INTRODUCTION

Having “marked our card” by surveying the Herb Trade in the first “Greening” report, we would quickly be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy if we weren’t even busier cleaning up our own act as practitioners. However lyrical we might wax about the work of herbalists, we are also inevitably running small businesses – we all use heating, lighting and water, we all use bottles, cardboard and detergents, and we need to deepen our approach to “treading lightly on the planet” with as much of it as we possibly can.

But we don’t want to be seen to be lecturing! One of the startling truths for the authors is to realise that however leading-edge green we might have thought we were, every single one of us have found areas in which we need to make progress. One herbalist may be doing pioneering work with community herbal medicine but with the aid of a wifi computer set-up. Another may have learnt to live a happy life of astounding austerity but nevertheless flies off to see family (in an aircraft, that is!) several times a year. So, we have to remind ourselves that everybody has different starting points and will travel at different paces – so long as we’ve all stepped onto the road and keep moving.


DEVELOPING AN ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE APPROACH TO LIFE

Most of the home-grown initiatives for saving the planet seem to be about recycling and carbon-offsetting air travel. This may or may not be helpful but is paying little more than lip-service. What is better than recycling is reusing – and better still, to avoid using it in the first place. Politicians will only indulge environmental initiatives so long as they don’t get in the way of their fixation with economic growth. What’s really needed, and urgently, is economic decline! It’s a stark reality that if we’re going to “save the planet” (for which read “save ourselves”) we’re all going to have to consume a lot less.

It’s also a mistake to think that we only have to worry about what’s going on in the upper atmosphere – here at ground level we’re living in a soup of toxic compounds and our urban areas are turning into microwave ovens set on slow-cook. One of the problems we’ve found developing this discussion paper is that we assumed we were already innately good environmentalists. Regrettably, not so! It’s almost embarrassing to think how much we all still need to change – and change we must, encouraging others by our example.

Environmentalism isn’t a set of neat answers, we can only be effective eco-warriors if we’re constantly asking ourselves a set of questions. Do I really need to drive or could I take the bus, or even walk? Do I really need a new coat and if so, would a second-hand one do? Should I ever buy cheap clothing from China again anyway? Can I use the phone less, less paper, less floor polish, less gas & electricity? Is there stuff in my rubbish that I could have found some sort of use for? Am I throwing away something that somebody else could use? The list is potentially endless, what’s needed is to make this sort of enquiry part of your daily round. It sounds daunting but it can be fun, very satisfying, and soon converts debts into savings.


WORK & HOME

Herbalists more than most have very grey edges between work and their own private lives, particularly if some or all of the work concerned is conducted at home. It seems churlish to discuss the use of energy-efficient light bulbs or how to save bath water here, but it’s a good idea to get an up-to-date handbook on domestic energy saving and ecology – one cheap and very useful booklet is produced by Quaker Green Action. Of course, many of the recommendations you are likely to find will spill over into your practice and vice versa. It’s also a good idea to keep up with developing issues – Ethical Consumer magazine is great at telling you which chocolate, light bulb, computer, bank account etc., is the most planet-friendly. Get your library to stock it!


CYBER HEAVEN, CYBER HELL

Here’s one to spoil everybody’s day: PCs cause as much greenhouse gassing as air travel. Ouch! That’s not including TVs, games consoles, mobile & portable phones, iPods & WiFi routers. If the overuse of energy isn’t bad enough, check how much you’re personally adding to our build-up of microwaves – it’s starting to get serious! Like the internal combustion engine and GM crops, we won’t know what damage we’re doing each other until it’s too late. We silly humans need to cut back on our mesmeric use of new technologies.

So, try adapting to using your computers for serious and essential stuff only – and for heaven’s sake, no WiFi! Don’t leave them (or anything else) on standby – turn them off at the wall. Get an old-fashioned phone (you remember, they have a receiver attached with a curly cord) – if you must use a portable, keep it brief. Use mobiles for emergencies only. Explore how people used to communicate and entertain themselves – ask for a fountain pen and a Scrabble Board for Christmas!

The worst mobile phone speaker-to-brain emissions can be 25 times higher than the best – as models come & go so often, check this on the Internet – search for “mobile phones low emissions”. The only convincingly low-emission portable (DECT) phones currently available are from Orchid.


PATIENTS & RECYCLING

Put something on your practice pamphlet and a notice in your waiting room asking patients to bring things back for reuse – all bottles & jars, dispensing bags & jiffybags. You can also offer to reuse medical glassware, pots etc., from other sources – but be careful to clean very thoroughly or dispose of anything that contained pharmaceuticals or chemicals. You can also take opportunities to encourage patients to grow in awareness of environmental issues, perhaps even by making factsheets available to them, advertising local farmers’ markets and so on.


