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Fine Herbs Hold Secret To Health

The superstars of the herbal world - Echinacea, St John’s Wort, gingko and garlic - are becoming increasingly popular as more people turn to herbal medicine to ease life’s ailments.

The popularity of these and other herbal remedies has been boosted by robust research and scientific attention. According to New Zealand medical herbalist Phil Rasmussen, that research is helping make people more comfortable with what have been traditionally viewed as alternative remedies.

Mr Rasmussen is a director of herbal manufacturing and formulation company, Phytomed, which is carrying an intensive research programme aimed at increasing the availability of herbal medicines made from formulations of different organic herbal extracts.

With a grant of almost $30,000 from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology through its Grants for Private Sector Research and Development (GPSRD) scheme, Phytomed has been able to carry out the formulations needed to take its practitioner strength products into the retail market through mainstream pharmacies and health food stores.

The company makes around 180 different individual products available to health practitioners only, but the first four formulations for the retail market hit the shelves two months ago under the ‘Kiwiherb’ label. Echinacea in honey, and a throat formulation are already proving popular in the winter cold and flu season, while an allergy remedy and a digestive aid that Mr Rasmussen describes as ‘like a herbal antacid’ make up the early numbers.

So far, all of the three year-old company’s products are sold locally, but Mr Rasmussen believes there could be a lucrative export niche building on New Zealand’s organic reputation.

Mr Rasmussen, a UK-trained and registered medical herbalist, says Phytomed’s Kiwiherb products are unique in that they are of practitioner strength and formulation. “For example, we know that our Echinacea product is three times as strong as the majority of others currently sold over the counter. We also source the raw materials for our extracts from New Zealand-grown organic herbs.”

He says sales of phytomedicines have undergone a period of rapid growth in recent years, catalysed by increased concerns about the safety of synthetic drugs, and favourable results from clinical trials. In North America and Australasia, sale figures for herbal medicines and dietary supplements sold through retail outlets are now comparable to sales of orthodox medicines.

Mr Rasmussen is currently lecturing at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences on the evaluation of herbal medicines. His qualifications stand him in good stead; he lectured for many years to various colleges on phytopharmacology, and has written extensively for various herbal and pharmacy publications. From 1993 until 1997 he established and operated a phytotherapy service for a government-funded drug Detoxification Unit in Auckland.

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