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Safety of Herbs Over Pharmaceuticals

Every so often, an article will pop up in the paper about the dangers of herbs and the risks they pose when compared to manufactured drugs. Skeptics are quick to charge that herbs are “unregulated”, that many are “hazardous”, and that those who consume these remedies are “naive”.

Herbs can definitely cause harm-like any other medicine, they comprise powerful compounds which make them potent and effective.  That’s why all responsible herbalists recommend that people who use herbs do so under the care of a medical professional, such as a naturopath or practitioner of Chinese medicine.  They also caution their patients about herb-drug interactions.

But accusations that herbal medicines cause significant harm hold little weight.  Every year the American Association of Poison Control Center (AAPCC) compiles statistics on accidental poisonings and other illnesses resulting from taking drugs (over-the-counter and prescription), herbs, vitamins, and other supplements.

Non-suicide fatalities (accidental deaths) set a record: 1,756 people. How many of these deaths were attributable to medicinal herbs? Zero.  In addition, no deaths from vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutritional supplements were reported.  In every single accidental poisoning death caused by a pharmacological product, the culprit was a pharmaceutical.  And it’s been this way for many years.  Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone telling you to avoid herbs completely.  (Michael Castleman; The Herb Companion Spring 2011)