You'll find a list of all my blog posts in the blog archive.

Reading research reports.

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Check these whenever you see a research report on medicinal herbs.

Most current research on herbs is anti-herbal propaganda. Herbs are competing with expensive patented drugs, and need to be removed from the market. It follows, then, that scientific research on herbal medicine and herbs can't be trusted ... and of course, abstracts lie: if the paper is interesting, you should always (always!) get the full paper.

Here's a handy walk-through to check the validity such research papers. A lot of them are found in the abstracts ("in vitro? Not interesting." "Mice? How boring."), but you'll find major "forget its" hidden in the full papers as well.

1) Was the research done on live organisms?

1a) if yes, go to 2)
1b) if it was done in a glass thingy ("in vitro"), forget it.

2) If in live organisms, were they humans?
2a) if yes, go to 3)
2b) if they used brine shrimp, mice, pigs, etc., forget it.

3) Did these people have a problem which the herb traditionally has been used for?
3a) if yes, go to 4)
3b) if no, forge on ... they might have found something new.

4) Did they use the herb or a single "active" constituent?
4a) if the herb, go to 6)
4b) if active constituent, go to 5)

5) Is this particular active constituent actually active? (Only a few single constituents work like the whole herb. One such is berberine, found in Berberis and Mahonia. Another is silymarin, found in milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Hypericin (in St. John's wort) and valepotriates (in valerian) are currently considered either inactive or harmful.)
5a) if yes, go to 6)
5b) if no, forget it.

6) Is the form (tea, tincture, capsule, whatever) of the herb currently used by practising herbalists? That is, is it a generally accepted active form?
6a) if yes, go to 9)
6b) if no, go to 7).

7) Is the solvent used to get the tested product in general use by herbalists? That is, is it nontoxic and known to extract desirables from the herb? (Herbalists use ethanol, water, oil, vinegar and similar. Methanol, ether and acetone are examples of solvents used in herbal research -- and to make some commercial herbal extracts.)
7a) if yes, go to 9)
7b) if no, go to 8).

8) Has the product used been on the market for more than 10 years? That is, is it proven to work?
8a) if yes, go to 10)
8b) if no, forget it.

9) Did they give a large enough dose of the herb or active constituent?
9a) if yes, go to 10)
9b) if no, forget it.

10) Did they give the herb or active constituent for long enough?
10a) if yes, well done! You've actually found a valid herbal research report! Woot, hooray, and excellent!
10b) if no, forget it.

The easiest way to get the "right" results (if you're a pharmaceutical company) is to go for glass vials or brine shrimp, or to use too little of an inactive herbal constituent for too short a time ... or similar combinations of above "forget its".

Oh, and you can't trust drug (meds, pharmaceuticals, whatever you want to call them) research at all these days, because there's billions of dollars to be had if you get the right results. And with billions of dollars it's easy to arrange for the right researchers, the right results, the right papers to be published in the right journals ... as easy, in fact, as it is to bash herbs.


Hi Henrietta,
I got the link to your blog and your name from Anya mc Coy, I love your blog! I am going to add it to my list of favorites. What a wealth of information!

Thankyou Henrietta this is brilliant.
I get so frustrated and tongue tied when people (usually Dr collegues) start whining on about clinical trials and research supposedly proving herbs don't work.
I used it this week for a lady who booked a free 15 min chat and then proceeded to go on about herbs not being properly proven and not wanting to take them and blah blah blah. Biting my lip and sitting on my hands so as not to throw her out for wasting my time, I talked to her VERY firmly about what it is that I do and the truth about most 'research' of medicinal plants. She booked a full consultation. Hmmm I can't wait....

I'm glad that this helped.

Just realised I spelt your name wrong, sorry!

Henriette, thanks for posting this. Good information that I would like to link to if that's okay. I've found quite a few herb bashing articles lately and it really is disheartening.

I don't have the links, but there was one about St. John's Wort and another about ginseng being totally ineffective.
Another about echinacea.

Sure, feel free.