Herbal medicines, as the major remedy in traditional medical systems, have been used in medical practice for thousands of years and have made a great contribution to maintaining human health. A majority of the world’s population in developing countries still relies on herbal medicines to meet its health needs. The use of these medicines has a particularly rich tradition among the peoples of the Western Pacific Region. In recent years, this has extended far beyond its original ethnic setting. The attention paid by health authorities to the use of herbal medicines has increased considerably, both because they are often the only medicine available in less developed areas and because they are becoming a popular alternative medicine in more developed areas.
The World Health Organization is fully aware of the importance of herbal medicines to the health of many people throughout the world, as stated in a number of resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly and the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. Thus herbal medicines have been recognized as a valuable and readily available resource for primary health care, and WHO has endorsed their safe and effective use. A comprehensive programme for the identification, cultivation, preparation, evaluation, utilization and conservation of herbal medicines has been developed. Meanwhile, it has been realized that medicinal plants are a valuable resource for new pharmaceutical products and thus a potential source of new drugs as well as for economic development.
WHO supports the appropriate use of herbal medicines and encourages the use of remedies that have been proven to be safe and effective. A few herbal medicines have withstood scientific testing, but others are used simply for traditional reasons to protect, restore or improve health. Most herbal medicines still need to be studied scientifically, although the experience obtained from their traditional use over the years should not be ignored. Member States have been seeking the cooperation of WHO in identifying safe and effective herbal medicines for use in their national health care systems. As there is not enough evidence produced by common scientific approaches to answer questions of safety and efficacy about most of the herbal medicines now in use, the rational use and further development of herbal medicines will be supported by further appropriate scientific studies of these products, and thus the development of criteria for such studies.