Skip to main content
×
Home

Pathways to Plausibility: When Herbs Become Pills

  • Ayo Wahlberg (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

Herbal medicine has long been contrasted to modern medicine in terms of a holistic approach to healing, vitalistic theories of health and illness, and an emphasis on the body’s innate self-healing capacities. At the same time, since the early twentieth century, the cultivation, preparation and mass production of herbal medicines have become increasingly industrialized, scientificized and commercialized. What is more, phytochemical efforts to identify and isolate particular ‘active ingredients’ from whole-plant extracts have intensified, often in response to increasing regulatory scrutiny of the safety and quality of herbal medicinal products. In this article, I examine whether describing these developments in terms of a biomedical ‘colonization’ of herbal medicine, as has been common, allows us to sufficiently account for the mundane collaborative efforts of herbalists, botanists, phytochemists, pharmacologists, toxicologists and clinicians to standardize and develop certain herbal remedies. By focusing on recent efforts to industrialize and scientifically develop a ‘Western’ (St John’s Wort) and a Vietnamese (Heantos) herbal remedy, I suggest that herbal medicine has come to be not so much colonized as normalized, with herbalists, phytochemists and pharmacologists working to develop standardized production procedures, as well as to identify ‘plausible’ explanations for the efficacy of these remedies.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Barry C.A. (2006). The role of evidence in alternative medicine: Contrasting biomedical and anthropological approaches. Social Science & Medicine, 62(11), 26462657.
Blumenthal M. (1999). Herb market levels after five years of boom: 1999 sales in mainstream market up only 11% in first half of 1999 after 55% increase in 1998. HerbalGram, 47, 64.
Butterweck V. (2003). Mechanism of action of St John’s Wort in depression—What is known? Cns Drugs, 17(8), 539562.
Butterweck V., Wall A.U., Lieflander-Wulf U., Winterhoff H., & Nahrstedt A. (1998). Effects of the total extract and fractions of Hypericum perforatum in animal assays for antidepressant activity. Psychopharmakotherapie, 5(3), 5662.
Canguilhem G. (1989). The normal and the pathological. New York: Zone Books.
Chatterjee S.S., Bhattacharya S.K., Wonnemann M., Singer A., & Muller W.E. (1998). Hyperforin as a possible antidepressant component of hypericum extracts. Life Sciences, 63(6), 499510.
Chevallier A. (1999). Hypericum: The natural anti-depressant and more. London: Souvenir.
Conway P. (2003). Understanding St John’s Wort. Gloucestershire: First Stone Publishing.
Davidson J.R., Gadde K.M., Fairbank J.A., Rama Krishnan K.R., Califf R.M., Binanay C. et al. (2002). Effect of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort) in major depressive disorder—A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(14), 18071814.
De Smet P., & Nolen W. (1996). St John’s Wort as an antidepressant. British Medical Journal, 313(7052), 241242.
Ethnomedica (1999). Remembered remedies—Researching the herbal traditions of Britain. URL (accessed March 2006): www.rbgkew.org.uk/ethnomedica/
Gaedcke F., & Steinhoff B. (2002). Herbal medicinal products. Washington, DC:CRC Press.
Gobbi M., & Mennini T. (2005). St John’s Wort and its active principles in depression and anxiety—A critical analysis of receptor binding studies. In Muller W.E. (Ed.), St John’s Wort and its active principles in depression and anxiety. Basel: Birkhauser.
Select Committee on Science and Technology (House of Lords) (2000). Complementary and alternative medicine. London: Stationery Office.
Harshberger J.W. (1896). The purposes of ethnobotany. Botanical Gazette, 21,146154.
Heilpflanzen-Welt (2005). German Commission E monographs., URL (accessed on November 2005): www.heilpflanzen-welt.de/monographien/texts/german_commission_e_monographs_introduction.htm.
Heinrich M., Barnes J., Gibbons S., & Williamson E.M. (2004). Fundamentals of pharmacognosy and phytotherapy. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Impact(2000). Heantos—A ticket out of hell. Denmark: DR TV Documentary.
Jagtenberg T., & Evans S. (2003). Global herbal medicine: A critique. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 9(2), 321329.
Janes C.R. (1999). The health transition, global modernity and the crisis of traditional medicine: The Tibetan case. Social Science & Medicine, 48(12), 18031820.
Kaptchuk T.J. (1983). The web that has no weaver: Understanding Chinese medicine. New York: Congdon & Weed.
Kelly B.D. (2001). St John’s Wort for depression: What’s the evidence? Hospital Medicine,62(5),274276.
