According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as many as eight in every ten people in African and Asian nations rely on traditional medicines, instead of modern medicines, for general health care. Gradually, this preference for alternative medicine is spreading to other countries as well, with reports stating that the market for phytomedicine, or herbal medicine, is forecasted to touch as high as USD 111 billion in another five years ending in 2023. This segment is expected to boom at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.2 per cent during the said period.
Various factors have triggered this preference for herbalism, such as the demand for drugs with little or no side effects, rapidly ageing population, consumer awareness etc. Stricter budgets of the modern healthcare infrastructure are mainly responsible for pushing consumers towards more economical and safer options.
Herbal medicines products are freely available online, and many people like to make their recipes and balms at home using these products. However, one should be cautious about two things before trying any traditional medicine. One, just because these products are natural, it doesn’t mean that they are safe too. These products are formulated using chemicals originating in plants and just like any other chemical product, the outcome of their use depends on applying just the right amount, in the right combination, and compatibility with an individual’s body chemistry. Therefore, practitioners of paraherbalism (another term for phytomedicine) advise that a person should first consult with a certified and experienced professional before trying any product at home.
The second and the more critical advice that experts often share is that there are many spurious manufacturers of herbal products who get away with misleading claims since these products are not subject to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) approval. Their presence online is also worrying because the Internet is the most popular source of information on such medicines for consumers. Many people do not realise that the information on such sites is put up by the vendor and not a professional practitioner. Therefore, phytotherapists for instance strongly advise that buyers should deal with respected suppliers of Kratom, instead of risking their health with counterfeit products.
Critics of alternative medicine practices are worried about the absence of FDA approvals and regulations on paraherbal products. The FDA does not recognise herbal medicine products as drugs or food but as dietary supplements. However, the WHO has already come out in support of traditional medicines and have declared that it “is an important and often underestimated part of health service.”
It is important to remember that herbalism can thrive only when it is supported by sustainable and organic farming methods. Adulterated plant chemicals are not just ineffective, but also dangerous. Every herb has its own soil, climate and water needs and needless to add, do not grow everywhere. Against the threats of climate change, weather unpredictability and rising demand for herbal products, it is important to ensure that herb gardens are not over-exploited by mindless cultivation.