Herbal remedies have been the foundation of health care through recorded history. Many modern drugs are derived from plants. Today herbs can be ideal complements to modern medicines. They make great natural self care choices for conditions you can safely treat yourself. There are also highly qualified herbal practitioners who can use herbs for personalised treatments.
What is the difference between herbal medicines and supplements?
Modern herbal medicines are registered by the government regulator in the UK and other European Member States for a wide range of conditions that are suitable for self-medication. Having formal medicines status means that they are also of assured quality – the manufacturer is held to account for delivering exactly what the label describes and for monitoring all safety questions that arise.
There are also herbs sold as food supplements (sometimes referred to as botanicals), and some, like garlic and ginger, are used in cooking. However, supplements are not always produced to assured medicine standards and the quality may vary. So there is a really good reason to look for reputable suppliers to obtain them. Some members of the BHMA produce both licensed herbal medicines and herbal food supplements and with their manufacturing licences will have strict quality controls in place on site for both types of product (see here for a list of BHMA members).
How do I choose a herbal medicine?
Herbal medicines are widely available in the UK in health food shops, pharmacies, supermarkets, and from some online suppliers. They can be distinguished from supplements by a registration number on the pack (either “THR” or “PL” followed by a series of numbers/letters), and will contain clear officially-approved information on their safe use.
THR products are also labelled with THR logo approved by the UK Medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Click here for a summary, by indication, of BHMA members’ products which are either registered as Traditional Herbal Medicines (THRs) or Medicines with the MHRA.
Are herbal medicines effective?
Traditional herbal medicines (THRs) have been registered for their labelled claims on the basis of traditional use for these conditions for at least 30 years and mostly very much longer – some for many centuries! Although reputation is not quite the same as rigorous clinical trials (required for modern synthetic drugs) it is at least a good basis to try a remedy. The traditional herbal medicines (THRs) now on the market have been judged by experts to relatively safe (see below) so trying them out yourself is almost always to be recommended. In most of the conditions for which herbal medicines are registered you should see any benefits quite quickly: for short term symptoms within a few days, up to 2-3 months in longer term problems that do not change much month by month.
Are herbal medicines safe?
It is of course always wise to check with your health professional if any symptom is severe or lasts for longer than a few days. The quality standards to which medicines (both THRs and PLs) are developed, manufactured and supplied to market are key elements for underpinning product safety.