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Wednesday 28 September 2022
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Herbalists back into the French healthcare system?

Herbalists who treat health problems with plants have been banned as a profession in France since 1942 but may soon regain official status.

This follows months of consultations into the role of herboristes at the Sénat, leading to senators making 39 recommendations in a report, including calls for law changes.

A further consultation period has started.

Among the justifications for working to bring herboristes into the modern health system is the agricultural potential of growing plants for health purposes and the boost it could bring to rural areas.

The Vichy regime banned herboristes in 1942 under pressure from pharmacists, who wanted to get rid of competitors who used what they saw as unscientific charlatan practices.

Despite the ban, many rural areas continued to have “wise women” to whom locals would turn for remedies made from plants.

In 2004 the law was amended to allow the few stores still selling herbs, often under the guise of being tisane shops, to again promote the health benefits, as long as it was done under the guidance of a pharmacist.

Even before then, herboristes were getting round the law.

The private Ecole Lyonnaise de Plantes Médicinales et des Savoirs Naturels was founded 40 years ago, with faculty staff including doctors, botanists and pharmacists. The school has had record numbers of  students in the past few years and is highly selective, with student fees of €1,800 a year, or €2,268 if financed by training groups or companies.

Students are a mix of people with farming projects, health professionals, cooks, and those seeking work with organic food.

Deputy director Françoise Pillet said: “We do not, and have not ever, issued formal diplomas. That is how we have managed to exist legally, but it is the quality of the work we do which is why we have survived.”

There are 1,200 students, with 600 doing three-year distance- learning courses. Students also meet in local groups for lessons and practical demos.

Founder and director Patrice de Bonneval had mixed feelings about bringing herboristes back into the legal framework. “On one level it is good, especially if it improves job prospects.

“But when you look at the work we and others are doing, it is miles away from a university science course, such as ones pharmacists follow.

Herboristes know plants, their virtues and dangers, but they also trained from the start to marry that with the people they give the plants to, and that sharing outlook is a completely different spirit to what you get with a university course.”

He said it was gratifying to see renewed interest in plant medicine, driven partly by people’s wish to be more éco but also by a more open philosophy of life.

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