Medicinal herb use in a population-based survey of adults: prevalence and frequency of use, reasons for use, and use among their children

Ann Epidemiol. 2005 Oct;15(9):678-85. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2004.09.002.


Purpose: There is sparse population-based data on health factors related to medicinal herb use and use of medicinal herbs in children. For a sample of American adults, we estimated the prevalence and frequency of medicinal herb use, factors related to use, reasons for use, patient-physician discussion, and the proportion of respondents who gave herbs to their children.

Methods: The data used in this study was from the 2001 North Carolina Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a population-based telephone survey of English-speaking adults (n = 2982).

Results: Approximately 20% of respondents reported using medicinal herbs in the past year. Of these, 34% reported discussion of herb use with a physician; 69% reported taking herbs to maintain health, 20% to prevent illness, and 11% to treat illness. Of the total sample, 7% reported using herbs everyday and 5% of the respondents reported giving their children herbal medicines in the past year.

Conclusions: Medicinal herb use is common in this population sample. The lack of discussion between users and their physicians highlights the importance of patient-physician communication to avoid possible herb-drug interactions and surgical complications. Herb use appears to be a popular strategy for maintaining health. Children may be vulnerable to herbal toxicity and therefore clinicians need to know about their medicinal herb use and counsel appropriately.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Parenting
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Phytotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Socioeconomic Factors