Herbalists (herboristes) hope a longstanding campaign to be legally recognised will be backed by the new government after attempts by the Senate failed to win parliamentary time.
Intense lobbying from pharmacists, who are against having herbalists registered, helped to block progress on a 2018 Senate report which recommended law changes.
France is one of very few European countries where herbalists – people who use plants for healing – are banned.
State-recognised diplomas were ended by the Vichy government in 1941 and were not restored after the war.
It is not clear why the ban was imposed. Most people suspect that pharmacists, struggling to get medical supplies because of wartime restrictions, wanted to eliminate competition from herbalists.
Threat of prison and fines
Thierry Thévenin, a herbalist established in the Creuse for 30 years, said: “It is now a ridiculous situation.
“For example, the beneficial effects of a tisane of bramble leaves against angina pain and sore throats were known by all the grandmothers who lived in the Massif Central
“But if I sell bramble leaves today and advise my customer to drink three bowls of an infusion to ease his angina, I am at risk of two years in prison and €37,500 in fines for illegally practising medicine.
“And if I write out a prescription so he can buy his bramble leaves elsewhere, the prison sentence goes up to five years and the fine to €100,000.”
Pharmacists are officially allowed to sell 572 plants which have been approved for medical use, but only around 20 in France do so.
Still hope ban will be lifted
Like other French herbalists, Mr Thévenin obtained a diploma from a private institution, and has built his practice by skirting the law. Many plants are sold as tisanes, for example.
Such is the interest in herbalism at the moment that one of the institutions offering “non-diploma” courses, the private Ecole Lyonnaise de Plantes Médicinales et des Savoirs Naturels, founded 40 years ago, is swamped.
A 2018/19 petition urging the government to act on the Senate’s report received 132,800 signatures.
It proposed that a skilled craft of paysan herboriste be established.
Although it was supported by some pharmacists, the main professional body and health ministry opposed any changes, and the situation has not moved on since.
“There is a very long battle ahead, but I am confident that eventually the ban will be lifted,” said Mr Thévenin.