Manufacturers and herbal practitioners say strict guidelines aimed at improving safety could force them out of business.
The agency said it hoped to promote a more cautious approach to the use of herbal medicines after a study found that 58% of respondents believed these products were safe because they are "natural". In fact, herbal remedies can have harmful side-effects. St John's Wort can stop the contraceptive pill working, while ginkgo and ginseng are known to interfere with the blood-thinning drug warfarin. And in February the MHRA issued a warning about the herbal weight loss product Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) Natural Weight Loss Formula, after tests showed it contained more than twice the prescribed dose of a banned substance.
To date, the industry has been covered by the 1968 Medicines Act, drawn up when only a handful of herbal remedies were available and the number of herbal practitioners was very small.
From now, manufacturers will have to prove their products have been made to strict standards and contain a consistent and clearly marked dose. Remedies already on sale will be allowed to stay on the shelves until their expiry date. The agency said there had been 211 applications for approval of herbal remedies so far, with 105 granted and the rest still under consideration. Approved remedies will come with a logo marked THR.