Herbal medicines are medicines that use parts of plants such as flowers, leaves or roots as the active components of the medicine. Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism, botanical medicine and phytomedicine, has been used for thousands of years and still plays a role in modern-day medicine. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 20% of people use at least one herbal medicine at some point in their life.
Herbal medicine is a type of complementary and alternative medicine. Popular herbal medicines include St John’s wort, used for mild depression and mild anxiety, Bronchostop for the relief of a cough and valerian root extract used to help you sleep and relieve symptoms of stress.
If you want to purchase a herbal medicine, we recommend you look out for a THR marking on the product packaging. The THR marking means the herbal medicine is part of the Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme, which was brought in to improve patient safety around the use of herbal medicines. It ensures herbal medicines meet the required standards for safety, quality and patient information. Products in the scheme can only be used for mild conditions that don’t require medical supervision. This is to ensure people don’t replace conventional medicines with herbal medicines for serious medical conditions. You can buy THR-registered herbal medicines from pharmacies, supermarkets and health shops.
Many patients report positive outcomes from using herbal medicines. However, generally speaking, there is a limited amount of scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of herbal medicines. Furthermore, manufacturers of herbal medicines do not have to prove that they work. The Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme just requires manufacturers to provide evidence that the active ingredient has been used traditionally for the advertised condition for at least 30 years.
Yes, many herbal medicines have the potential to interact with other medicines that you may be using. For example, St John’s wort interacts with a large number of medicines. Interactions can decrease the effectiveness of your medicine or increase its side effects. Therefore, if you take any medicines, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a herbal medicine to ensure it is safe for you to do so.
Like all medicines, herbal medicines can cause side effects. For example, Bronchostop can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach ache. Valerian root extract can cause nausea and abdominal cramps, and St John’s wort can lead to trouble sleeping, an upset stomach, irritability, fatigue and skin rashes, as well as increased skin sensitivity to sunlight.
If you are concerned about any side effects from a herbal medicine you are using, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
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