Sebastian Pole and Tim Westwell of Pukka Herbs

Sebastian Pole and Tim Westwell of Pukka Herbs

Pukka Herbs has risen to become one of the natural industry’s best-loved brands, dedicated to connecting people with plants. In Hindi or British English the word pukka conjures something that is genuine, top-class, sure. Founded in 2001 by the herbalist Sebastian Pole and his business partner Tim Westwell, this UK-based company today offers a product portfolio that includes over 40 herbal, green, fruit and black teas and over 75 food supplements. It distributes its herbal blends throughout Europe and the US, and works with over 5,000 growers across the world to provide the plants Pukka uses to make its formulas.

Sebastian Pole is well versed in traditional medicine, having steeped (pun intended) himself deeply in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic principles and practice before qualifying as an herbalist in 1995. The company is devoted to environmental responsibility and fairness at every level, sustainable sourcing of base products, and is 100% certified organic with the Soil Association – and much more.

It is becoming increasingly important in order to keep up with consumer demands, government regulations around product claims and safety, as well as to develop more effective and attractive products, that formulation creation and effectiveness be supported by science. For Pukka, this meant the challenge of effectively melding ancient traditions with today’s best science.

Pukka chose Massachusetts, US-based bioanalytical research and testing laboratory Brunswick Labs to help address this challenge. Pukka and Brunswick Labs together have developed innovative, sophisticated approaches to determine first the quality of the sourced herbals that all the products start with, and then determining how these ingredients and formulations effect the body.

In its early years, Pukka relied predominantly on common testing techniques, such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and high-performance Thin Layer chromatography (HPTLC). As it evolved, however, the need for deeper analysis became more pressing. By EU law, if you want to position a food as high in antoxidants, you cannot fall back on its ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) value; you need to first verify this health claim by way of a clinical study.

More recently, then, the company’s formula development process has become increasingly scientifically rigorous. It uses advanced supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) method to capture the full profile of its herbal material. It has also conducted various studies with Brunswick Labs in a bid to harness the laboratory’s expertise.


Pukka Herbs products showing off their packaging

Its ‘Wholistic Turmeric’ supplement, for instance – a broad-spectrum formula that retains over 200 of turmeric’s bioactive compounds – has undergone laboratory tests to verify its anti-inflammatory properties. Its ‘Vitalise’ powder has been assessed for its effects on energy metabolism, ‘Turmeric Active’ for its effect of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidation, while other investigations are ongoing into Pukka’s rainbow like herbal blends.

Perhaps most notably, its leading ‘Detox’ tea, billed as the ‘ultimate organic cup to help your body spring clean’, has been formulated to do precisely that. Grown to pharmacopeia standard, the blend is based on the principle that toxins build up in the digestive system, and can be actively flushed out.

With help from Brunswick Laboratories, Pukka studied the impacts of the tea on Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) and Glutathione-S-Transferase (GST), key enzymes for liver detoxification. Using in vitro microtissue samples from the human liver, they noted an increase in the activity of both enzymes after the brewed detox tea was administered.

They also explored the effects on Nrf2, a transcription factor involved in response to oxidative stress, using human cells as the study model. The expression of Nrf2 in human liver cells increased in proportion to the concentration of the tea, demonstrating clear antioxidant properties.

It doesn’t stop there. Pukka, together with Brunswick Labs, have plans to innovate and create further, deeper research programs to drive product and marketing efforts into new and exciting directions. This includes working with Brunswick Labs to develop more human cell-based studies and embarking on clinical trials.

Sebastian Pole, chief traditionalist and scientist at Pukka Herbs.

Sebastian Pole, chief traditionalist and scientist at Pukka Herbs

Where does all this stand Pukka today? As a global, growing market leader in herbals. It leads to what Pukka calls, “Pukka Love”. An ever increasing number of happy customers who respond to Pukka products, sending praising letters, glowing calls, poems, and even artworks singing its praises. Genuine is right.Through employing new, innovative bioassays of this kind, Pukka has been able to successfully achieve the happy marriage between tradition and science, giving Pukka powerful new tools to create more attractive, effective, safer products, and address market requirements better. Brunswick Labs’ studies make clear, Pukka’s teas and supplements are ‘good for you’, with very real impacts on the body at a cellular level.

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