The UK is in the midst of a complex debate over herbal product and practitioner regulation that has been raging for decades.  The outcome of the debate is likely to have consequences that echo throughout the European Union (EU).  But as the claims, counter-claims and controversy fly, perhaps the most important question is in danger of being overlooked: what will the eventual regulation mean for individual UK practitioners who use herbs – many of whom are not herbalists? 

Herbs aren’t just for herbalists

Herbal medicine has always been, and remains, humanity’s most widely used healthcare strategy. Every country in the world is the proud possessor of a dizzying range of indigenous herbs, many with powerful healing properties that form the backbone of healing traditions stretching back centuries – even millennia. Naturalised Indonesian microbiologist and conservationist Willie Smits discovered that orang-utans use as many as 4,000 different herbal species for their health-giving properties: an astounding number that must be the envy of herbalists the world over.

However, trained herbalists are not, and have never been, the only ones to use herbs in their practices. In a modern context, some examples include naturopaths, colon hydrotherapists, homeopaths, osteopaths, nutritional therapists, aromatherapists, acupuncturists, kinesiologists and some mainstream medics – and this list is far from being exhaustive. Unfortunately, at present, the ongoing UK discussions over the future of herbal regulation exclude these practitioners almost entirely. 

What does it mean for me?

The debate over herbal regulation is necessarily complex and multifaceted. In such a context, it’s not surprising that many herb-using practitioners aren’t sure how any change in herbal legislation will affect their access to herbs. This is our attempt to clarify things a little, by outlining the major consequences for three broad groups of practitioners, and the general public, of a shift to SR or VS. For completeness’ sake, we also look at the consequences of doing nothing and sticking to the status quo.

We have collated the information in this table, which should be read in conjunction with our earlier article on UK herbal regulation.

Call to action

We hope this article, along with our previous piece on SR/VS, helps to guide you through the maze of legislation, arguments and counter-arguments that surrounds this polarised issue. Our call to action remains unchanged from the first article:

  1. Members of the public and practitioners, from both the UK and beyond, please get involved in the comments and give us your thoughts on this important issue
  2. UK practitioners of herbal and traditional systems of medicine, please make your association aware of your views so that they can best be represented in the important coming debates within the UK working group.


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