Herbal medicine in healthcare--an overview

Nat Prod Commun. 2012 Jun;7(6):807-12.


It is generally accepted by all concerned that modern pharmaceuticals will remain out of reach of many people and 'health for all' may only be realized by the use of adequately assessed herbal products. Mankind has been using herbal medicine for healing right from the beginning of human civilization. With the advent of 'modern medicine' herbal products have been looked down upon, especially by western societies. Yet, in recent times, use of herbal medicine for heathcare has increased steadily all over the world. However, serious concerns are being realized regarding the safety, claimed efficacy and quality of herbal products used as herbal medicine, nutraceuticals, health food and cosmetics. Although herbal products are generally considered safe due to their age-old usage, significant side effects have been reported for many herbal products, including herbal medicine. Accidental contamination and intentional adulteration are considered as primary reasons for the side effects. The historical perspective and the philosophy of herbal medical practice along with its present status in the light of present day science have been reviewed and included in the present article. Assurance of safety by identification of contaminants and assessment of toxicity has been outlined. Assessment of claimed efficacy of herbal medicine is difficult due to its holistic approach. Practical ways of assessing efficacy of herbal medicine by adapting the methodologies used for modern pharmaceutical are described. The maintenance of standard of herbal medicine has been stressed and pragmatic approaches of assuring quality of herbal medicine by using modern tools of fingerprinting the chemical profile of herbal medicine are discussed. As much of the traditional herbal medical knowledge is scattered around the world at the family and community levels, and more so in the indigeneous people, the knowledge base is continuously being lost and so needs immediate documentation. Difficulties in documentation due to concerns of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) have been highlighted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Herbal Medicine / methods*