Kenny M.G. (2002). A darker shade of green: Medical botany, homeopathy, and cultural politics in interwar Germany. Social History of Medicine, 15(3), 481504.
Kim J. (2006). Beyond paradigm: Making transcultural connections in a scientific translation of acupuncture. Social Science & Medicine, 62(12), 29602972.
Kuhn T.S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, London:U Chicago Press.
Lawson N. (2000). Wort’s up, Doc?, The Observer (London), 5 March.
Linde K., Ramirez G., Mulrow C.D., Pauls A., Weidenhammer W., & Melchart D. (1996). St John’s Wort for depression—An overview and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. British Medical Journal, 313(7052), 253258.
Maelicke A., & Lubbert H. (2002). DEPD, a high resolution gene expression profiling technique capable of identifying new drug targets in the central nervous system. Journal of Receptor Signal Transduction Research, 22(1–4),283295.
McIntyre M. (1988). Herbal medicine for everyone: A guide to the theory and practice of herbal medicine. London: Arkana.
Mills S. (1993). The essential book of herbal medicine. London: Arkana.
Monmaney T. (1998). Remedy’s US sales zoom, but quality control lags. LA Times, 31 August.
Müller W.E. (Ed.) (2005). St John’s Wort and its active principles in depression and anxiety. Basel:Birkhäuser.
Müller W.E., Singer A., Wonnemann M., Hafner U., Rolli M., & Schafer C. (1998). Hyperforin represents the neurotransmitter reuptake inhibiting constituent of Hypericum extract. Pharmacopsychiatry, 31, 1621.
Nash J.M., & Cray D. (1997). Nature’s Prozac? Time, 22 September.
Noldner M. (2005). Comparative preclinical antidepressant activity of isolated constituents. In Muller W.E. (Ed.) St John’s Wort and its active principles in depression and anxiety. Basel:Birkhauser.
Parry B. (2004). Trading the genome: Investigating the commodification of bio-information. New York, Chichester: Columbia UP.
Pham N.T. (1965). Interview with Doctor Pham Ngoc Thach, Minister of Health. In Nguyen V.H.Hoang D.C.Vu C. &Nguyen P.C.(Eds) Health organization in the DRV. Hanoi:Xunhasaba.
Richter R.K. (2003). Herbal medicine: Chaos in the marketplace. New York:Haworth Herbal Press.
Rosenthal N.E. (1998). St John’s Wort: The herbal way to feeling good. New York: HarperCollins.
Suzuki O., Katsumata Y., Oya M., Bladt S., & Wagner H. (1984). Inhibition of monoamine-oxidase by hypericin. Planta Medica, 50 (3), 272274.
Suzuki O., Katsumata Y., Oya M., Chari V. M., Vermes B., Wagner H., & Hostettmann K. (1981). Inhibition of type A and type B monoamine oxidases by naturally occurring xanthones. Planta Medica, 42(1), 1721.
Timmermann C. (2001). Rationalizing ‘folk medicine’ in interwar Germany: Faith, business, and science at ‘Dr. Madaus & Co’. Social History of Medicine, 14(3), 459482.
Tran K.D. (1999). The development of Heantos. Personal communication, 29 September, Hanoi.
Tran V.S. (2004). Standardisation of Heantos. Personal communication, 10 November, Hanoi.
UNDCP (UN Drug Control Programme) (2001). Correspondence between UNDCP and UNESCO on Heantos. 20 November.
UNOPS (UN Office for Project Services) (1999). International scientific development of the anti-drug medication HEA(N)TOS—main phase, Project Document. Copenhagen, Denmark.
Vietnam Institute of Chemistry (1999). Compilation of documents on the findings of the ongoing re-evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the anti-drug medication Heantos. Hanoi:National Center for Natural Science and Technology.
Vietnam Institute of Chemistry (2001). Report on the scientific research results of the Heantos project in the period January to December 2001. Hanoi: Institute of Chemistry.
Vietnam Institute of Orthopedics Science and Rehabilitation for Wounded Veterans and Invalids (1996). Report no. 003 regarding Comments on Heantos. Hoang Long Rehabilitation Centre, 4 August.
Wahlberg A. (2006). Bio-politics and the promotion of traditional herbal medicine in Vietnam. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 10(2), 123147.
Wahlberg A. (2008). Above and beyond superstition—Western herbal medicine and the decriminalising of placebo. History of the Human Sciences, 21(1), 77101.
Watt J., & Wood C. (1988). Talking health: Conventional and complementary approaches. London:Royal Society of Medicine.
Wessjohann L. (2005). Phytochemistry of Heantos. Personal communication, 5 December, Halle.
WHO (World Health Organization) (2002). Traditional and alternative medicine. Fact Sheet No. 271, Geneva.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

BioSocieties
  • ISSN: 1745-8552
  • EISSN: 1745-8560
  • URL: /core/journals/biosocieties
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 8 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 85 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.