The EU DIRECTIVE on HERBAL MEDICINES; A HERBALIST S VIEW

(Chris Woollams; CANCERactive) The following is in two parts. Alan Hopking wrote the first part calling for urgent Government action to ’regulate’ Herbalists, in the UK.  His calls were finally met on February 16th 2011 with promises to take the action for definite in 2012, allowing Herbalists to continue to ply their trade before then. Read the following, then the comments.

1. ACTION IS NEEDED IN THE FIELD OF HERBAL MEDICINE

By Alan Hopking MA MNIMH MRCHM,

Herbal Practitioner for 30 years, Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (Great Britain) (founded 1846), vis medicatrix naturae, Godshaer - Advanced Botanical Centre of Medicine, 7 Ampress Lane, Lymington SO41 8LZ, UK. Telephone +44 (0)1590 672 500; Web: www.godshaer.co.uk.


In early Feb 2011 Alan wrote the following: It’s less than 75 days before UK herbal practice goes into meltdown and patients lose access to a broad range of herbal remedies that have been commonly available for over forty years.

This is a real threat because the Government has singularly failed to honour an undertaking given ten years ago to extend statutory regulation to herbal practitioners.

Statutory regulation of this sector has had unequivocal backing from the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee as well as two Department of Health Committees. Now scores of herbal suppliers and practitioners will be put out of business because EU legislation at the end of April will deny herbalists and their patients access to herbal products from third party suppliers. On the other hand, statutory regulation for herbalists will allow them to be considered authorised health professionals under the main EU medicines Directive and thus be able to continue to access the full range of herbal medicines from next May onwards.

Statutory regulation needs to be robust and delivered through an experienced regulator such as the Health Professions Council. Terms bandied about like light touch regulation disguise the fact that any other solution (e.g. regulation via the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) will fail to provide necessary public protection. The DH Committee that looked at regulation of the herbal sector rejected all other plans for regulation of herbalists other than via the Health Professions Council and the  HPC has written to the Secretary of State for Health saying it is ready to undertake this initiative as soon as the Government gives the go-ahead.

Ministers should act without further delay to regulate herbal medicine practitioners via the Health Professions Council. They should ignore calls from self-interested factions of the scientific community that seek to block this vital legislation as this is clearly not in patients’ interests.

There are three issues facing herbal medicine

   a. The EU Directive and the licensing of herbal products

   b. The regulation of herbal practitionersc.

   c. The need for urgent action.

A. What does the licensing of herbal products mean?


  • All herbal products on shop shelves, in health clinics or on the internet that do not have a license to be sold in Europe will become illegal to sell to the public or patients from 1 May 2011.

  • If products are sold without a license the shop owner, website owner or practitioner will be taken to court and be fined.

  • Licensing a product is not easy. A product must do what it says on the tin. No medical claims can be made based on traditional use. Substantial scientific proof must be furnished as evidence of its medical action using double blind trials and other tests. Approval of each license can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

  • The licensing of herbal products applies to all EU countries.

B.  What are the problems facing the regulation of medical herbalists?


  • At the time of writing (January 2011) herbal practitioners have not yet been granted statutory regulation by the government despite over 10 years of negotiation (completed mid 2010). Debate about statutory regulation will take place shortly (House of Lords, January 13, 2011).

  • Without regulation any unscrupulous, unqualified individual can set themselves up as a herbalist and have access to the whole range of herbal medicines. This can and has been a danger to the health of unknowing members of the public.

  • Statutory regulation is designed to protect the public: a register will be published so that the public can find a local herbalist who has achieved the requisite standard of training and qualification.

  • Many herbalists use unlicensed herbal medicines which they prepare themselves for their patients. If they make these preparations/prescriptions in their own clinics they can continue to do so.

  • However if herbalists rely on buying their herbal products from a supplier these products must be officially licensed. Most products have not been licensed so they will become unavailable to these herbal practitioners. Without statutory regulation all herbal products purchased from a third-party herbal agency that do not have a license will become illegal.

  • After regulation, those herbalists that do not make their own herbal products on their own premises, must buy them from government approved manufacturers.

