1. Introduction

Numerous intoxications in animals and humans caused by the consumption of certain plants were attributed from the middle of this century to compounds of vegetable origin, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). In Uzbekistan [1, 2], Afghanistan [3, 4] and India [5-8] up to 6000 people fell victim to mass intoxications. These accidents caused a great sensation.

These intoxications were ascribed to bread cereals contaminated by the seeds of different Heliotropium and Crotalaria species.

Less spectacular but also very harmful were intoxications caused by medicinal plants belonging to the genera Senecio and Crotalaria.

Especially in Jamaica and in other parts of the West Indies [9], in South Africa [10], Central Africa but also in other tropical and subtropical countries [11, 12] characteristic liver diseases such as cirrhosis and primary tumors with a high mortality occurred due to occasional or continued consumption of medicinal plants (bush-teas). These diseases mainly appeared in developing countries because there the consumption of herbs in folk medicine plays a more important role than in highly industrialized countries like in Great Britain or the USA. But also from these countries intoxications caused by confusions or contaminations with PA-containing plants were reported [13-16].

In view of the numerous cases of intoxications and secondary diseases reported from many parts of the world their scientific treatment became a topic of the "United Nations Environmental Program, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization" [17].

Although in the eighties in Europe, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany, in Switzerland and Austria the "Green Wave" claimed that medicinal plants may only have a therapeutic effect but no undesired secondary effects, intoxications and casualties were also reported from these countries in connection with PA-containing medicinal plants [18-20]. Due to the hazards that may arise in this context the <German> Federal Health Department (BGA in Berlin) of the Federal Republic of Germany has in order to reduce health risks caused by pharmaceuticals drastically restricted the manufacture and sale of pharmaceuticals containing PAs with a 1,2-unsaturated necine skeleton [21]. Exempt from this restriction are PA-containing pharmaceuticals if a daily administration of 0.1 µg with internal and 10 µg with external application is not exceeded. This special regulation only applies to PA-containing homeopathic pharmaceuticals from a degree of potency of D6 with internal and D4 with external application [22].

Medicinal plants in Europe containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids was written by Prof. Dr. E. Röder and published in the journal "Pharmazie" 50 (1995), pages 83-98.