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Why use the highest grade of herbs?

19th June 2014

Herbs; they’re beautiful and they’re powerful, but they’re also misunderstood. It’s easy for shoppers to assume that if it says ‘peppermint’ on one packet and ‘peppermint’ on another, both options must contain the same quality of peppermint. The choice between the two is just a matter of what flavour combination, brand, or price you, the customer, prefers – right? Unhappily, it’s not quite that straightforward. 

The quality gap

The herbal teas or supplements on offer today vary greatly in quality. Sure, they might contain actual peppermint, but the phytochemical character - such as the tasty essential oil content - of that peppermint may be substandard. As a result, the tea or supplement may not be as powerful (or tasty) as it could be; it might even be completely ineffective or have no nutritional value whatsoever.

The reason for the difference is down to the fact that herbs are graded according to their quality, which affects their price.  Just as there are different grades of clothes, there are several ‘grades’ of herbs used to make teas and supplements: these include the cheaper ‘food grade’ herbs and more exclusive ‘pharmacopoeial grade’ herbs.

What are food grade herbs?

Food grade herbs are typically used in the supplements and teas you’ll find lining the shelves of supermarkets and natural health stores. They are supplements that are fine to use, but their contents and purity aren’t up to the pharmacopoeial grade. Which means they may contain a lower quality of a particular herb, for instance with less essential oils.

What are pharmacopoeial grade herbs?

Pharmacopoeial grade is the other end of the scale; it’s a standard that simply means ‘the very best quality’. A pharmacopoeia is a collection of quality standards for herbs (as well as vitamins and drugs) that ensures the herbs are of the right quality and can meet the criteria to deliver their expected effects. For example, there is a European Pharmacopoeia, a British Pharmacopoeia, a United States Pharmacopoeia, and an Indian Pharmacopoeia.

Here are some examples of the different quality if herbs available:



Herb Name

European Herbal Infusion Association

Food Grade

ISO 6571/1984

European Pharmacopoeia  

Chamomile flowers

Min. 0.2% essential oil

Min. 0.2% essential oil

0.4% essential oil

Apigenin Min. 0.25%

Fennel seed (Sweet)

Min. 1% essential oil

Min. 1% essential oil

Min. 2% essential oil (specifying that 80% of this must
be anethole with a maximum of 10% estragole and 7.5% fenchone)

Peppermint leaf

Min. 0.6% essential oil

Min. 0.6% essential oil

Cut Leaf Min. 0.9% essential oil

Whole Leaf Min. 1.2% essential oil

How do herbs become pharmacopoeial grade?

To be classed as pharmacopoeial grade, the identity of the species must be verified using various microscopic techniques and specialist equipment, such as chromatography (you will all have done something similar to this in school chemistry lessons, using blotting paper. At Pukka we use something called High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography).

Next, the quality of the species must be checked to ensure it has the right level of compounds, such as the active ingredients of essential oils, polyphenols or flavonoids. And it’s these compounds that are associated with certain tastes and effects; for example, levels of sweetness or intensity of spiciness, or even specific textures that add ‘body’ and richness to our teas.

Then, of course, the herb is checked for hygiene ensuring it complies with the strictest standards of purity. Pharmacopoeial grade herbs are the purest of the pure; they are, what we call, ‘pukka’ herbs – herbs that look, smell, taste and feel at their best.

For us, only pharmacopoeial grade will do

At Pukka, we’re passionate about sharing the remarkable power of herbs with you; we want you to taste and feel their remarkable difference. So food grade herbs, or worse – dusty synthetic flavourings, just won’t do.

Every herb we use is held to the highest standard and, where we can, we follow the pharmacopoeial grade. To us this also means our herbs must have been grown organically; harvested sustainably from a plant’s favoured habitat (because a plant’s provenance is essential for quality); and pass the rigorous quality standards of both external as well as our team of experts in  the Pukka Herbal Laboratory.

Only after graduating through this Pukka quality process, are herbs allowed into our Organic Wellbeing range and our herbal teas.

Pukka – your guarantee of the best herb quality

So, the next time you pick up Pukka Three Mint tea, for instance, you can be sure that the peppermint, spearmint and fieldmint blended expertly inside is the very best quality nature can offer you. Nothing has been lost. Nothing has been substituted. Nothing is unnatural.

That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s the way it will always be. You have our Pukka word.

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Sebastian Pole, Sebastian Pole, Co-founder and Master Herbsmith

Hello There. I’m a Co-founder and the Master Herbsmith at Pukka Herbs. As well as having the most amazing job of formulating all our organic teas and supplements I am a passionate environmentalist – that’s why we are 100% organic, pioneers in sustainably sourcing herbs with FairWild, and we give 1% of our turnover for rejuvenating the Planet. I also run my own herbal practice in Bath which I’ve done since 1998. I practise an eclectic blend of Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western Herbal Medicine and am a registered member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and the Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners. I love using the principles of Ayurveda (aka the ancient art of living wisely) – coupled with insights of traditional healing and modern science - to help create the best of health. Inspired by my time in India, I love cooking a vegetarian feast and rely on regular yoga practice with lots of herbal teas and tonics to keep me well. I am passionate about running a business that inspires positive change and brings the benefit of the incredible power of plants to everyone we connect with – from our farmers, collectors, Pukka team to you. I live on a two acre garden-farm in Somerset where I grow a rainbow spectrum of medicinal and nourishing plants for my bees and family to thrive on.