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Author Topic: Aztec Sweet Herb - does it or does it not contain camphor?  (Read 325 times)

KarenRei

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I'd always believed that Aztec Sweet Herb (formerly, Lippia dulcis, now Phyla scabberima), the source of the sugarless sweetener hernandulcin, also contains significant amounts of the toxic substance camphor, and thus should only be consumed in small amounts, and in particular be avoided by pregnant women.  However, I just ran into this interesting paper from 1996:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031942296006917

Apparently the first studies of the plant involved samples collected in Tlayacapan (where they're known for use in treating dysentery and abdominal inflamation), and they identified hernandulcin as the sweetening compound, in significant quantities. A followup study involved a mixture of plants collected in Tlayacapan and herbs purchased in Mexico City, being sold as an abortifacent. They strangely found little hernandulcin (although their analysis method may have been to blame), but also found that the essential oil was 53% camphor, creating the health concerns. This study here analyzed plants collected in Orocovis, Puerto Rico and found ample hernandulcin (36% of the essential oil) and no camphor whatsoever. It also yielded much higher essential oil contents than the Mexican plants had.  In Puerto Rico - and, from what we know of the Aztecs' usage of the herb - there were no abortifacent properties attributed to it.  The author suggests several possibilities, but perhaps the most probable is that the abortifacent-variant sold in Mexico was misidentified and was not L. dulcis / P. scabberima.  It might also answer the paradox of how you could have a sweet-tasting herb containing so much camphor, as camphor is bitter tasting.

I need to research this some more later, but I'll call this good news for fans of natural sugarless sweeteners  :)
« Last Edit: May 18, 2018, 06:17:31 AM by KarenRei »
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KarenRei

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Re: Aztec Sweet Herb - does it or does it not contain camphor?
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2018, 06:16:22 PM »
Been doing some more followup.  This paper cites a number of the more recent ones:

http://www.juniperus.org/uploads/2/2/6/3/22639912/369_-_2016_phyto_98_3_207-214adams_and_oliveira_lippia_brazil_vs_mexico.pdf

The short of it: most P. scabberima  (was L. dulcis) on the market - such as at Chiltern Seeds - is Mexican.  Mexican P. scabberima contains significant camphor and lower amounts of hernandulcin. P. scabberima from Brazil, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and one of two samples in Panama, contain little to none.  Indeed, all chemicals related to camphor are similarly pretty much absent from these plants.  It's still not clear whether this species should be split up into subspecies or separate species, but regardless: if you're going to get P. scabberima, make sure it's from Puerto Rico or South America, and not Mexico.  Unless you want to use them as an herbal abortifacent, wherein, get them from Mexico or places that have been distributing Mexican plants.

(In particular, apparently the above study got their Brazilian P. scabberima from a garden centre in Florianopolis)
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