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What’s on the herbal register?

Herbal medicines now have to demonstrate their safety and quality, but only time will tell if this is a good thing says Professor Edzard Ernst.

On 30 April, the Traditional Herbal Registration became law in the UK [1]. Under this regulation, herbal products which make therapeutic claims have to demonstrate their safety and quality similar to other licensed medicines. However, no proof of efficacy is required for herbal remedies. Instead the product’s ingredients must have been in use since at least 30 years in the EU or 15 years in the EU and 15 years elsewhere. Such products must also have a patient information leaflet and may only make minor claims.

To date, over 100 herbal medicines have been registered under the scheme. They contain one or more of the following medicinal herbs:

• Agnus castus

• Arnica

• Artichoke leaf

• Asparagus root

• Bladderwrack

• Black cohosh

• Centaury herb

• Devil’s claw

• Echinacea herb/root

• Elderflower

• Feverfew

• Gentian root

• Ginkgo

• Hops

• Horse chestnut seed

• Ivy leaf

• Lemon balm

• Lobellia

• Lovage root

• Milk thistle

• Parsley herb

• Passion flower herb

• Pelargonium root

• Peony root

• Peppermint leaf

• Primrose

• Rhodolia root

• Rosemary leaf

• Sage leaf

• Saw palmetto fruit

• Sorrel

• Spruce shoots

• Squill bulb

• St John’s wort

• Valerian root

• Verbena

• Wild lettuce

Only time will tell whether, on balance, this new regulation is a good or a bad thing. To me, it seems to be a compromise which has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage might be that sub-standard products will disappear from the market. Disadvantages are that the herbal industry now has very little incentive to do efficacy studies and that consumers might treat themselves with ineffective medicines.

Professor Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

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Edzard Ernst