Herbal Medicine Safety: The Current State Of Knowledge

In the editorial to the recent issue of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a broad review is given of the common misunderstandings about the safety of herbal medicines, and the following issues are highlighted:

1) Herbal medicines have been known to have adverse effects for as long as they have been used. The recent examples include Radix Bupleuri Chinensis, as well as ephedra (ma huang).

2) The herbal toxicity may be intrinsic (related to the herb per se) or extrinsic (related to product contamination, adulteration, misidentification, or improper processing or preparation).

3) Herb-drug interactions are common. As an example, concomitant use of Chinese herbal medicinal products and antipsychotic treatment was associated with nearly 60% risk of adverse outcomes.

4) Traditional methods of preparation often include specific steps to decrease toxicity, often accompanied with improved efficacy of the final product.

5) Dramatic examples of herbal toxicity are typically associated with inappropriate use of herbal medicines. Such is the example of ephedra (ma huang), used traditionally for respiratory disorders, which caused several deaths, strokes, and heart attacks after being used “off-label” for weight reduction.

February 7, 2015 In Herbal Research

Clinical trials

Peganum harmala oil: significant decrease in pain and difficulty in function in knee osteoarthritis (Abstract)

Single herbs

Fermented red ginseng (Panax ginseng): effects on cancer cells (Abstract)


Flavonoid fraction of Tilia americana and serotonergic drugs (Abstract)

January 28, 2015 In Herbal Research

Clinical trials

Panax notoginseng saponin therapy is superior to the current treatment of acute intracerebral/intracranial hemorrhage: meta-analysis and mini-review of possible mechanisms of action (Abstract)

Adverse Effects

Liver injury associated with the use of herbal medicines and dietary supplements seems to be increasing (Abstract)

Cannabis smoking is shown to have additional adverse effects on respiratory health in tobacco smokers (Abstract)


A novel method to assess botanical-drug interactions, based on the use of human plasma/serum rather than chemical buffers, is more consistent with clinical data than earlier in vitro studies (Abstract)

January 24, 2015 In Herbal Research

Large-scale assays:

Medicinal plants against multidrug-resistant enteropathogenic bacteria infecting hospitalized children under 5 (Abstract)

Thai medicinal plants against cervical and oral cancers (Abstract)

Herbal combinations:

Peganum harmala seeds, Rhus coriaria fruit, and Urtica dioica leaves: antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, liver and renal damage-recovering effects in rats (Abstract)

Single herbs:

Artemisia annua: effects on neutrophils (Abstract, Free full text)

Chrysanthemum zawadskii var. latilobum: hair growth-stimulating effect in mice (Abstract)

January 23, 2015 In Herbal Research

Traditional Chinese medicine: integration with Science

New insights into the chemical and biochemical basis of the “Yang-invigorating” action of Chinese Yang-tonic herbs (Abstract)


Pomegranate in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases (Abstract)

Single botanicals

Chaenomeles speciosa (flowering quince): endurance increase in rats (Abstract)

Flos Lonicerae: anti-gastritic effects in rats (Abstract)


Rhizome Coptidis and berberine: the ban in Singapore is lifted (Abstract)

January 22, 2015 In Herbal Research

Isolated compounds

Astragaloside IV: attenuation of injury caused by myocardial ischemia/reperfusion in rats (Abstract)

Curcumin: healing effects on burn wounds in rats (Abstract)

Morin: protection of gastric mucosa from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced inflammation and apoptosis (Abstract)

Puerarin: amelioration of hepatic steatosis aka non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Abstract)

March 31, 2014 In Herbal Research


Phyllanthus spp.: (Abstract, Free full text)

Polyherbal preparations:

The effects of Chinese formula Huanglian Jie Du Tang (Rhizoma Coptidis, Radix Scutellariae, Cortex Phellodendri and Fructus Gardenia) and its components on amyloid beta peptide in the brains of mice (Abstract, Free full text)

