Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) herbal dietary supplements are commonly consumed to treat menopausal symptoms, but there are reports of adverse events and toxicities associated with their use. Accidental misidentification and/or deliberate adulteration results in harvesting other
related species that are then marketed as black cohosh. Some of these species are known to be toxic to humans. We have identified two matK nucleotides that consistently distinguish black cohosh from related species. Using these nucleotides, an assay was able to correctly identify all
of the black cohosh samples in the validation set. None of the other Actaea species in the validation set were falsely identified as black cohosh. Of 36 dietary supplements sequenced, 27 (75%) had a sequence that exactly matched black cohosh. The remaining nine samples (25%) had a sequence
identical to that of three Asian Actaea species (A. cimicifuga, A. dahurica, and A. simplex). Manufacturers should routinely test plant material using a reliable assay to ensure accurate labeling.
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