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Authentication Center for Chinese Herbal Medicines.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the world's leading botanical institutions, has developed a funding proposal for the establishment of an "Authentication Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine." The proposal, a collaboration with Guy's Hospital, calls for funding to create a center of excellence for the identification of Chinese medicinal plants in international trade. The center will provide specialist resources and expertise to identify and check the quality of the 400-500 Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal species commonly used in the West, where TCM has become increasingly popular in recent years. Kew Gardens, with its long history of plant science and the resources of its vast herbarium, library, living collections and laboratories, is ideally suited to develop such a center. The goal of this collaborative venture is to build a resource that will provide a long-term solution to ensuring a safe and ethically traded supply of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs to all those who wish to use them.

With an almost 6,000-year history of use in China, herbal TCM owes much of its initial popularity in the West to its effective treatment of the chronic diseases eczema and psoriasis, for which Western medicine has been unable to offer effective long-term solutions. A successful "Western-style" clinical trial was reported in the UK in 1992 using a TCM formula for treating eczema. Other medical conditions treated with herbal TCM include arthritis, asthma, HIV, malaria, and rheumatism, along with numerous gynecological conditions, and a variety of minor but common ailments, especially stress, insomnia, and fatigue. In addition to the wide range of conditions treated, the side effects of herbal TCM are few compared to Western medicine. In the UK alone, over one million herbal TCM prescriptions are written every year. Unfortunately, the identity and quality of herbs used can be highly variable. Lack of adequate herbal quality control regulations is a factor, as is the over-exploitat ion of medicinal plants from the wild. Already in some cases, poor quality, adulterated, substituted, and even fake herbs have penetrated the international market, leading to associated health risks.

The Kew Gardens authentication center would play a key role in addressing these issues, by helping to ensure the identity and quality of the herbs in use, both in the UK and the West as a whole. Scientific documentation of each species will include her barium specimens, living plants, crude drug samples, chemical and DNA fingerprint profiles, anatomical slides, and supporting literature. Included will be representatives of poor quality herbs (e.g., those with low concentration of active constituents), together with substitutes, adulterants, and fakes. Designed for easy access by a wide range of groups including traders, medical practitioners, regulators, plant chemists, TCM students and other researchers, the center would be an internationally important resource for pharmacognostic identification and documentation of raw materials used in Chinese herbal medicine. Currently no such facility exists in the West.

[Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 1997. Funding Proposal. Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine: An Authentication Centre for International Use.]

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Dawnelle Malone