When Jerry Wu started Draco Natural Products in 1994 in California, he wasn't interested in half measures. Wu wanted to market herbal extracts, but, in contrast to many natural-ingredient suppliers at the time, he wasn't interested in standardising to one or several active compounds. He wanted them all.
Wu developed his water-extraction technique to pull everything he could out of the herbs with which he was working. That way, he said, he ended up with a finished extract that had, "better efficacy and less side effects. We concentrated on whatever was in the herb, like nature intended."
Wu was trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Shanghai before emigrating to the US in 1980. It was in China that the roots of his complex water-extraction technology were sown. While Wu and Draco marketing director Jennifer Higgins are careful to point out that Draco is not a strict TCM-style company, that mindset informed the type of company it became.
"We use a lot of the TCM concepts, but we started it more as a nutritional company. At that time people were trying to find the active compound, kind of a pharmaceutical way, and use a solvent to get the highest concentration possible," Wu said.
Draco was a pioneer of the water-extraction technology, which eschews solvents, like hexane or alcohol, to pull out active compounds. Draco's careful process uses only water, which gradually forms a solution from the source materials, not unlike steeping tea. This solution acquires solvent properties of its own, and is then able to extract the oil-soluble chemical constituents of the source material, resulting in the "whole spectrum" extracts of which the company is so proud.
The process not only avoids solvents, but also provides other important benefits. The process requires no added heat, which keeps oxidation of the materials to an absolute minimum. After the extraction is finished, the solution is spray dried, which results in a powdered extract that is carrier-free. And the final product is water soluble and dispersible.
"That's what set us apart in the beginning, because we were the first ones to bring that forward as an extracting company," Higgins said.
More than just herbs
Recently, the company has moved beyond herbs. While it still offers a staggeringly comprehensive list of herbal botanicals, Draco now offers a full range of fruit and vegetable extracts, as well as a throng of certified-organic ingredients. The fruits and vegetables are extracted from whole fruit — rind, flesh and seed — resulting in an extract rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Draco features a vertical integration strategy called Seed to Drum. This control of supply results in a high level of source purity, with "bacterial plate counts that are regularly 100 times lower than our competitors," according to company statements.
Another key part of Draco's vertical integration strategy lies in its wildcrafting agreements with the Chinese government. About 16,000 acres of mountainous territory in Shangdong Province in eastern China is set aside to gather the herbs, which are growing in their natural state.
"We are harvesting what's growing there but we are regulated so that we don't overharvest," Wu said.
Through the company's history, as it moved from simple extracts to its present emphasis on fruits and vegetables, Wu never lost focus on what he was trying to achieve. It's a concept of balance and harmony in all the body's systems. "It's not to cure disease, it's prevention," Wu said. "That my belief. Even today in the more fruit and vegetable lines we are more about prevention."