The article presents the results of an exploratory study conducted in Thailand in 1988, comparing the results of two approaches to encourage the use of herbal medicine as a safe and cheap alternative to pharmaceuticals. The study included one government programme using a clinic-oriented approach and one non-governmental programme using a community-oriented approach. Drug use in response to illness episodes was surveyed among households in two villages covered by each programme and hospital out-patient prescription records were sampled. Herbal medicines were used to treat 14.8% and 14.0% of the illness-episodes in the villages taking part in the clinic-oriented programme and to treat 62.1% and 29.7% of the episodes in the villages covered by the community-oriented programme. Herbs are mostly used after a prior treatment with pharmaceuticals has failed. Only 12.4% of out-patient prescriptions from the hospital in the government programme included herbal drugs, compared to 47.3% of prescriptions from the hospital in the non-governmental programme. The results of the study suggest that a community-oriented approach can most effectively influence the pattern of drug use in self-care. Complementary to the community-oriented approach, the government should support efforts to change the prescribing attitude of physicians and include training in traditional medicine in medical curricula.