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From Ethnobotany to Botanical Research to CAM Regulation

Plants have been used by both humans and animals to relieve pain, alleviate ailments, and even cure certain diseases for as long as there have been plants and animalsl.

In ethnobotanical research, botanists, anthropologists, and curious seekers have scoured deserts, jungles, and rainforests searching for the plants that indigenous communities use to care for their own. Science meets traditional knowledge in programs such as the BioAndes research program, part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (See HC 011245-445). The program is tracking how local knowledge is disseminated. This article concerns traditional knowledge of Peru and Bolivia. There is also a concern in regards to intellectual property rights of indigenous cultures and perceptions of these cultures as to the importance of conservation of botanical species' habitats (See HC 121111-445). Balancing a community's livelihood, the need for natural resources to provide housing, fuel, transportation, etc., while maintaining a sustainable environment, presents complex challenges. Understanding community needs and educating communities about conservation are key factors in creating viable ecosystems.

In Western society, research into the safety and efficacy of botanical products may carry more weight in determining a plant or herb's effectiveness rather than traditional knowledge that has been passed down through the generations. In the US, the National Institutes of Health's subsidiaries, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Office of Dietary Supplements, have developed the Botanical Research Centers program to study herbs and botanicals (See HC 121141-445). However, it has been proposed that randomized controlled trials may not be as reliable as they have been perceived (See HC 121112-445).

Along with promoting clinical research, governments also regulate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) products. This has been a challenge for the European Union (See HC 011265-445) since some countries have had different and varying regulations regarding certain CAM supplements. Health claims of CAM products are a primary issue. Safety is another factor, and much has been written on the safety of certain botanicals and their constituents, including bitter orange (Citrus x aurantium, Rutaceae). Articles concerning the safety of bitter orange's constituents have led to stricter regulations; however, Health Canada reviewed the safety and efficacy of bitter orange in 2011 and determined to relax the dosage limits of the bitter orange constituent, p‑synephrine, with or without caffeine (See HC 121156-445).

Just as a plant contains a multitude of complex chemical components, the ingestion of that plant for health benefits has a multitude of complex scenarios in the modern world.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor