CHAPEL HILL -- Because plants have been used to treat illness since before modern humans evolved and will remain popular into the foreseeable future, the nation needs to combine common sense with good science in its response to medicinal herbs.
That's the view of Dr. Varro E. Tyler, one of the world's leading experts on the subject.
"In my opinion, this is a scandalous situation," Tyler said. "Here we have products that are used by one-third of the adult population in the United States with a retail annual market value approximating $4 billion, and the FDA, by establishing artificially high proof-of-efficacy hurdles, refuses them drug approval. Compare this with the situation that has worked so well in Germany for many years in which 'reasonable' amounts of proof are accepted as evidence of efficacy for phytomedicines, allowing the products to become an integral part of mainstream medicine."
Author of more than 30 books, Tyler is distinguished professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at Purdue University and dean of pharmacy emeritus. He spoke Thursday (March 2) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the first international scientific conference on medicinal herbs.
"The ancient origins of herbal medicine are indisputable," he said.
Archaeologists have found pollen and flower fragments from different medicinal plants in Neanderthal tombs in Iraq dating back some 60,000 years, the scholar said. Cannabis -- the marijuana plant -- is believed to have been used for more than 8,000 years in China, and opium, first produced in Mesopotamia, has been an important painkiller for some 5,400.
"The mummified human discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991 and now referred to as 'the iceman' possessed two pieces of birch fungus," Tyler said. "Scientists speculate that this 5,300-year-old human was using the fungus as a drug, possibly as a treatment for intestinal parasites."