Rooting out the harmful herbs; New safety measures as demand for oriental cures rises.
With 5000 years of knowledge to call on, Chinese herbal practitioners can cure everything from eczema to arthritis and weight problems to high blood pressure.
But the huge rise in the popularity of Chinese herbal cures has led to the problem of plants and potions being sent from the Far East wrongly labelled - often with dreadful consequences.
Now a new regulatory body, the Chinese Medicinal Plants Authentication Centre, has been established at Kew Gardens in Surrey.
An independent scientific body, it has been backed by herb importers and clinics as well as the Chinese and British governments.
If any doubts are raised about a batch of herbs, practitioners can contact Kew for verification on identity and authenticity.
There are now more than 4000 Chinese practitioners working in Britain and the industry turns over more than pounds 100 million a year.
Dr Christine Leon, head of the Kew centre, said: "The volumes of herbs being used are going up as the number of clinics in Britain snowballs.
"Sadly, a proper quality assurance system has not run in tandem with the clinics' expansion and we are working closely with all the proper authorities to make sure that starts happening.
"These steps have been taken to further legitimise an established industry that can offer so much help to people who suffer a variety of complaints and illnesses. We have a close relationship with the Department of Health, who are encouraging self-regulation.
"We have also developed a very close working partnership with medical centres and two Chinese botanists regularly make visits to Kew to advise us."
Thankfully, cases of mis-diagnosis as a result of poorly or wrongly labelled imported herbs are rare in Britain.
In one case, two women suffered serious kidney trouble when they were given Aristolochia instead of the harmless Stephania.
The same confusion led to more than 70 people in Belgium suffering kidney failure. As a result, Aristolochia is now banned in Britain.
More than 10,000 tonnes of Chinese herbs were imported into Britain last year and it is estimated up to a quarter were wrongly labelled at source. It is stressed the problem is not one of malpractice among doctors, but of an occasional failure to properly identify the 500 herbs on the market from China.
There are several practitioners in Scotland, including the Chinese Medical Centre in Edinburgh, which is so popular it can take up to three weeks to secure an appointment.
Its safety record is second to none but the centre's Dr Ming Chen Robertson, who has over 20 years' experience, welcomes the Kew initiative.
Dr Robertson said: "We are regulated by the Chinese Medicine Registers Association and they send us monthly reports, for example, telling us which plants not to use.
"The problem with labelling has nothing to do with the herbs as such and could happen anywhere.We treat many patients and have them undergo kidney, liver and blood tests.
"Used in the right way, in the proper quantities and with correct controls, Chinese herbs can help return patients to health and combat disease.
"But not everything is perfect. Certain herbs might be ideal to combat a certain illness, but might not be suitable for that individual, just like some people are allergic to antibiotics.
"Medicine is a very individual and personal field and everything needs time to work. We are very keen to take a holistic approach and not only look at symptoms for problems such as eczema, but also the root of the trouble."
Alternative medicine guru Jan de Vries has more than 40 years' experience. He does not use Chinese herbs, but is all too aware of their dangers if mis-prescribed.
He said: "The Chinese are quite particular and certain herbs must be treated very carefully. There are a few I would not dare prescribe because I'm unsure about their side- effects.
"At one point, certain herbs were introduced in this country that possibly should not have been permitted.
"Thankfully, it's not a widespread problem in Britain and most of the herbs are very safe."
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Jul 26, 2000|
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