5 Lesser Known Botanical Ingredients Poised for Supplement Market Growth

Oct 26, 2016

  • In part, dietary supplements offer such a rich global potential thanks to the bountiful supply of botanical ingredients found all across the world. And while industry has been able to capitalize on an ever-growing list of botanicals, there remains a large swath of plant ingredients that have yet to reach their full market potential. Until that happens, expect companies and researchers to remain vigilant in their efforts to validate these ingredients in clinical settings, often with a boost from cultural histories of use.

    Here is glimpse at just a few botanical ingredients that haven’t achieved widespread global use yet, but could well be on their way.


    Photograph by Mountainhills/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0.

  • Saffron

    Although saffron (Crocus sativus) is best known as a spice, mounting research suggests there are benefits from consuming saffron other than its taste. This year alone, clinical trials linked saffron consumption to relief from anxiety, depression, mild cognitive impairment, and even UV skin damage.(1–4) And the results corroborate numerous previous studies.

    Where, then, are all of the saffron dietary supplements? The fact remains that saffron dietary supplements aren’t yet a big sell, but some industry experts believe that’s likely to change. A feature on the cover of the American Botanical Council’s (ABC; Austin, TX) May–July 2016 issue of HerbalGram, for one, could help raise awareness within the industry.

    If and when saffron becomes a popular dietary supplement, manufacturers and marketers may have to grapple with saffron’s high price. Or maybe not. Though saffron is said to be the world’s most expensive spice because it’s made out of hand-picked saffron stigmas, saffron dietary supplements, on the other hand, might be able to incorporate saffron petals too. According to HerbalGram’s latest feature, saffron's lesser-researched petals are now backed by at least a few clinical trials (including research on depression) where they have been used in final saffron extract formulas. A saffron extract made from stigma and petal would inevitably be less expensive than one using stigmas alone. All the while, interested parties—such as Iran, the leading producer of saffron—are researching how to improve yields.(5)

    In particular, if saffron continues to show promise in cognitive health, some experts believe it could steal dietary supplement shares from St. John’s wort, which is widely used for anxiety and depression but carries a a risk of drug interactions.

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/george tsartsianidis

    1. M Mazidi et al., “A double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression,” Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, vol. 13, no. 2 (April 2016),:195–199.
    2. N Pitsikas, “Constituents of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) as potential candidates for the treatment of anxiety disorders and schizophrenia,” Molecules, vol 21., no. 3 (March 2016): 303.
    3. M Tsolaki et al., “Efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. in patients with mild cognitive impairment: one year single-blind randomized, with parallel groups, clinical trial,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, published online July 27, 2016.
    4. T Ohba et al., “Crocetin protects ultraviolet A-induced oxidative stress and cell death in skin in vitro and in vivo,” European Journal of Pharmacology, published online July 21, 2016.
    5. M Bayat et al., “Determining the most effective traits to improve saffron (Crocus sativus L.) yield,” Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, vol. 22, no. 1 (January 2016): 153–161.

  • Copalchi

    The bark of a Central American tree known as copalchi (Hintonia latiflora) is sometimes regarded for its use in diabetes management. Notably, Harras Pharma Curarina GmbH (Munich, Germany) sells copalchi bark extract under the brand name Sucontral and has performed much of the existing copalchi research on its own. Still, other research is available and ongoing, including two recent studies from outside sources on diabetes factors.(7–8)

    What makes copalchi bark special is exactly how it’s used in diabetes management. Whereas many botanicals are used for the purpose of directly lowering blood glucose within hours after use, copalchi seems to instead influence insulin sensitivity and, over time, glycated haemoglobin (HBA1C).

    As more manufacturers and marketers become curious about copalchi, American Botanical Council founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal warns those interested to be aware that at least one other ingredient goes by the common name copalchi, but it’s toxic. Understanding the plant taxonomy—in this case, Hintonia latiflora—is important.

    7. C Vierling et al., “The vasodilating effect of a Hintonia latiflora extract with antidiabetic action,” Phytomedicine, vol. 21, no. 12 (October 15, 2014): 1582–1586.
    8. M Korecova et al., “Treatment of mild and moderate type-2 diabetes: open prospective trial with Hintonia latiflora extract,” European Journal of Medical Research, published online March 28, 2014.

  • Kanna

    Succulents don’t often find their way into health food stores, but a South African species traditionally referred to as kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) may have the characteristics for dietary supplement success.

    Early research on kanna, conducted with the branded ingredient Zembrin, suggests kanna users exhibit improvements in coping with stress, sleeping, and executive functioning.(9–10) Researchers have also gone so far as to say that kanna may one day prove useful against dementia from Alzheimer’s disease. While there isn’t a very large market for the ingredient at this time, ongoing research and the few companies that do cultivate and market kanna could pave the way for a bright future.

    For what it’s worth, South African tribes people have been reported to bury and thus ferment this succulent before use, but this may not be a part of current industrial processing methods.

    Photograph by Tommi Nummelin/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0.

    9. H Nell et al., “A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial of extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) in healthy adults,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 19, no. 11 (November 2013): 898–904.
    10. S Chiu et al., “Proof-of-concept randomized controlled study of cognition effects on the proprietary extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) targeting phosphodiesterase-4 in cognitively healthy subjects: implications for Alzheimer’s dementia,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, published online October 9, 2014.

  • Chuchuhuasi

    Another bark, chuchuhuasi (Maytenus krukovii) is believed to possess pain-relieving qualities, and its use for such purposes in the Peruvian Amazon is not new or rare. Medicine hunter Chris Kilham says that the public harvest and sale of chuchuhuasi bark is commonplace there, and chuchuhuasi can even be found in combination remedies with cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), often as cold and hot beverages.(11)

    Although limited, published studies on chuchuhuasi suggest potential consumption benefits ranging from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity to immune system support and the aforementioned pain relief. In an animal study, chuchuhuasi was found to be comparable to ibuprofen in providing pain relief.(12)

    According to Kilham, chuchuhuasi has a long history of use, with two alkaloids being some of its more notable active compounds.

    Photograph by Joanmrl/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0.

    11. C Kilham, “How to Relieve Pain Naturally,” Medicine Hunter, www.medicinehunter.com, accessed August 22, 2016.
    12. A Granara et al., “Study of the analgesic activity of methanol extract Maytenus krukovii (chuchuhuasi), Alchornea castaneifolia (hiporuro), Sambucus nigra (elderberry), and Aristeguietia discolor (pulmonaria) in mice compared to ibuprofen,” ResearchGate.net, www.researchgate.net/publication/252301200, accessed August 22, 2016.

  • Black Cumin

    A Middle Eastern seed has potential for success in the dietary supplements market because of its unique oil. That seed is black cumin (Nigella sativa), and its history dates back to Muhammad, who once reportedly said that black cumin cures everything but death.

    Research on black cumin has increased, especially concerning the seed oil’s constituent of thymoquinone (TQ). A host of studies on the seed oil and/or TQ draw connections to their potential for providing humans with respiratory relief, cardiac support, and maybe even cancer prevention.(13)

    While black cumin already enjoys fame for its spice, a steady supply of ground-seed powders and concentrated oils might not be that far away in its future.

    Photograph by Mountainhills/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0.

    13. S Padhye et al., “From here to eternity—the secret of Pharaohs: Therapeutic potential of black cumin seeds and beyond,” Cancer Therapy, vol. 6b (2008): 495–510.