Q: Dear Dr. Mao,
Huperzine A is plant-derived; does that make it an herbal remedy?
A: Huperzine A (HUP-er-zeen) is an extremely potent chemical derived from a particular type of club moss (Huperzia serrata). Like caffeine and cocaine, huperzine A is a medicinally active, plant-derived chemical that belongs to the class known as alkaloids. It was first isolated in 1948 by Chinese scientists. This substance is really more a drug than an herb, but it is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement for memory loss and mental impairment.
Although it originally comes from a plant, huperzine A is highly purified in a laboratory and is just a single chemical. Herbs contain hundreds or thousands of chemicals. Therefore, huperzine A cannot be called an herb.