Great topic! As a molecular biologist/medical chemist, I find it very intriguing to hear what people have to say about the so-called "untapped potential of herbs". I will share my thoughts.
We often forget that the pharma industry is not a local farm gone big. It is a strictly regulated, highly competitive business that needs to obey the business rules. The first golden rule is that profit matters. For pharma, money means patent, and the patent requires an invention to be something specific and novel - patentable. In nature, most of the compounds don’t act as single agents and therefore, are not patentable. Because it costs money to make money, non-patentable products are, in the current market, considered as an investment “black holes”. It is not always about profit and getting rid of the symptoms and the symptoms only. Sometimes it’s just how business work. (I don't defend pharma companies, I just don't blame them.)
It is questionless that herbal preparations have the potential to substitute some of the pharmaceutical drugs. For five years, I have been researching local plant extracts and their cytotoxic effects on tumor cells and I would say that the mentioned problems concerning quality and standardization are technicalities that can be solved by brainstorming, what people love to do. They just need a good motivation and a regulatory body that will give them a niche to work in.
Another big problem is that new regulatory requirements, allowing plant-based extracts to enter the big market, are being carefully (read slowly) implemented (1). Because of that, it could easily happen that the pharma industry will not be the driver of the change, but small local farmers and their “natural domestic products”. Among varieties of fruits and vegetables, we can already see many oils, drops, and balsams showing up on domestic product fairs. It is just a matter of time when the labels will start to contain the information about the composition, listing all the specific compounds we were using for years!
So, I give my vote to local farmers becoming local "pharmers" and saving the world. Hey, if Uber found a way how to make the transportation cheaper, we can do it with drugs, too.