The British Herbal Medicine Association (BHMA) was founded in 1964 to advance the science and practice of herbal medicine in the United Kingdom and to ensure its continued statutory recognition at a time when all medicines were becoming subject to greater regulatory control. It is worth noting that the BHMA was established on the principle that herbal remedies are medicines under UK law, and should be produced to medicine requirements for quality, safety and efficacy, rather than to lesser requirements for “dietary supplements” or healthfoods.

Following the Medicines Act 1968 the legislative requirements for herbal medicines increased substantially. During the 1980s, as part of the EC Review of Medicines, all UK medicine manufacturers were required to complete a thorough technical appraisal of their products and to provide evidence on quality, safety and efficacy to the Medicines Control Agency on behalf of the Department of Health. Around 600 herbal products emerged from this rigorous review with full medicine product licences and with their claims for efficacy accepted by the government. (They can be identified on the product pack by a “PL” number). In addition there are a larger number of herb products that are supplied as herbal medicines exempt from licensing under the terms of the Medicines Act, provided that they contain herbs only, have no brand names and that no medicinal claims are made for the products. In addition to many herbal products available directly to the public, herbal practitioners also supply their medicines under these terms.

In 1998 the BHMA developed a Code of Practice for the production of herbal medicines exempt from licensing that all its members have signed up to. In effect this means that BHMA members are committed to producing all their herbal medicines to the same pharmaceutical standards of quality that are required for licensed medicines. In the absence of legally binding quality standards for the production of herbal medicines exempt from licensing, the BHMA Code is the main assurance to the public that herbal products can be safe and efficacious. The Medicines Control Agency has welcomed the BHMA Code as an important contribution to its work in regulating herbal medicines.

From its foundation the BHMA has provided important scientific information to health professions, the herbal industry and to the public. Notably from the 1970’s it has produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (latest edition 1996), recognised in the UK and in many countries around the world as the leading reference on the scientific definition of herbal medicines to complement official drug pharmacopoeias. To complement the BHP the BHMA has also published the British Herbal Compendium of therapeutic information on plants listed in the pharmacopoeia.