Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Harvard Study Estimates Consumers Spend $5.1 Billion on Herbal Products?
A new survey of consumer attitudes and trends in alternative and complementary medicine has indicated that the total payments by Americans for herbal products may be higher than previously believed. An article in the November 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that this figure could be as high as $5.1 billion (Eisenberg et al., 1998).

According to Dr. Eisenberg, "The new $5.1 billion figure is based on extrapolations to the 1997 U.S. adult population (calculated at 198 million) from a telephone survey of 2,055 randomly-selected adults. Respondants who had used herbal products and/or high-dose vitamins (distinguished from one-daily multivitamins and those prescribed by physicians during the past 12 months were said to report approximately how much they spent on these products. In addition to the estimated $5.1 billion for herbs, data suggests approximately $43.3 billion was spent on vitamin supplements. These extrapolations are, of course, conditioned by the fact that they are self reports of estimated expenditures over an entire year." (Eisenberg, 1999).

The results may be somewhat perplexing, at least to those knowledgeable about the dietary supplement and herbal industries. For the first time, herbs are proposed to be outselling vitamins, a situation that most analysts would be reluctant to accept. Eisenberg's classification above notes that some vitamin and related non-herbal supplements most likely are being included in survey respondents' answers -- suggesting that consumers have difficulty differentiating these classes of products.

Attempts to measure and quantify the herbal market have always been difficult. Before the last five years or so, there were no surveys of industry or consumer trends or econometric tracking services from the mass market upon which to base any meaningful statistics. However, with the explosive growth of herbs and phytomedicines in the 1990s, especially since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), herbs have become the fastest growing segment of the dietary supplement market. In March 1997, NBC News and Prevention magazine published a survey of herb use in 1996 suggesting that 60 million adult Americans had used herbs, spending an average of $54 per person, resulting in a total of $3.24 billion dollars in total sales for the year (Johnston, 1997). This figure became the new conventional wisdom for the size of the market, despite the fact that other sources had estimated the total market at lower levels, particularly in the food, drug, and m ass market outlets, where total sales had grown about 101 percent from May 1997 to May 1998, from around $292 million to $587 million (Anon., 1998). Supplying all this retail sales, the total value for raw materials (crude herbs, powders, bulk extracts, etc.) was recently estimated by an industry executive at approximately $600 million (Anon., 1999).


Anon. Herb Sales Up 101% in Mainstream Market. HerbalGram. 1998;43:61.

Anon. Hauser Buys Zuellig Raw Materials Units for $66 Million. Natural Business. Jan 1999:3.

Brevoort P. The Booming U.S. Botanical Market: A New Overview. HerbalGram. 1998;44:33-48.

Eisenberg DM. Personal communication. Feb, 2, 1999.

Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Ettner SL, Appel S, Wilkey S, Rompay MV, Kessler RC. Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990-1997. JAMA. 1998 Nov 11;280(18):1569-75.

Johnston BA. One-Third of Nation's Adults Use Herbal Medicines. HerbalGram. 1997;40:49.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal