Trends In Economic Botany: The Rising Use Of Herbal Supplements

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Trends In Economic Botany: The Rising Use Of Herbal Supplements

The use of herbal remedies to treat health problems in humans is a tradition that dates back many centuries. A precursor to modern, Western pharmaceuticals, traditional healers used herbs to treat a wide range of ailments and afflictions. While many are familiar with their use by American Indians, the practice of herbal therapy dates back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian healers. Herbs were used in ancient times to treat anything from headaches (with willow bark tea, now an active ingredient in aspirin) to fever and premenstrual syndrome (with chamomile). In an age of modern pharmaceuticals and their ready availability in Western culture, it is easy to forget that approximately 40% of today's modern medicines are produced with chemicals derived from plants (Counter 1998).

In a trend reversal that has the modern medical community alarmed and puzzled, the sales of herbal remedies in the Untied States has increased dramatically. Traditionally, Europe has been the largest market for herbal remedies, accounting for 45% or $7.5 billion in sales for 1997 (Scimone and Scimone 1998). Within Europe, Germany dominates the market with sales of $3.6 billion, followed by France ($1.8 billion), Italy ($800 million) and the United Kingdom ($300 million) (Scimone and Scimone 1998). Growth in the European market was predicted to be 5-10% in 1998-1999 and 15-20% in 1999-2000 (Scimone and Scimone 1998). The European market has become solidly established over the past 80 years, with a modest growth rate until recent years that has shown another upward trend.

The United States market is a completely different story. The herbal industry has "evolved exponentially over the past two years, with significant entry into the mass market within the past two years" (Botanicals International 1998). Sales of herbal supplements reached $4 billion in 1998, up from $1.6 billion in 1994 , a rise of 250% (American Botanical Council 1998). Sales have been projected to increase between 50-100% in 1998-99 and between 20-25% in 2000-01(Scimone and Scimone 1998).

What has caused this dramatic increase?

While an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (1998) blamed this "reversion to irrational approaches" on "disillusionment with the often hurried and impersonal care delivered by conventional physicians", it is also viewed as the economic influence of the aging baby-boomers. As they have become older, this generation has become more health conscious and increasingly dissatisfied with conventional medicine in their attempts to diminish the adverse effects of aging (Brenneman 1999).
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