Loosely regulated and largely untested in clinical trials, herbal medicines nonetheless do big business based on their image of being wholesome, natural, and backed by millennia of tradition. Common sense tells us that it’s healthier to swallow a flower than a pill, and wiser to consult with a kindly herbalist than with a white-coated doctor.
Biomimicmarketing is so persuasive that it can sell poison, so long as the poison is “natural”. Aristolochia, a mottled purple flower, was a common medicine in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, and is still an ingredient in traditional chinese remedies and in certain weight-loss supplements. Prescribed for ailments as wide-ranging as childbirth, arthritis and snakebites, for thousands of years doctors and patients managed to miss the flower’s most potent property: It will kill you.