Herbal medicines which formed the basis of health care throughout the world since the earliest days of mankind are still widely used, and have considerable importance in international trade. Recognition of their clinical, pharmaceutical and economic value is still growing, although this varies widely between countries .
Medicinal plants are important for pharmacological research and drug development, not only when plant constituents are used directly as therapeutic agents, but also as starting materials for the synthesis of drugs or as models for pharmacologically active compounds. Regulation of exploitation and exportation is therefore essential, together with international cooperation and coordination for their conservation so as to ensure their availability for the future .
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity states that the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is of critical importance for meeting the food, health and other needs of the growing world population, for which purpose access to and sharing of both genetic resources and technologies are essential .
Legislative controls in respect of medicinal plants have not evolved around a structured control model. There are different ways in which countries define medicinal plants or herbs or products derived from them, and countries have adopted various approaches to licensing, dispensing, manufacturing and trading to ensure their safety, quality and efficacy .
Despite the use of herbal medicines over many centuries, only a relatively small number of plant species has been studied for possible medical applications. Safety and efficacy data are available for an even smaller number of plants, their extracts and active ingredients and preparations containing them .