Traditional medicines in the form of botanical dietary supplements and nutraceuticals have found a place in 21st century healthcare. They nonetheless all contain compounds that are foreign to humans (i.e. xenobiotics) and that are subject to the same pharmacological issues encountered by synthetic therapeutic agents. It is crucial therefore for all parties, the medical profession, investigative scientists, the regulatory agencies and the public, to understand the particular characteristics of botanicals and nutraceuticals and their potential for success and failure in preventing and confronting disease. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.