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Herbal Education On the Street Where You Shop

HC 040453, included in this Bin, discusses research strategies for CAM as determined by a committee from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The committee espoused that the same rigor with which conventional medical trials are conducted should apply equally to CAM while acknowledging that a single research strategy cannot apply to the various modalities within CAM. The committee members conclude that conventional medicine practitioners need to have a better understanding of CAM and that professionals within CAM and conventional medicine have the duty to understand both practices and to work together to insure patients' well-being. In a survey of patients in Phase I clinical trials (HC 050352), the researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that 88.2% of respondents (90 of 102) had used at least one form of CAM. Considering that visits to CAM providers outnumber visits to primary care physicians (HC 040453), it is not surprising that the conventional medical profession is being asked to step up to the plate and not only acknowledge CAM, but also educate themselves on CAM's different branches. To be forthright, many conventional medical practitioners are in danger of being less educated than their CAM-savvy patients. While many educational efforts by educational institutions and trade associations have focused on the conventional medical profession, CAM retailers and practitioners have put much of their efforts into educating the general public.

On a recent trip home from the Oregon coast, I stopped in the small, coastal town of Arcata, CA (2000 Census population: 16,651). Situated on the thriving town square was one of the best and largest herb shops I have encountered in years. Opened in 1985, Moonrise Herbs seeks "to be an outlet for high quality herbs and natural healing resources." The store is well stocked with herbs, herbal products, books, and other CAM and esoteric products you can even get soup and salad to eat while you shop. Moonrise Herbs not only has certified herbalists who work specific hours to answer questions from customers, but also provides a website (, publishes a newsletter, and offers classes with topics such as Herbs for the Digestive System, Tinctures & Elixirs, Chinese Medicine, and Quantum Energetics. This store is just one example of the numerous educational opportunities that the general public is afforded.

Perhaps the CAM community at large needs to take a clue from the retailers and refocus efforts on general public education. Changes are often made from the bottom-up approach rather than the top down. Exploring ways to educate the public that would not normally seek out CAM and therefore only hear the negative reports from the media (e.g., the recent press on echinacea and ephedra) would be a good place to begin. The more the general public knows about CAM, the more pressure will be placed on conventional medical practitioners to educate themselves.

Lori Glenn, Coordinator