The first safety and quality standards for processed traditional Chinese medicine herbs are being drawn up by researchers from four universities.
Up to now there had only been government-established standards for Chinese material medica - the raw materials - since 2002, but not processed herbs sold in the market, said project co-ordinator Professor David Fong Wang-fun, chair professor of Baptist University's School of Chinese Medicine.
The team began the project last month, examining the chemical components of 16 processed herbs sold in Hong Kong, based on their material medica test results.
He cited a recent case of an 83-year-old woman who died last month after taking processed Radix Aconiti Lateralis. It was suspected to be contaminated by another herb, processed Radix Aconiti, both containing aconitum alkaloids.
'The risk of poisoning from processed herbs and killing people is not that high, but their medical effects may vary,' said Fong.
The standards would serve as a reference for manufacturers and traders, and may be adopted by the government in setting up laws or guidelines in the future, he said. 'We hope this will enhance international trade in Chinese medicine, as some foreigners are concerned about the quality of Chinese herbs,' he said.
Of the 365 species of commonly used processed herbs in Hong Kong, 66 per cent are processed locally.
Raw herbs are processed, such as by cooking them or adding materials like wine, to improve their medicinal effects or to purify them. But their toxicity or active ingredients may be altered to different extents depending on the process method, so standards were needed, he said.
The 13 researchers from Baptist University, University of Science and Technology, Chinese University, and Polytechnic University received HK$2.94 million from the government and the industry for the one-year project.
species of processed herbs are commonly used in Hong Kong
- 66 per cent of them are processed locally