Development Of The Herbal World In The Last Two Decades


Mark Blumenthal, American Botanical Council, 6200 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78723 USA


Proceedings of the Women's Health And Asian Traditional (WHAT) Medicine II Conference




herbal medicine, standardization , herbal preparations, clinical research, guidelines, good agricultural and collection practices, good manufacturing process


The growth of herbal medicine has increased in most industrialized and developing countries during the past 2-3 decades. While specific econometric data are difficult to obtain and/or verify on a global level, there are data from individual nations that support the notion that more people are consuming a wider array of botanical medicine products for an extensive and growing variety of health reasons, both preventive and treatment oriented. Botanical-based medicines are termed by a variety of names in various nations, often depending on the regulatory system under which they are marketed. These terras include herbal medicine, botanical medicine, phytomedicine, herbal medicinal product, traditional herbal medicinal product, natural health product, and others. From a regulatory perspective these products are marketed across the spectrum of consumer goods and medicinal agents, including as foods, functional foods, dietary supplements, traditional medicines, natural health products, therapeutic goods, nonprescription drugs, and prescription drugs, and, for those products sold for external use, a class of products that might be termed "functional cosmetics". Standardization of numerous herbal preparations to various marker compounds and/or groups of such compounds has been developed for the purposes of both quality control and increased therapeutic consistency, although such chemical standardization may not be necessary to produce high quality, reliable preparations (e.g. herbal teas, capsules, tinctures, etc.). Clinical research on specific herbal preparations has mushroomed, being published in pharmacy and medicine journals around the world, such research being sponsored usually by either the herbal manufacturing companies themselves or government agencies. Extensive coverage of these trials in the mainstream media has helped to increase the awareness of the potential benefits of herbal medicines, or, in many cases where reporting and misreporting of results of negative trials has occurred, this media coverage has had an adverse effect on market growth. In Western nations, there has been a direct correlation between the reports of positive clinical trials on some specific herbs and phytomedicines and their corresponding success in the marketplace. Examples of such clinically tested herbs enjoying leading market positions include black cohosh (Actaea racemosa syn., Cimicifuga racemosa), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), garlic (Allium sativum), ginkgo extract (Ginkgo biloba), Asian ginseng root (Panax ginseng), saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens), St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), and many others. Furthermore, during the generally positive growth cycle over 20-30 years, some formerly small herb businesses have grown to become large businesses employing hundreds of employees, and producing hundreds of millions of dollars (a few in the billions) of annual sales. Some of these companies are pharmaceutically oriented (e.g., the German and Japanese phytomedicine companies) with a significant focus on GMPs and experimental and clinical research, as is required by some of the countries in which their products may be marketed as licensed medicines. Further, even many companies that are based on a food or dietary supplement model have made great strides in growth, quality control, and frequently, pharmacological and/or clinical testing of products. Several studies suggest that a majority of herbal medicines are obtained from wild, not commercially cultivated, sources. The widespread growth of botanical medicine has created increased concerns among conservation biologists and others that there is and will continue be strong pressure on wild medicinal plant habitats, resulting in many plants being threatened, endangered, or otherwise "at risk". The WHO and the IUCN have developed guidelines for conservation of medicinal and aromatic plants, including the publication of Good Agricultural and Collection Practices. Such increased demand also creates new economic opportunities for farmers and growers of here-to-fore wild-only medicinal plants to produce sustainable, commercially harvestable medicinal plant crops.