Could new regulations spell the end for herbal remedies?

Herbal remedies have been used to treat ailments for centuries and health-conscious consumers are increasingly turning to nature for their aches and pains. But new regulations governing the sale of natural remedies could soon mean some disappear from shelves.

Herbal remedies regulations
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At the end of this month, regulations introduced by the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) will force manufacturers to provide proof that herbs marketed as treatments for specific conditions have been used as such for at least 30 years here in the UK and at least 15 years in the EU.

Each medicine will also require clearly marked dosage instructions and a patient safety leaflet. Those remedies that have met the criteria will then carry a THR number on the pack.

The new rules are aimed at "putting consumers in the driving seat" when it comes to herbal medicines. Even those that have shown evidence of positive effects (St John's Wort for mild depression, for example) have the potential for side effects.

Professor Jayne Lawrence, chief science adviser at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, told the Daily Express: "People often equate natural with safe but a lot of these remedies are actually quite potent and can cause side effects. Some also interact with prescription medicines."

However, the scheme is not without its critics. Though registration of remedies may offer better safety advice for consumers, natural medicines are not required to undergo the rigorous testing that licenced medicines do and some argue that buyers will wrongly believe that a THR number is proof that the medicine works.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, explained: "Registration is better from the point of view of toxicity and safety but the labelling is very misleading."

His concerns surround the disclaimer printed on products which suggests health claims are "based on traditional use only".

"Nine out of 10 people will read 'traditional use' as 'it works'," he told the paper.

Others fear the cost of producing the necessary registration dossiers could see some products disappearing, and an online petition against the legislation has already been launched at

But commonly-used remedies such as valerian, arnica, St John's Wort and echinacea are among 100 registrations already approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and are listed on the health watchdog's website.

However, Professor Lawrence advises that consumers "get advice from their doctor or pharmacist" if they are considering natural remedies.

Are you an advocate of herbal remedies? Do you agree that registration is a good idea? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below...