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The Practical Herbalist

Star Anise and the Bird Flu

The concern about bird flu is getting people worried. The media is correct in alerting us to the potential threat that a new flu strain could pose to the world. At the time of this writing, (Fall 2005), Bird Flu has not made the leap in its ability to be transmitted human to human. Medical experts worldwide are preparing for the worst. Part of that preparation is the stockpiling of one of the few non vaccine medicines we have to fight a virus, Tamiflu.

The drug Tamiflu is made in part from the star anise plant. Like many plants found in Asia, Star anise is used as a spice and as herbal medicine. Traditionally herbal medicine has many anti viral herbs that can help patients fight off infections. In ancient times infections were a main cause of death and were the main focus of herbal medicine. There are many herbs that have anti viral properties, and many drugs have been produced from herbal medicines. However taking the herb in place of the derived medication is not recommended. Herbs help the body rather than kill the infection outright and are best utilized when they are matched to the symptoms of the patient rather than the infectious agent.

The issue is that herbs do not fit into the concepts of modern biomedical medicine. Modern medicine focusses on compounds that outright kill an infectious agent. Herbs tend to strengthen the body response as well as weaken the infectious agent. This means they can be very effective, but not as consistently effective as a drug that outright kills the infection. It is important that consumers understand this. It is my fear that some marketing companies will start passing off star anise as a protection from bird flu. This would create problems. There are better anti viral herbs available, remember Tamiflu contains a chemical extract from star anise.

A larger concern is that we have had problems with star anise before. There are toxic varieties of star anise that have found their way into the food/herb markets. The toxic varieties are cheap and available as decorative items. They are used to decorate wreaths and other knick knack's. In the past there have been problems with unknowing suppliers passing off the cheaper toxic star anise as food quality star anise.

At this time we need to be aware of viral infections and stay informed. Hopefully understanding the situation will help people make educated decisions about how they want to respond to the potential threat that bird flu presents. It is also a warning to be careful about what you are buying when it comes to herbal medicine market, especially when high profits, panic and desperation are involved.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066