The British Pharmacopoeia-NIBSC Herbals Laboratory (Traditional Herbal Medicines Group) specialises in monograph development for herbal medicines and operates using a unique 3-tier approach, combining three scientific areas of expertise: Molecular (DNA barcoding), Phytochemical and Physical testing. The Phytochemical testing uses the innovation of High-Performance Thin-Layer Chromatography, while the Physical testing combines both classic and emerging approaches to improve herbal medicine quality parameters. DNA barcoding is a relatively new technology in the identification of botanicals that we are advancing, enabling the British Pharmacopoeia to be the first global pharmacopoeia to publish methods in this area. The group is also highly research active, having been an associate partner in EU Marie Curie ITN MedPlant, we are now again a member of a new network PlantID. Herbal medicines began as the localised use of the plants available to people, and with trial and error knowledge grew over time about the uses of different plants for the treatment of different ailments. In modern times, herbal medicines are a highly traded international commodity and have a large market value. They have an interesting dual role, in more economically developed countries they are termed a ‘complementary medicine’ and have become a ‘lifestyle choice’. In less economically developed countries the access to pharmaceuticals can be restricted, and plant-based medicines are at the front line of disease treatment. The regulation of trade in herbal medicines required a high standard of quality assessment, and the approach of our laboratory to include several different techniques provides a strong approach which can be used to enable access to quality herbal medicines for all who choose or require them.
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