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UK herbal medicines market stands at £240 million per year as an estimated 15 million people choose herbal remedies for everyday ailments. Figures for the global market top $60 billion per year and rising. But is demand for TM/CAM resulting in over-harvesting of the world's most effective herbal medicines?

Medicinal plants at risk

David BellamyThe World Health Organisation estimates that 75-80% of the worlds' population use plant medicines either in part or entirely for health care. For many, plant medicines are a necessity, as costly pharmaceutical drugs are unaffordable; and for others, the desire to seek natural alternatives with few side effects is preferable to using conventional drugs. This dichotomy has led to important medicinal plants such as Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), traditionally used for a range of immune deficiency disorders becoming the fifth most endangered species in the world. In Europe over 200 Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPS) are on the endangered list.

Despite attempts by a number of conservation groups such as World Wildlife Fund, The World Conservation Union and Convention on Trade Endangered Species (CTES), further support is desperately needed to save plant species from becoming extinct.

David Bellamy, professor and celebrity naturalist, spoke out in defence of herbal medicine in February 2003 for the now defunct Natural Medicines Society at Neal's Yard in London.

“I am delighted to help spearhead a campaign to put herbal medicine back where it deserves to be an important part of mainstream healing practice in the 21st Century,” Bellamy said.

Read more: Herbalert to the Rescue

As hospital acquired infections soar, and bacteria become resistant to the last resort antibiotics, researchers come to the rescue with startling discoveries on an ancient remedy.

Teenager saved by honey

Making HoneyAaron Phipps nearly died of bacterial meningitis. His lower legs and fingertips were amputated because of septicaemia (blood poisoning). Numerous skin grafts failed to heal his wounds. Nine months had passed with no cure for the infected lesions around his bone-protruding sores. The smell alone was enough to terrify the brave teenager. Luckily, his nurse contacted the University of Wales, Institute of Cardiff where experiments with honey as a wound dressing were underway [1]. The effect of honey on Aaron's body was almost immediate. Honey acts as both bacteriostatic, slowing down microbial growth, and bactericide, killing it. It also assists in new tissue growth. The young man said, "The honey healed my legs enough to start wearing artificial limbs."

Honey is mentioned in ancient medical texts. Aristotle recommends that honey collected in specific regions and seasons should be used for treating particular ailments [2]. Honey has been known as a remedy for burns for thousands of years, but only recently revealed its potential for completely inhibiting the growth of some of the most infectious, drug-resistant pathogens [3].

Read more: Honey Beats Superbugs