The actress Jenny Seagrove and the National Association of Health Food Stores are challenging a legal ban on an ancient herbal remedy.
Jenny Seagrove wants a banned herbal remedy legalised
They are applying for a judicial review of the ban which has made it an offence to import or sell Kava-kava.
The herb, a natural tranquilliser, was banned on January 13 after it was linked to deaths from liver failure.
Miss Seagrove argues there is no legal right to forbid her to use a herb which helps her to relax and sleep.
Rhodri Thompson QC, appearing for both Miss Seagrove and the association at the High Court in London, said Miss Seagrove "strongly resented" the ban which prevents
her from using the remedy to cope with the problem of
"Both my clients strongly resent this interference with
their freedom of choice and freedom to trade," he said.
"Ms Seagrove speaks on behalf of all those individuals who have found Kava-kava to be a valuable product without side effects."
The ban imposed by the Medicines Control Agency following recommendations by the UK's Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) and the Medicines Commission, followed unproved reports linking Kava-kava to people who had suffered liver damage, Mr Thompson argued.
He said the ban was "substantially flawed" and unlawful.
He told Mr Justice Crane it had been taken on the basis of incomplete and unsatisfactory data.
For thousands of years the shrub has been used by Pacific Islanders to make a soothing drink. It is the national drink of Fiji and Tonga, said Mr Thompson.
Evidence before the Department of Health suggested that, world wide, there had been six liver transplants and three to four deaths over the past 10-15 years, and
these were "most probably" not caused by Kava-kava at all, argued Mr Thompson.
Kava-kava (Piper Methysticum) which is also used to treat depression and give pain relief, was voluntarily removed from shops in 2001 after almost 70 cases of suspected liver damage associated with the herbal medicine were reported, four in the UK. Six patients needed liver transplants.
Miss Seagrove and the NAHS, which represents some 426 stores supplying health foods, contend that under European Union and human rights law, the agencies can only override people's rights to trade in a substance like Kava-kava if they can demonstrate clear public health reasons.
Miss Seagrove joined the legal action because she believes the Medicines Control Agency and the Food Standards Agency had no legal right to forbid her to use the herb.