Researchers at Murdoch University have used new DNA sequencing technology to reveal the animal and plant composition of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs).
Some of the TCM samples tested contained potentially toxic plant ingredients, allergens, and traces of endangered animals.
"TCMs have a long cultural history, but today consumers need to be aware of the legal and health safety issues before adopting them as a treatment option," Bunce, the lead researcher of the study, said.
The 15 TCM samples, seized by Australian border officials, in the form of powders, tablets, capsules, flakes, and herbal teas were audited using the DNA preserved in the samples.
"In total we found 68 different plant families in the medicines - they are complex mixtures of species.
"Some of the TCMs contained plants of the genus Ephedra and Asarum. These plants contain chemicals that can be toxic if the wrong dosage is taken, but none of them actually listed concentrations on the packaging.
"We also found traces from trade restricted animals that are classified as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, including the Asiatic black bear and Saiga antelope," Bunce said.
The study has been published in the journal PLoS Genetics.