The UK Government will allow several unlicensed herbal and Chinese medicines to escape a proposed European ban, which was due to go ahead in April.

The controversial move will see health food shops continue to stock pills and supplements such as cascara black, used as a laxative and St John’s wort, which is supposed to combat depression.

Doctors and academics fear that the decision could lead to the promotion of fraudulent medical practices and expose consumers to harm.

However, many homeopaths believe that the ban would take away freedom of choice, with pharmaceutical companies being the only ones stand to gain from the move.

New EU rules say that traditional herbal medicine but have been in use for 30 years to be considered licensed.

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that the UK would sidestep the directive, instead reclassifying herbalists as ‘authorised healthcare professionals’.