Kew centre to detect fake herbs

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The Independent Online
A CENTRE for detecting fake Chinese herbs which have caused serious injury to patients who have taken them as alternative medicines is to be set up at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Kew is appealing for pounds 700,000 to establish the centre, which will keep records of the 400-500 Chinese species commonly used in herbal remedies and provide expert help to identify them and check their quality.

There has been a series of cases in which traditional Chinese remedies available from Oriental pharmacies have been found to contain herbs that have been wrongly identified, adulterated or deliberately faked. The high demand has endangered some rare plants in the wild and substitutes disguised as the real thing have been offered with nasty results. Some have been found to be contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.

More than 100 cases of poisoning or serious side-effects have been linked to the use of Chinese and other traditional remedies. Dr Virginia Murray, deputy director of the National Poisons Information Service at Guy's hospital, London, which is supporting the centre, said: "It is terribly important we get this centre off the ground. Some of these herbs are known to be highly toxic."

A 1995 study conducted by a Chinese pharmacologist suggested 10-25 per cent of all Chinese herbs on sale in Britain were wrongly identified. Christine Leon, botanist in traditional medicine at Kew, said: "That is a staggering figure. I found it quite frightening. If I was seeking treatment I would want an assurance that the herbs being prescribed were what they claimed to be."