Natural Medicines

Are Natural Medicines Safe?

In Australia, traditional, herbal, natural and alternative medicines and remedies are referred to as ‘complementary medicines’. Many people believe complementary medicines are harmless, but they can interact with other medicines and they can cause adverse effects.

What are complementary medicines and are they effective?

Complementary medicines include herbal medicines, Vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements, Australian indigenous traditional medicines, traditional medicines of other countries (e.g., India,China) homeopathic medicines and aromatherapy products. They may be of herbal or non-herbal origin. In complementary medicine, ‘herb’ means any part of a plant traditionally used as medicine and may include the leaf, flower, stem, root, fruit or bark of the plant.

Some complementary medicines are made or supplied by naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists and other therapists, and some can be purchased from pharmacies and other shops.

Are they effective?

All complementary medicines marketed in Australia must meet government standards for quality and safety, but their effectiveness does not currently have to be scientifically proven.

Complementary medicines may contain ingredients which have been used as traditional remedies for a long time, but in many cases there is very little scientific evidence to support their use. Consequently, the claims that can be made about complementary medicines are often limited and phrases like ‘may relieve’, ‘may prevent’ or ‘may promote’ are commonly used to describe their benefits.Using complementary medicines safely. Complementary medicines need to be treated with the same care and respect as other medicines. Many complementary medicines can cause adverse effects and some may interact and interfere with other medicines.

Before using a complementary medicine, consult a doctor or pharmacist if you are:

  • Using any other medicine, either prescribed by a doctor or purchased from a pharmacy or elsewhere

  • Using any other complementary medicine

  • Sensitive or allergic to any medicine or ingredient of medicinal products (e.g., gluten, lactose, preservatives)

  • Pregnant or planning to become pregnant

  • Breast feeding

  • Planning to have surgery.


  • Always include all complementary medicines on your medicines list and make sure your doctor and pharmacist know you are taking them.

  • Do not stop a prescribed medicine and use a complementary medicine instead – check with your doctor first.

  • If you want to try a complementary medicine in addition to prescribed or other medicine – check with your doctor or pharmacist first.

  • Some complementary medicines are not safe to take during pregnancy or whilst breast feeding – check with your doctor, pharmacist or naturopath/herbalist.

  • Some complementary medicines should be stopped at least one week prior to surgery – check with your doctor, pharmacist or naturopath/herbalist.

  • Do not give a complementary medicine to a child, unless the product information states it is safe for children and gives a children’s dose.

  • Like all medicines, complementary medicines must be stored out of the reach of children.