An insight into the Italian herbal system.
Subject: Drugstores (Management)
Medicine, Botanic (Health aspects)
Medicine, Botanic (Management)
Medicine, Herbal (Health aspects)
Medicine, Herbal (Management)
Author: Bronzi, Patrizia
Pub Date: 03/22/2007
Publication: Name: Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism Publisher: National Herbalists Association of Australia Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 National Herbalists Association of Australia ISSN: 1033-8330
Issue: Date: Spring, 2007 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 5912000 Drug Stores NAICS Code: 44611 Pharmacies and Drug Stores SIC Code: 5912 Drug stores and proprietary stores
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Italy Geographic Code: 4EUIT Italy
Accession Number: 174818453

Last year's visit to Northern Italy saw me briefly exploring the herbalist's statues of the region, meet with people in the industry and visit herbal pharmacies, stores and the amazing countryside. I became acquainted with Michele Bernelli, editorial director of Erboisteria Domani (Tomorrow's Herbalist), Italy's leading trade magazine for the herbs and supplement industry, and Dr Marinella Trovato chairperson for the Italian Herbalist's Society, SISTE (Societa Italiana di Scienze e Tecniche Erboristiche, the Italian Herbalist's Society of Science and Technology) in Milan. In our conversations I had the opportunity to introduce our association as part of sharing and exchanging our respective herbal reality.

Italy's herbal industry is built on specialised health stores called Erboristerias (Herbal stores) which are in jeopardy from both the European Union Directive and Pharmaceutical monopoly on the sale of all medicines, even registered traditional medicines. According to figures by Annuario Italiano di Erboristeria (a reference guide for the Italian industry), there are 4,500 herbal stores, 70% of them concentrated in Northern Italy. Almost all of the 17,500 pharmacies have some natural remedies, approximately 20% of the stores are equipped with a herbal department often attended by a natural products expert. Pharmacies also have a monopoly on sales of homeopathic drugs.

My observation in visiting herbal stores in Northern Italy:

* Some herb stores stocked a wide range of dried raw herbs (up to 400)--rather impressive and the quality very good.

* Herbal extract stocks were minimal and I had to look very hard for them. Branded botanicals and supplements were abundant.

* The majority of herb stores specialise in natural cosmetics and beauty products.

* There are no organic foods in herb stores, Italian organic foods reach consumers through other retailers such as specialised groceries and markets.

* There are no homeopathic preparations available in herb stores.

In Italy a three year University Diploma created in 1996 has spawned a new generation of Herbalists. The university diploma excludes any medical science, anatomy, physiology, pathology or medical terminology.

I was led to believe that the Italian Herbalist is not legally allowed to diagnose or prescribe herbal medicines. They are allowed to mix tea blends but not liquid herbal formulas; this privilege is only for the pharmacist. There is a clearly distinguished terminology used when addressing herbal products. Herbal medicines claiming any therapeutic benefit is pharmacy talk only. Herbal preparations are not considered medicine but foods in herb shops.

It is not legal for herbalists to be able to make herbal medicine for their clients or to have their own dispensary to make up formulae. Marinella was astonished when I informed her we still have these privileges and the qualifications for Herbalists in Australia included many of the medical sciences.

Her reply was "the Italian herbal system is a minestrone (hotchpotch/mess), we lost that so long ago and we don't know how to get it back".

I provided a copy of the NHAA journal outlining our movement towards registration. After conversing with Marinella and Michele it left no doubt as to the importance of having a voice in any changes or regulations that may affect our herbal industry. My understanding is that Italian Herbalists are not registered and do not have a say. My visit revealed that the Herbalist in Italy is not in the legal sense justly recognised and has been devalued.

As I see it we need to take note of legislation changes in other countries and be prepared. The very essence of tradition and culture of herbal medicine hinges on these current movements and it is of paramount importance to prevent legislation from repressing our herbal origin and diminishing the herbalist to merely an over qualified botanist.

Exploring the countryside was an absolute delight. I found myself in the Swiss Italian Alps feeling very much at home, with Bellis perennis, vervain (Verbena vervain), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), horsetail (Equisetum arvens) and many more medicinal weeds and herbs growing wild everywhere off the cobbled paths. Mixing with the local country folk in these remote villages is a treat to the senses, their culture is full, rich and in abundance. Tuscany also left this inspiring effect on me.

My travels included a visit to Bioforce--the manufacturing plant of the late Doctor Vogel. I highly recommend the tour as it gave an insight into a quality manufacturing process which results in herbal preparations of high standards.

Another highlight was the visit to the Botanic Garden of Padua. This garden dates back to 1545 and is regarded as the most ancient university garden in the world. From its foundation it was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants since they made up the majority of the "simples", i.e. the remedies directly obtained from nature without any further concoction. For this reason it was named "Hortus Simplicium".

The Botanic Garden of Padua carries out intensive teaching as well as scientific research and is involved in the preservation of rare and endangered species. The Botanic garden of Padua has been included in the world heritage List of UNESCO.


Gale Copyright: Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.