Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Herbidacious Renaissance of Quack Spuds

Spuds Are Out to Get You

If you leave them in the light they go green; if you leave them in the dark they sprout. It’s a conspiracy!

Renaissance Revival

Yesterday someone put a Britax Renaissance car seat on Freecycle. They had no car seats in the Renaissance – they didn’t even have cars.

People will stoop to anything to pass things off as antiques these days.

Middleton’s Family an Embarrassment to Royal Family

Kate Middleton’s father has only gone and commissioned a coat of arms that his entire family can use.

The words ‘has no shame’ and ‘the height of chavdom’ come to mind.

Must be crossed chips rampant on a field of coal sable.


This will probably bore the pants off most of you, but it’s a personal hobbyhorse of mine, what with Hay being a biochemist, so bear with me.

There’s a petition doing the rounds on Facebook which is filled with factual errors and misinformation about the EU directive on herbal remedies which is to come into force at the end of April.

The Facebook campaign is sponsored by herbal remedy purveyors and maintains the directive will ban all herbal remedies: nothing could be further from the truth. If you have the time, take a look, but for heaven’s sake don’t sign the petition.

The MHRA exists to police the safety & quality of all remedies, including herbal, which is a multi-million pound market and hides a myriad quacks. The new EU directive gives the MHRA additional powers.

The video maintains chemical remedies are bad and herbal remedies are good because they’re ‘natural’, whatever that means; however, the active ingredients in herbal remedies are also chemicals. A synthesised chemical is indistinguishable from one found in nature – they are what is termed fungible. They have the same atoms, the same bonds, the same molecular structure, the same effect and the same side-effects.

The word ‘natural’ above is used to elicit an emotive reaction which is totally misplaced and unwarranted – it merely indicates the molecule’s source, not its composition. The antonym of natural is unnatural – which elicits a vision of Frankenstein - yet there is no such thing as an unnatural chemical, unless it’s one that’s in the wrong place (like a weed is a flower in the wrong place), in which case just about every remedy is unnatural – herbal or otherwise – as they are generally not present in the human body.

The video also links prescription medicines with another emotive word - ‘petrochemicals’. This is a calculated and cynical scare tactic. Petrochemical derivatives are indeed used in the production of many remedies, for example as solvents to extract the active ingredient into a solution. However, solvents are used in the production of both herbal remedies and prescription medicines alike.

To my (or Hay’s) knowledge there are no medicines actually made from petrochemicals, except topical creams that are applied externally – like Vaseline, which according to herbalist propaganda is a dangerous petrochemical (and clearly a barking mad proposition).

Medicines are regulated for the purpose of safety, and it costs a lot of money to put a new medicine through clinical trials to determine efficacy, safety and correct dose. Herbal remedies currently need none of this. All that is going to happen is that they are deemed verifiably safe and that some of the more ludicrous health claims are substantiated.

Researchers have determined that, in some instances, herbal remedies don’t even contain the claimed active ingredient and are an outright scam. This is not possible with licensed prescription medicines.

No, this is a cynical effort on the part of the powerful herbal remedy lobby to hoodwink the public and gather support using scare tactics and deliberate misinformation to protect their profit margins.

Herbal remedies will not be banned, as the video claims – merely subject to the same regulation as prescription medicines – and why would a herbal remedy seller not want his products guaranteed, so far as possible, to be safe?

Don’t be fooled by the reference to Big Pharma and various conspiracy theories. Some of these herbal companies are far more profitable than many pharmaceutical companies, given they don’t have to fork out for clinical trials and approvals. Big Pharma is just a convenient scapegoat used to pander to popular prejudices.

Note that the video has no facility for making a comment – the site purposely stifles debate.

Would you rather chew on some ground willow bark, or take an aspirin? The active ingredient is identical (salicylic acid), but at least you know the aspirin is not contaminated with beetle poo or a hint of belladonna.

For a well balanced review on the issue read this.


  1. Linking your threads of quackery and the royals, I bet Prince Charles has signed this campaign; the "coffee beans up your bum cures cancer" king who would be king; he's an advocate for all this "natural" remedy malarkey.

    As for Renaissance child seats, I'm sure if you squint hard enough Leonardo must have a pencil sketch of one somewhere?

  2. Dear Bill,

    Just stumbled across you... I can connect your first and last topics by coming clean on having rather a soft spot for Cadbury's Smash...
    I love either a 'Belle de fontenay' or a Pentland Javelin with a spot of mayonaise on sunny afternoon; though which is best? And a lovely roast Romano goes down a treat.
    But with baked beans Smash... whatever it may be... is tip top.

  3. ... especially when you have a cold.

  4. Steve: he talks to trees, you know.

    Lucien: but you would say that as a Gemini.