Could Chinese Herbs be More Toxic than Western Drugs?

While the popularity of complementary wellness therapies stems from a desire to move away from nasty chemicals, many of these remedies are just as toxic to your wellbeing as Western drugs. This is according to new research from Greenpeace, which has found that many traditional Chinese herbal medicines sold in western countries contain a “cocktail” of pesticide residues which exceed safe levels.


According to Greenpeace, traditional Chinese herbs are becoming increasingly known and accepted in the west. We purchase them here for medicinal use, and the export market in 2011 was worth £1.5bn. Clearly, we’re fans of these herbs, but 32 out of the 36 tested were found to contain residues of three or more pesticides. Of the 36 samples of herbal products imported from China, including chrysanthemum, wolfberry, honeysuckle, dried lily bulb, san qi, Chinese date and rosebud, almost half (17) had residues of pesticides which the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers to be highly hazardous, albeit these were found in low concentrations.


These samples were collected in the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, but of the 29 bought in European countries alone, 26 contained pesticide residues in quantities that exceeded the maximum safe levels set by EU authorities. There were 15 pesticides found in chrysanthemum bought in the UK alone, eight of which exceeded EU residue levels. According to the Greenpeace report, the findings should serve as ‘another example of the failure of chemical-intensive agriculture in China and around the world.’ The group warned that long-term exposure to these pesticide residues can lead to reproductive abnormalities, as well as the poisoning of farm workers.


Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist with Greenpeace UK, commented, ‘The toxic chemicals found in these products pose a real health risk to consumers. People who use these products do so hoping to ease medical conditions and improve their health – they will be shocked to learn that along with natural herbs they have been taking, they are exposing themselves to a synthetic cocktail of potentially dangerous pesticides. The UK Government and the EU must improve their testing regime for products imported from China as a matter of urgency so that users of these remedies know that they are safe.’

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