Are Medical Herbalists Under Threat?

Jackie Cooper
Wednesday, 14th August 2013

Medicinal herbs are regularly found in the permaculture garden as their many uses go hand in hand with permaculture's principle of stacking functions. But could EU regulations change the future of herbal medicine?

As the law stands, anyone can set up in business as a Medical Herbalist. Indeed Medical Herbalists have been treating their patients for thousands of years without formal regulation. However, in February 2011 the Government announced that herbalists were to be the subject of Statutory Regulation (S.R.), saying that, "this is the right decision, which will benefit both practitioners and the public who use herbal medicines". Two years later the Government has failed to honour its commitment, and indeed it is feared that a u-turn may be imminent.

The effect of the EU directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal products which came into force in April 2011 is that without S.R. not only have Medical Herbalists lost the right to prescribe many commonly used herbal medicines, but the very existence of Medical Herbalists is threatened. This is because the restrictions are leading to our small scale manufacturers/suppliers being driven out of business.

The consequence of the EU directive coming into effect was the loss of section 12.2 of the Medicines Act 1968. This saw the end of herbalists prescribing herbal medicines made by manufacturers/suppliers for prescription to individual patients, which included all finished products such as tablets, capsules, dried herb mixtures and ointments, and individualised prescriptions of tinctures and herbal teas, where made up by third parties. Only those suppliers with a THMP licence (costing many thousands of pounds) could then supply these medicines. Many practitioners were reliant on such services from small organisations, due to the prohibitive cost of stocking a full dispensary. Many small suppliers have now gone out of business.

Indeed there are less Medical Herbalists qualifying, and fewer institutions running degree courses. All that remains now for Herbalists is the right to prepare our own medicines. As a result of the above a Medical Herbalist can sell simple teas to the ladies at the Women's Institute, like Chamomile and Nettle, as long as they don't claim that they are medicinal!

If Statutory Regulation does go ahead as promised, then essentially herbalists retrieve section 12.2 in the form of section 5.1 of the European Medicines Act 2001/83/EC, because then Medical Herbalists would be formally recognised as 'Authorised Healthcare Professionals', who can supply third party medicines. Importantly Statutory Regulation would also ensure that only members registered would be able to treat patients, ensuring a high standard of treatment and quality of medicines. Members of The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH, founded in 1864!), would be automatically registered because NIMH membership requires qualification to degree standard, a minimum of 500hrs of supervised clinical practice, ongoing CPD, a strict code of ethics, professional insurance and a CRB check.

Without Statutory Regulation the public will buy more medicines direct over the counter from larger organisations who can afford the licence but are more likely to be interested in profit over quality, or worse purchase over the internet, which is unregulated.

Without a full wholistic consultation by a Medical Herbalist a patient is more likely to use a herbal remedy symptomatically (as we do with conventional medicines), leading to less long term benefits. A Medical Herbalist also gives time to the patient, enabling the patient to discuss health issues in depth, which is often part of the therapy. A Medical Herbalist can treat almost anything that one would take to a GP, and prescribe and dispense medicines which rarely cause any side effects (because we take the patient's individual constitution into account). A Medical Herbalist treats the person not the symptoms. It is not a 'one size fits all' approach in herbal medicine, and it is still the oldest and most popular form of medicine on the planet!

I practice from my home in Cumbria. I grow many of my own medicinal plants and make the remedies myself, but there will always be remedies that I cannot make, and this is what will be lost if Statutory Regulation does not proceed. 

To learn more from Jackie visit her website at: 

Further resources

Medicinal herbs: an antidote to modern medicine

A look into the powerful medicinal properties of wild carrots

Growing, picking and preserving edible native flowers

Letting in the wild edges

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Jools |
Wed, 14/08/2013 - 14:06
please sign and share as widely as possible this petition to save the practice of herbal medicine in the uk:
Jools |
Wed, 14/08/2013 - 16:24
please sign and share as widely as possible: