Important safety information missing on herbal medicines

Vital safety information was missing from three-quarters of the 68 herbal preparations containing five herbal products analysed in this study. All the preparations bought were over-the-counter, oral, single-use and contained St John’s wort, echinacea, garlic, ginkgo or Asian ginseng.

Although forthoming EU legislation should mean that most products using St John’s wort and echinacea, for example, are likely to include safety information in future, this will not apply to those not making claims about disease prevention or treatment, or to any bought outside the EU – perhaps over the internet.

The researchers were looking for information such as the possibility of St John’s wort interacting with warfarin or the contraceptive pill. Their report highlights the importance of accurate and complete information being provided with herbal products, pointing out that these products are often used with conventional prescribed medicines with which they may interact, and that patients may be reluctant to tell their healthcare practitioner that they are using herbal products.