Dr Joerg Gruenwald, president of herbal medicines consultancy Phytopharm Consulting, says that there is "a clear trend for herbal medicines out of pharmacies and into other channels, often cheaper ones like supermarkets, mail order and multi-level marketing.
"The pharmacy channel is not really growing but outside they're growing faster. There has been an increase in imported herbs from Asia and also more cultivation of herbals in Europe," he told NutraIngredients.com.
Growth in the herbals industry has been hit by a consolidation phase over the last few years and also by changes to national healthcare systems, including most recently in Germany, Europe's biggest herbals market.
"Only a handful of herbs are now reimbursed in Germany, and this was evident in the drop in sales during the first half of the year. But things are picking up and we are almost at the same level again," Dr Gruenwald said.
The industry has also been affected by media coverage of potential side effects from herbs but Gruenwald believes this has calmed down.
"We have seen growth of around 4-6 per cent this year and I think the market will continue to grow into next year," he explained.
The products driving the growth include a South African herbal called umckaloabo (pelargonium reniforme) taken as a natural antibiotic and seeing strong interest in Germany where it is marketed by the Schwabe firm Sptizner.
A stable allicin product in the UK, also taken for its bacteria-fighting properties, is another strong performer.
"Antibiotics seem to be a hot topic at the moment," notes Gruenwald.
Hoodia is another herbal likely to see strong interest after a licensing deal last week between UK-based drug developer Phytopharm and global food manufacturer Unilever brought the plant, found to have appetite-suppressing qualities, into the limelight. While supplies, collected from the wild until the Phytopharm investment, are currently restricted, there is likely to be strong demand for the plant.
By the end of next year, all European member states will also have implemented national laws for the EU herbals directive, which will allow for a greater number of new product introductions in many markets during 2006.
"We are also still hoping that kava will come back onto the market. With more research underway to prove its safety, it could be available by the end of next year," added Dr Gruenwald.