix Medical, our aim is to pioneer the development of Chinese medicine and to accomplish this, we ensure our quality is unprecedented. However, some herbs on the market do not share the same ideology as us.

Patients sometimes report to their practitioners that they felt no improvement or even had side effects by taking herbal remedies. The quality of herbal ingredients is the biggest concern in most cases. Practitioners may not be aware that poor quality or ‘fake’ herbs will not only affect the treatment result you expected, but also present long-term damage to patients’ health.

To ensure you are practising with the highest quality herbs, we’ve given some examples of how you can spot counterfeit herbs easily and avoid using poor-quality herbs.

How Can I Spot Counterfeit Herbs Easily?

1) Colour

Counterfeit Species

The world of social media has taught us that photogenic images represent good quality and trustworthiness. In the world of Chinese herbs, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Herbs that undergo sulphur treatment are naturally brighter in colour, more appealing and look more inviting to use. In reality, the pretty nature of these herbs hides the lack of quality which is lost during this treatment process.

Below is an example of how the concentration ratio can be severely affected by treating herbs with sulphur:

Example – Concentration ratio lost in the sulphur treatment process

By treating Bai Shao with sulphur in this example, the concentration ratio has been reduced by around 50%. Other chemical components have been exposed to the herb, which may be harmful to patients when prescribing.

2) Smell / Taste

Goji Berries

Another test to decipher a counterfeit herb from an authentic ingredient is through smell or taste. Many herbs may smell more sour when treated with sulphur.

For culinary herbs, the flavour of herbs may be enhanced when processed with sulphur, as other ingredients such as sugar are mixed with the herb throughout this process. This increases the weight of the herb and makes them less nutritious.

3) Shelf Life

As a practitioner, it’s vital that your herbs have an appropriate shelf life to support your client base, especially during busy periods in the calendar.

When herbs are processed with sulphur treatment, the shelf life of these drastically increases. You may be thinking this is the perfect solution to ensuring a consistent level of stock all year round, but this has a significant impact on the herb’s properties.

As we mentioned earlier in this blog post, the quality of herbs drastically decreases when exposed to sulphur, therefore being less effective when treating your patients.

It’s our duty at Phoenix Medical to advise practitioners on best practices for their clinics to retain current clients and attract new ones, and we highly recommend prioritising quality over shelf life for your daily practice.

Phoenix Medical’s Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance

Just like all Phoenix herbs, the range is grown using the DaoDi principle. As a unique concept used to describe authenticity within Chinese culture, there is no direct English translation. The word ‘Dao’ was originally used to describe districts in the Chinese empire, similar to the word ‘province’. The word ‘Di’ relates to soil, geography and landforms, so the concept loosely translates to geo or geo-authentic. Simply put, our herbs are grown in an authentic place, harvested at the correct time and produced using traditional methods.

As we are restricted on the areas where can grow our herbs, some of our prices may be slightly higher but the quality is unprecedented and trusted by top institutions such as Kew Gardens, Universities and well know Chinese medicine practitioners.

Although we cannot stop the distribution of potentially harmful counterfeit products, we can guide and inform our customers to buy the correct products. We are aware that the cost of some of our herbs, including Bai Shao, may be slightly higher compared to other suppliers on the market. However, our prices are only higher when compared to fake herbs.

We recommend only using high quality herbs. If you would like to obtain authentic results and have any doubt about the authenticity of your herbs, please feel free to send us a sample and we can assist in identifying the product.

We also recommend herbalists referring to Christine Leon’s book, ‘Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes’. The book is a comprehensive guide to the identification of over 200 herbs and the source in which they come from. We believe the book is a must-have for all practitioners to be able to identify herbs and to be aware of unofficial substitutes.

Furthermore, if you have any questions regarding our quality assurance or herbs, please contact us on 01245 350822 or at

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