Herbal medicines, particularly those applied by traditional systems of medicine, have been used for thousands of years. Clinical experience built over many centuries provides a substantial basis for the safe and effective use of herbal medicines, not just as a main form of therapy, but as a complement to the main stream of Western medical treatment in certain diseases. In developing countries, herbal medicines are considered to be more readily available, accessible, affordable, culturally acceptable and sustainable than Western medicines. In developed countries, the popularity of herbal medicines is continuing to grow, particularly for the treatment of certain categories of disease.
Herbal medicines, however, are not necessarily always safe simply because they are natural. Some have given rise to serious adverse reactions and some contain chemicals that may produce long-term side effects such as carcinogenicity and hepatotoxicity. Herbal medicines will only benefit the health of human beings when they are used appropriately. Thus, good quality control and standardization of herbal medicines are essential. Furthermore, with the increased use of both herbal medicines and modern western pharmaceutical drugs, there is a need to monitor interactions.
With the growing popularity of herbal medicines worldwide, many countries will be interested in receiving technical support and guidance in developing a framework for the promotion, development and regulation of herbal medicines. This framework will lay a strong foundation for the future development of herbal medicines in the health care systems of individual countries.
The management of herbal medicine practices and the use of herbal medicinal plants differ from country to country and are at different stages of development. These guidelines for the appropriate use of herbal medicines, general enough to be comprehensive and yet flexible enough to be modified for each individual country's needs, will, therefore, be helpful.