Herbal Medicine

Herbal Medicine: History Trends And Constraints


For thousands of years, herbal medicine or pharmacy, and its preparations have provided solutions to many. It was widely used by peoples of both developed and developing countries. Herbal pharmacy is the art or practice and activity of using herbs and herbal preparations to maintain health and to prevent, alleviate, or cure diseases. Herbal medicines are the combinations of therapeutic experiences on generations of practicing physicians in indigenous systems of medicine. And this has spanned centuries.

Herbal Medicine: Some Trends

A global herbal medicine market report of 2017 reported its findings. Global herbal medicine market dynamics and trends in major countries are expected to influence the market for herbal pharmaceutical globally. The herbal medicine according to growth speculation will reach $111 billion by the end of 2023; at a growth rate pegged at ~7.2% from 2017-2023.

On regional analysis, China followed by India accounted for the largest market share due to its tradition of using herbal medicinal products.

Herbal Medicine

Europe has the largest market because of large disposable income and rising demand for herbal products and therapy. France is projected to lead the market, then followed by Germany. Asia Pacific region will be the largest, led by China and India. The middle east and Africa market will be championed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. The poor nations will be expected to improve their economic and political conditions to harness what’s available in the global Herbal medicine opportunities.

The Challenges in Herbal Medicines:

But there have been hordes of challenges which have plagued herbal pharmacy and medicine. The trouble in making herbal solutions find its feet after centuries of its advent is alarming. This situation has led to under-maximized opportunities in the voluminous demand for safe herbal drugs and supplements, value chain offerings, manufacturing and distribution networks – all basic and necessary conditions for a thriving market.

One key, industry challenge is the way to go on assessing conflicting toxicological, epidemiological, and other data; and the verification of herbal materials used. And in doing this, objectivity has to be placed at the top burner.

The Relevant Dynamics Going Forward

There are other relevant factors or issues which remain. Amongst such are:
1. Management within ranges of risk;
2. Communication of uncertainty;
3. Pharmacological, toxicological, and clinical documentation;
4. Pharmacovigilance;    
5. Understanding why the addition of harmful additives works;
6. Evaluating “drug” interactions;
7. Constraints with clinical trials and people available; and
8. Standardization, safety, and efficacy assessment.

Ascertainment Steps For Products

To appraise new herbal products, six steps are important:
1. Features of new substances;
2. Pattern and historical record of use;
3. Substantiation of an adverse reaction;
4. Biological action;
5. Toxicity and carcinogenicity; and
6. Clinical test cum trial data.
 The Constraints in Herbal Medicines

Constraints with the handling of medicinal plants also hinder the long-term growth of herbal pharmacy. In these ways:
• Disarrayed harvesting and poor post-harvest treatment practices;
• Need for research on the development of high-yielding varieties, domestication etc.;
• Under-developed systems of agriculture and propagation methods;
• Ineffective processing ways leading to low or poor quality yields and products;
• Poor quality control operations;
• Lack of current good manufacturing practices;
• Lack of research and development on product process development;
• Inhibitions to marketing;
• Lack of trained hands and required tools;
• Lack of facilities to construct equipment locally; and
• Lack of access to the latest technological and market information   

Constraints associated with the dealing of Herbal Medicines

  1. There are mixtures of organic chemicals that are complicated together in raw herb and the extract. Oligosaccharides, peptides, terpenes, lignans, tannins, saponins, glycosides, flavonoids, alkaloids, and fatty acids. As it stands, there remain some challenges to ascertaining which of the listed components, and if any, of the herb, would trigger biological activity in humans.


  1. There are founded hesitation in adopting methods like heating and boiling of herbs in a bid to processing them. These ways may deform or alter the dissolution rate, or the pharmacological processes of organic compositions.   


  1. A host of environmental factors, including soil, altitude, seasonal variation in temperature, atmospheric humidity, length of daylight, rainfall pattern, shade, dew, and frost conditions usually affect the standings of components in any given batch of a herb.  Additional factors, including infections, insects, planting density, competition with other plant species, seeding time, and genetic factors matter.


  1. Plant collection for use in medicinal preparation is one of the factors of concern for quality. Collection of non-targeted species either by accidental substitution or through adulteration by the commission have constituted stumbling blocks to research. Adulteration of herbal products can rise from effecting substitution of quality herb variations with wrong matches. Easily available or cheap plant species or sometimes spiking of a product with synthetic constituents have been the evil factors.

Herbal medicine

Factors affecting quality & purity of Herbal Medicines

  1. Drug adulteration

When original drug material is mixed or substituted with other spurious, inferior, defective, spoiled, useless other parts of the same or different plant or harmful substances or drug which do not conform with the official standards, adulteration has taken place.  
It occurs in two ways:
– Adulteration by commission
– Adulteration by omission
Examples for Adulteration
A. Artificial alterations of manufactured materials, e.g. nutmeg is adulterated with basswood prepared to the required shape and size, the colored paraffin wax is used in place of beeswax.
B. Adulteration by inferior quality materials, e.g. Belladonna leaves are substituted with Ailanthus leaves, papaya seeds to adulterate Piper nigrum.
C. Adulteration by harmful/fictitious substances or drugs, e.g.  Pieces of amber colored glass in colophony, limestone in asafetida, lead shot in opium, white oil in coconut oil, cocoa butter with stearin or paraffin.  
D. Adulteration of powders, e.g. powder licorice or gentian admixed with powder olive stones, under the name of cinchona Etc.
2.  Faulty collection

3. Imperfect preparation

This occurs when relevance is mixed with the irrelevant e.g stems are collected with leaves, flowers, and other non-necessary parts. Also, it is the case when undesirable parts are included e.g leaving the cork with the ginger rhizome, etc. Proper drying conditions should be known and stuck to. Else, may lead to unintentional adulteration e.g. if digitalis leaves are dried above 65 °C, it leads to decomposition of glycosides by enzymatic hydrolysis.

  1. Incorrect storage

Storage is also key as test samples and products can deteriorate if not properly stored. This might lead to a loss of active ingredients, production of metabolites and inadvertently, the production of toxic substances. Physical factors such as air (oxygen), humidity, light, and temperature can bring about deterioration directly or indirectly.