Cultivation and use of medicinal plants in the Philippines date back to the pre-Spanish times, and studies began in the 16th century, mostly written by Spanish missionaries. Complete and very useful information on the treatment of diseases is provided by the book of Dr Pardo de Tavera "Plantas Medicinales de Filipinas" published 1892. The first official mandate in recent years that recognized the usefulness of medicinal plants has been the Letter of Instruction issued by the Department of Education in 1973 encouraging public schools to include medicinal plants in health education.
In history, traditional healers (herbolarios) were the first who recommended the use of plant preparations. Now, especially in rural areas where the use of plants for common ailments has never been abandoned, these experiences of community-based health programmes have been very encouraging. It has been shown in several studies that people living in rural areas tend to use more traditional herbal medicines than Western drugs compared to people living in urban areas .
The regulation and control of herbal products, whether food or medicines, are under the authority of the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) of the Department of Health. Two administrative orders, issued in 1982 and 1984, require that all traditional drugs both local and imported comply with registration and quality control requirements. An official list of traditional products had to be established according to these orders. Among the quality control requirements are tests for the presence of synthetic drugs (especially analgesics, anabolics, corticosteroids, hormones), heavy metals, alcohol content and impurities. Tests for galenical forms are required as well as microbial tests and stability data.
A monitoring system for import and export of medicinal plant products does not exist. Imported products may be sold in Chinese drug stores. Small community manufacturing of medicinal plants in tea bags, capsules or syrups has proliferated, but no regulation or control has been implemented. It is regarded as very important that the traditional medical system remains distinct from Western medicine, but might complement it. Therefore, the use of safe and effective herbal medicines should be effectively promoted but without false hopes and expectations .
In 1987, the National Drug Policy was adopted, emphasizing quality assurance and rational use of drugs. Since then, 10 policies have been adopted of which one dealt with research on traditional healing methods and promotion of the use of medicinal plants .
In October 1995, the Department of Health's (DOH) Circular 168-A was signed by the Secretary of Health. This circular lists herbal medicinal plants which are being studied, utilized and promoted by the DOH to serve as safe and effective alternative medicines in the health care delivery system. The list includes 10 scientifically validated medicinal plants and 70 plants which are presently undergoing further studies by government researchers .