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This is Scary!

Honey, What’s In My Tea? Mis-Labeled Ingredients: Mostly in Chamomile and St. John’s Wort

A year ago, this month, I worked as a gardener for a once-famous, B-movie star who was fond of tea. Early one Saturday morning, she is visited by a transvestite, serial killer who preys on old ladies. My employer, poisons the tranny with a cup of tea.

"Mexico City" a play about a transvestite serial killer who is poisoned by drinking a homemade cup of tea. Photo by David VanceAlthough this happened for the theater, it made me wonder just how potent — and undetectable — tea toxicity can be. 

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Ingredients in tea cannot be easily identified by visual appearance. Fatalities and serious illnesses have occurred after drinking herbal teas, caused by overdose, mislabeled products, or allergic reactions.

A recent study in Scientific Reports matched commercial tea ingredients to product labels. The researchers searched a public reference database for the closest match to each barcode sequence and compared the result to the listed ingredients.

The study highlighted a need for an improved database of plant barcodes, “many plant species found in tea products are either not represented, have undocumented intraspecific variation, or that a sequencing error has occurred,” wrote the researchers.

Not Your Cup of Tea

Here are some of the findings, as published in the article, “Commercial Teas Highlight Plant DNA Barcode Identification Successes and Obstacles”  by Mark Y. Stoeckle, Catherine C. Gamble, Rohan Kirpekar, Grace Young, Selena Ahmed, Damon P. Little: The most common non-label ingredient, found in seven products, was chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

“The finding of unlisted chamomile (M. recutita) or tea plant (C. sinensis) in multiple products suggests the possibility of addition or substitution to improve taste, appearance, or for economic reasons,” they concluded.

Another product labeled “St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum),” a flowering plant, yielded a result identical to that of several fern species. A barcode from an herbal tea matched Poa annua, a widely cultivated meadow grass. Four products yielded barcodes closely matching plants belonging to the parsley family, although the particular species could not be determined.

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  • Gena, yes! Stefan where can we see that play?

  • Is it sad that I read this and kept thinking I want to have you as my gardener ;)

    Gena Morris

    1:40 am
    27/07/2011

  • What is even more interesting is certain kinds of teas you just never seem to hear about anymore. Like Echinacea has lost popularity. Teas like Earl Grey and Chamomile are so popular you do wonder what is in them.

    Rona E

    7:12 pm
    24/07/2011

  • You are right. Scary.

    Amy Segel

    3:56 pm
    24/07/2011

  • A very interesting finding on something you rarely hear about. It only makes sense. This article would have been more useful if you had mentioned brands. You don’t seem to have any problems calling out products that aren’t what they claim to be.

    Dina Paterno

    3:24 pm
    24/07/2011

  • Herbal Tea: Researchers Find Mis-Labeled Ingredients — Mostly in Chamomile and St. John’s Wort: http://t.co/2RvG68i via @AddThis

  • Herbal Tea: Researchers Find Mis-Labeled Ingredients — Mostly in Chamomile and St. John’s Wort http://bit.ly/pfKSqL by @StefanPinto

    @AnitaNelson (@ModelSupplies)

    7:48 pm
    22/07/2011

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