  • This also applies to third-party dispensaries which will need to become legally licensed after statutory regulation. A third-party dispensary is used when a herbalist doesn’t have a dispensary in their own clinic and uses the services of dispensaries that make the prescription for them and who mail it directly to the patient. Without statutory regulation such services will be put out of business.

  • To have statutory registration, herbal practitioners would receive the stamp of approval placed on them as recognised qualified professionals who have passed the high standards that are already in place for a medical herbalist to legitimately practice. The supply of the unlicensed medicinal herbs would then be accessible only to a registered practitioner for the benefit and safety of patients. Public confidence would then be assured as they would have a professional group of practitioners able to deliver expert herbal treatment safely tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

  • The recommended regulating body, the Health Professions Council (HPC), has already been set up (it already regulates physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, etc) and has already agreed to take on this responsibility for medical herbalists.

  • Statutory regulation would also enable herbalists to access research facilities, patient groups and funding which would greatly aid the health care community in understanding how much of what herbalists practice does work. This should be a priority for the government.

  • This is applicable to UK herbalists only. Herbalists in other EU countries will come under their own national method of regulation controls.

C. What can be done about it? The need for urgent action.


  • Regarding herbal product licensing: there is already a law throughout the whole of the EU; it was passed as law in 2005 and is to become fully implemented from May 1, 2011 and is therefore legally binding in UK and the rest of the EU. There is a fight back for a change in the law but this will need to go through courts and will be very costly. To find out more about this legal challenge go to http://www.anh-europe.org/campaigns/protect-traditional-medicinal-cultures.


  • But the second issue needs addressing as well. Regarding statutory regulation of UK medical herbalists there is still time to put pressure on your MP and the Minister of Health. It is in everyone’s interest who wants access to herbal medicines and to receive safe practitioner treatment to write to their MP and the Health Minister. There’s no time to lose.
On Feb 16th there was news on this front:

2. Herbalists Get Wreath of Honour
After 19 years on the campaign road with countless consultations with government bodies and public debates, properly qualified medical herbalists finally get their accolade: they receive official recognition like physiotherapists and chiropractors. Statutory Regulation means herbal practitioners who have the requisite qualifications will be registered with the Health Professions Council enabling them to access herbs and herbal products without the restriction of the EU laws taking effect at the end of April. This will give far great protection and confidence to the public.
Alan Hopking the Lymington Herbalist, said, I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone in the Lymington New Forest area and throughout Britain who supported this national campaign. Herbal medicines and qualified medical herbalists now at last have a long, bright and secure future in the UK.
The parliamentary statement made today (16th February 2011) was:
"The Health Secretary also announced to Parliament today that herbal medicine practitioners will be regulated from April 2012. The four UK health departments have agreed that the Health Professions Council (HPC) should hold a statutory register of practitioners who supply unlicensed herbal medicines to people to enable the supply of herbal medicines to continue after 30 April 2011. This will ensure that practitioners have met specified registration standards. Practitioner regulation will be underpinned by medicines legislation which will provide further safeguards to protect public health."

3 Comments, by Chris Woollams
Seems like very good news. But for every silver lining there is always a cloud or two. Firstly, when Herbalists are regulated, who will be training the next breed, and how. Will there be a ’National Society of Herbalists’, or similar, responsible for setting the standards, the exams, the disciplines, or is this going to be handed over to Universities and teachers who have never seen a patient in their lives, but have read all the books? The whole point of herbalism was that it grew from patient need, since (or even before) the days of Hippocrates.
Next, how does this help patients and mere mortals understand where the line is to be drawn on the EU Directive? To a Herbalist an orange is a herb. And anyone could argue that, since it has ’health giving properties, to concentrate it and supply it as a health provider (like curcumin, or resveratrol), is a ’medicine’ under this woolly EU Directive. Moreover, one day, are Herbalists and Nutritionists going to be united as one regulated body. I am still very confused but then somehow I think confusion is an essential part of the Machiavellian plot lying behind this EU Directive.
Herbal Burble
CancerAcitve Logo
Subscribe (Free e-Newsletter)

Join Our
Newsletter

Join Our Newsletter Signup today for free and be the first to get notified on new updates.