Use and definition of herbal medicines differ by ethnicity

Ann Pharmacother. 2003 Oct;37(10):1409-13. doi: 10.1345/aph.1C421.


Background: While past studies have investigated uses of and attitudes toward herbal medicines by different ethnic groups, none have assessed how people may define them.

Objective: To determine definitions of and attitudes toward herbal medicines in different ethnic groups.

Methods: Surveys were distributed to 300 people of different professions and ethnic backgrounds in northern Pennsylvania. We quantified Latino/non-Latino group similarities and differences in the following variables: which of a list of 26 substances people categorized as herbal medicines, people's intent to use herbal medicines in the future, people's attitudes toward herbal medicine use, how people described their doctors' and friends' attitudes toward herbal medicines, and people's ability to use herbal medicines. These variables were based on the Theory of Planned Behavior.

Results: The Latino sample compared with the non-Latino white sample was more likely to categorize certain foods (e.g., garlic, carrots) as herbal medicines. Non-Latinos had more negative attitudes toward herbal medicines and were less likely to intend to use them in the future. Non-Latinos were more likely to base their attitudes on those of their health professionals, whereas Latinos were more likely to base their attitudes on their ability to buy and use herbal medicines.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that pharmacists have greater potential to educate and consult with the non-Latino population regarding the use of herbal medicines, and the Latino population may be at greater risk of adverse effects from herbal medicines. Our results also suggest that, because of the ways that different groups define herbal medicines, health professionals should clarify what their clients mean when they use this term.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion
  • Herbal Medicine / classification*
  • Hispanic or Latino / ethnology*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Pennsylvania
  • Pharmacists
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • United States
  • White People / ethnology*
  • White People / psychology