To estimate the prevalence of herbal medicine (HM) use in the UK.
The databases AMED, CINAHL, COCHRANE, EMBASE and MEDLINE were searched for peer-reviewed surveys published between January 2000 and September 2011. The authors’ own departmental files were also manually searched for relevant references.
Ten surveys were included with a total of 20 601 participants. All surveys had major methodological limitations. Across all surveys, the average prevalence rate for a range of time periods was 37.1% (range 4.8–92.4). One-year prevalence was provided by just one survey and amounted to 36%. The vast majority of patients did not discuss their use of HM with a conventional healthcare professional. The average incidence rate of adverse effects that was associated with HM use was 15.8%.
Many UK patients and/or consumers use HM, often without consulting their conventional healthcare professionals. In order to maximise patient-safety, a full medical history should include questions about HM usage.