Working with the plants that grow around us teaches us to value them, and is an integral part of living sustainably within our environment. We can use plant medicine to strengthen and rebuild our vitality, as tonics, or for acute and chronic problems.
The ‘gut feeling’ or ‘intuitive’ sense about what herbs we need to heal and support ourselves that has been observed in animals, may not be so reliable now so many of us grow up out of tune with the natural world – no longer foraging and growing our own food. Even the pejorative term ‘weeds’ is given to what are valuable healing allies, such as nettle, cleavers and dandelion.
Medicine and who practises it has always been a political issue – and it is also a personal one. Being able to choose to use plants for healing is our birthright, one which seems to be regularly challenged!
Plant medicine has been used all over the world, every culture having its own botanical pharmacopeia, evolving over centuries of using plants for healing. Written records go back to 2800 BC (in China). Herbs have been trialled in real life by many people, so have been more rigorously tested than any drug, and their efficacy and safety assessed by experienced herbalists. Herbs are part of a spectrum: from nourishing food through to very active medicinal compounds. About one third of all modern pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants. The process of a freely available, common ‘herb’ becoming a ‘drug’ is not always about improving efficacy, availability or safety – it’s about profit.
Issues relating to the toxicity of herbs are usually revealed to be the result of adulteration, errors made in harvesting /preparation, or misrepresentation of the facts by the media. This reinforces the role of using home grown or locally sourced herbs, as we hope our food would be: unadulterated, organically grown, correctly identified, and of known provenance.
The practical courses I run aim to explore our vital connection with plants and rebuild our relationship with them and the natural world around us. We belong to the earth, and can find a more harmonious existence on this planet. We look at the plants growing around us, identifying, sustainable foraging, growing, harvesting and making remedies, drying, and storing, as well as discussing the uses of plants past and present and where to look for information. We look at the aims of herbal treatment and how we interact with plants.
I have played with, grown and foraged for herbs for as long as I can remember. Committed to the environmental movement and green politics, I qualified as a herbalist in 1990, and have been fortunate to have studied with several different visionary herbalists. A consultant herbalist for 15 years, I have taught since I qualified. I now teach from my home in Putley where I grow herbs, vegetables and flowers, in the garden of our eco home, and also work as an artist.
Written from The Hedge, Autumn 2015.