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Su Bristow Regulation

For many years now, herbalists have been campaigning for statutory state regulation, both to protect the public from unqualified practitioners and to secure our legal status.

As things stand, anyone can call themselves a herbalist

If you don’t check which professional body they belong to, you have no guarantees that they have any training at all.

However, the government committee which has been considering the problem has just decided that state regulation will not go ahead, for two main reasons. One is that there is ‘insufficient evidence of efficacy’, ie not enough good quality clinical trials to show that herbs work. The other is that the potential risks of taking herbs are not well enough understood. Both these things are true: most herbs have not attracted the funding and expertise necessary to set up controlled trials, either to show that they work or to establish their safety.

And they never will

Trials tend to be applied to plants that may yield a profit for somebody: Stevia for sugar-free sweeteners, Hoodia for appetite suppressants, Yew (Taxus baccata) for taxol used to treat some types of cancer, and so on. That’s just the way things work. But the herbs we use in day-to-day practice are not, on the whole, ones with ‘miracle’ ingredients that can be extracted and turned into drugs.

They contain a complex balance of constituents which work together to enhance the vitality of the person who takes them, and they are backed up by hundreds of years of use

Problems with toxicity tend to crop up when a new wonder cure is unleashed upon the world, or adulteration has occurred, or people are using herbs in high doses or in combination with other remedies. That can’t be helped, either, but it can be minimised if there are properly trained herbalists around who know how to work with their herbs.

So it’s a shame, though not altogether a surprise, that we won’t be getting state recognition

Still, when I qualified in 1989, there were only a few hundred herbalists on the register of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. Now there are over a thousand, and other reputable professional bodies as well. The will to learn is growing, and so is the willingness to use what herbs have to offer.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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