Herb-herb interaction:

Sedum sarmentosum partially attenuates renotoxicity of aristolochic acid (Abstract, Free full text)

Single herbs:

Bacopa monnieri: content of bacoside A and bacopaside I increase with moderate concentrations of Cd (cadmium) in the soil/feeding solution (Abstract, Free full text)

Isolated constituents:

Berberine (from Berberis spp., Hydrastis canadensis, Coptis chinensis): prevents post-surgery intestinal adhesion and inflammation in rats (Abstract, Free full text)

Triptolide (from Tripterygium wilfordii): toxicity against primary breast cancer cells and breast cancer stem cells (Abstract)

March 26, 2014 In Herbal Research

Solanum nigrum

Black nightshade fruit
Photo by Harald Hubich


Saffron (Crocus sativus) for major depressive disorder: significant reduction of depressive symptoms compared with placebo; similar effectiveness with antidepressant drugs (Abstract, Free full text)


Chinese herbal medicine for lumbar disc herniation: may be more effective than other interventions (Abstract)

Integrative medicine:

Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, diet, and supplements for polycystic ovary syndrome: a case report (Free full text)

Single botanicals:

Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) for malaria: pharmacokinetics of artemisinin in Plasmodium chabaudi-infected rats is affected by the plant matrix (Abstract)

Phyllanthus amarus (syn. P. niruri) (bhumyamalaki, chanca piedra, stonebreaker): hepatoprotective effect of the lignans extracted from the plant in experimentally induced hepatitis (Abstract)

Solanum nigrum (black nightshade): antioxidant effect of the leaves in the brain of rat under stress (Abstract, Free full text)

Thymus vulgaris (thyme): synergistic interactions of essential oil components and the antimicrobial effects (Abstract, Free full text)

Isolated constituents:

Synergistic interactions of selected phytochemicals (curcumin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, thymoquinone, genistein, resveratrol, betulinic acid and ursolic acid) with platinum drugs in overcoming resistance in ovarian cancer cells (Abstract)

March 25, 2014 In Herbal Research


New potential therapeutic uses of milk thistle (Silybum marianum): (Abstract)

Clinical trials:

Lavender oil for anxiety: a softgel preparation produced decrease in anxiety symptoms, starting with 2 weeks after beginning of use (Abstract)

Traditional Use:

Medicinal mosses in pre-Linnaean bryophyte floras of central Europe: (Abstract)

Herb-Herb Interactions:

Radix Scutellaria and Coptis chinensis affect the bioavailability of anthraquinones from Rhei Rhizoma in rats (Abstract)

Isolated Compounds:

Diosgenin (from Dioscorea, wild yam): inhibits human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cell migration (Abstract)

Geniposide (from Gardenia jasminoides): prevents neuronal damage caused by formaldehyde (Abstract)


Herb-drug interactions: a survey of patients in Tuscany found that 23.1% were exposed to at least one potential interaction of herbal products and drugs administered prior, during, or after surgery; the interactions involved mainly antihypertensive, antiplatelet, anticoagulant, and central nervous system agents (Abstract)

March 20, 2014 In Herbal Research


Plant food supplements use in Europe: 18.8% of screened survey respondents use at least one plant food supplement; the most popular being Ginkgo biloba (ginkgo), Oenothera biennis (evening primrose) and Cynara scolymus (artichoke) out of 491 botanicals used (Abstract, Free full text)


Chinese herbal compounds in overcoming multidrug resistance in cancer cells (Abstract)

Single botanicals:

Anethum graveolens (dill) leaves, aqueous extract: anticonvulsant effect on pentylenetetrazole-induced seizures in mice (Abstract)

Polyherbal preparations:

Interaction of herbal compounds: (Abstract)

Isolated constituents:

Berbamine (from Berberis amurensis): anti-cancer activity in lung cancer cells (Abstract)

Platycodin D (from Platycodon grandiflorus, balloon flower): anti-cancer activity (Abstract)