AS promised in a previous column, I've been having a look at Chinese medicine (CM) in Tasmania, now that it looks as if there will be significant developments in research and local production of some of the herbs involved.
It seems there are about 20 CM practitioners in Tasmania, most in Hobart but some in the North West, including one in Ulverstone - that's Sagire Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.
It's run by Dr Ian Dummet, who not only has a BAppSC (Chinese medicine) but also a BAppSC (Human Biology).
He did a clinical internship in Nanjing, so he knows what he's talking about on this topic. He was very helpful when I went to see him, and I'd like to acknowledge that here.
He sees about 500 herbal medicine patients a year, working nine till seven most days - he also does acupuncture.
Assuming all 20 practitioners are doing about the same, that's about 10,000 Tasmanians, of whom there were 524,170 as at the end of June.
I leave it to you to work out the exact percentage but at a glance it's about 2 per cent- a very select Tasmanian group.
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Most of the Chinese herbal medicines are (surprise, surprise) produced in China.
The ones he uses are imported into all mainland states - he gets his from a supplier in WA.
There are some producers of raw herbs in Australia but not many, which means that local production has a very promising future.
The challenge is going to be choose which ones to grow. Depending on who you believe there are apparently literally thousands used in CM treatments.
I featured ginseng in the previous column on this topic.
One hundred grams of dried ginseng can cost as much as $70 but predictably the price can come down to $20 with volume purchases.
It needs a short period of sub-zero temperatures to grow effectively, so that is another plus for establishing the new industry in Tasmania.
The other 98pc of Tasmanians presumably use their local GP/clinic so I asked a couple for a comment. This says it all:
"Chinese medicines are commonly used in Australia but there are quality and safety issues around the supply."
This is an exciting opportunity to develop a potential new export sector and further diversify Tasmania's agricultural sector.
"There is little evidence in western literature that allows us to know how safe or effective they are.
"It's always important to tell your GP if you are taking Chinese medicine as it may interact with your western medicines or may cause complications."
Finally, I asked Professor Dugald Close, who is the associate director (global) at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture at UTAS, what was the latest on the proposed joint venture with China to develop a medicinal herb growing industry in Tasmania.
"This is an exciting opportunity to develop a potential new export sector and further diversify Tasmania's agricultural sector," Mr Close said.
"Our two main objectives are to identify herb crops of interest to Chinese markets that match Tasmania's growing conditions, and to develop agronomic production systems and post-harvest processing approaches and techniques for product development.
"A planned delegation from the Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are continuing to engage with research partners utilising virtual platforms including an online webinar held in May that explored research opportunities for traditional Chinese medicine in Tasmania."
Although a graduate from that University, Ian said: "I was not party to any plans for the Chinese delegation."
It will be very interesting to see what happens.
- Dr Walker is a retired plant physiologist. He welcomes your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org