Detection of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in German licensed herbal medicinal teas

M Schulz, J Meins, S Diemert, P Zagermann-Muncke, R Goebel, D Schrenk, M Schubert-Zsilavecz, M Abdel-Tawab*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Because of the hepatotoxic, mutagenic, and cancerogenic effects of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends not to exceed a daily PA intake of 0.007 µg/kg body weight (0.42 µg/60 kg adult). In a recent study conducted by the BfR, up to 5647 µg PA/kg dried herbal material were detected in tea products marketed as food.

PURPOSE: The present study aimed at elucidating whether medicinal teas licensed or registered as medicinal products contain PAs as well.

STUDY DESIGN: One hundred sixty-nine different commercially available medicinal teas, i.e. 19 nettle (Urtica dioica L.), 12 fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.), 14 chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.), 11 melissa (Melissa officinalis L.) and 4 peppermint (Mentha piperita L.) teas as well as 109 tea mixtures were analyzed for the presence of 23 commercially available PAs.

METHOD: LC/MS was used for the determination of the PAs

RESULTS: In general, the total PA contents ranging 0-5668 µg/kg. Thirty percent of the tested single-ingredient tea products and 56.9% of the tested medicinal tea mixtures were found to contain PA concentrations above the limit of quantification (LOQ) of 10 µg/kg. In 11 medicinal teas PA contents >300 µg/kg dry herb were determined thus exceeding the recommended limit for PA intake by BfR. In addition three products of the investigated tea mixtures revealed extremely high PA contents of 4227, 5137, and 5668 µg/kg. Generally, single-ingredient tea products contained much less or even no detectable amounts of PAs when compared to the tea mixtures. PAs in the range between 13 and 1080 µg/kg were also detected in five analyzed aqueous herbal infusions of the medicinal tea mixture products with the highest PA content. Two out of the five investigated herbal infusions exceeded the recommended BfR limit for PA intake.

CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates clearly that also medicinal teas licensed as medicinal products may partly contain high amounts of PAs exceeding current recommendations. For that reason manufacturers are advised to carry out more rigorous quality control tests devoted to the detection of PAs. This is very important to minimize PAs in medicinal teas accounting for possible additional exposure of the consumer to PAs from other food sources (e.g. honey).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-56
Number of pages9
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • Beverages
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Germany
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry

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