RECYCLING & COMPOSTING

Local councils now collect or accept at tips all manner of things that once formed 90% of what, in more innocent days, went into the dustbin. Take the trouble!

Cardboard & paper can be “trenched in” in the garden if torn up or shredded, or added at up to 50% in compost if shredded. Don’t use newsprint, glossy paper, or anything printed with solid colour. A shredder is also an essential tool for avoidance of identity fraud – happily all those forms, bills, statements, etc., that you should dispose of safely are printed on “compost-friendly” paper.

Returned or out-of-life tinctures can be diluted and watered on the garden as an excellent addition to fertility, or better still used neat as a compost activator.

Crude herbs (e.g. spent herbs from tincture-making) can be composted if preferred but are much more useful as a surface mulch.


WHAT YOU CAN’T USE

Try not to throw anything away! Surplus medicine bottles (1 litre bottles from suppliers can accumulate), alcohol drums, old office equipment, etc., can always be found a home for. It’s amazing what people will come and collect if you advertise it on your local Freecycle message board.


CLEANING – GENERAL

Only 2% of all cases of food poisoning are caused in the home, so it figures that using good conservative domestic hygiene standards should prove adequate. The only caveat is that usually herbal medicines produced by “kitchen pharmacy” have to be kept much longer than most foodstuffs – anyone who makes their own wines, jams or pickles knows how much more important cleanliness is in these circumstances. Needless to say, if it is actually the kitchen that you’re doing your pharmacy in, keep herbal paraphernalia away from normal food preparation – in particular, don’t use chopping boards, containers etc., that have been used for meat or animal products.

For general cleaning, washing up & so on, there are several environmentally-friendly ranges of products available. Bio products are recommended as they are manufactured in the UK, are amongst the most efficient and are fully biodegradable.

It’s also worth considering the use of microfibre cloths for cleaning, drying & polishing, as they can be used with very satisfactory results without detergents or cleaning agents. They’re particularly good for drying glassware without streaks.

Note that dishcloths, tea towels and the like breed bacteria fast if left damp – change these often to be on the safe side.


CLEANING – MEDICAL WARE

Washing out returned glass medicine bottles often presents a problem. Soapy water and a good bottle brush deals with most, (as indeed does a dishwasher if you’re going to gloss over the extra energy use.) Tannins are sometimes stubbornly resistant and can be soaked out by filling the bottle with bleach diluted in hot water – it can be used to cleanse several bottles before it’s exhausted. At the present time nothing adequately effective is known of that is less toxic than bleach – and there is the consolation that one is adding little to already chlorinated tap water. Occasionally resins resist both approaches. A little genuine turpentine (from hardware shops) swilled around a few times will deal with this (turpentine is distilled from the Terebinth shrub) – and again, this can be used many times over before discarding or using to light a bonfire.
Printers will tell you that all label adhesives become permanent eventually. For ones that won’t peel or soak off, try scrubbing with a stainless steel scourer charged with some neat washing-up liquid, or failing this, soak with a little turpentine on a rag.

Plastic bottles, pill pots, cream jars, etc., can be treated the same as glass medicine bottles in all respects, although with a higher failure rate. Bear in mind that plastic doesn’t take kindly to being scrubbed.

Bottle caps will often clean with a long soak in diluted (5%) bleach, discarding anything that resists this.

Strictly speaking all medical ware should be sterilised after cleaning, e.g. by standing in an oven for half an hour at 100 ºc. In practice this is wasteful of energy and doesn’t appear to be necessary. The choice is yours!


PAPER

Recycled papers (e.g. A4 paper for Inkjet & Laser printing, envelopes) are now available at reasonable prices for a range of applications. Viking Direct is a useful source, especially their own brand recycled paper & stationery.

Get used to reading emails & web pages on-screen rather than printing them out. Instead of the “paperless office”, PCs have caused the sales of A4 paper to multiply by a factor of eight! Try to keep your own paperwork to a minimum. Always try to use both sides before discarding. See also under “Recycling & Composting”.


LOCAL OR MAIL ORDER?

For stationery, packaging, office equipment and supplies, it’s always difficult to choose between buying locally or by mail order. Neither is obviously a greener choice than the other in terms of distribution miles. Often you get better service locally… but at a price and with limited choice. There is also a general “relocalisation” principle to consider – we should support local traders – but perhaps this should only apply to good local traders! If you are buying locally & using a car, it’s a good principle to try and travel for several purposes rather than just one.

Try and research before buying equipment, checking for longevity, energy-efficiency and so on. For example, many Canon inkjet printers use tiny amounts of ink compared to most competitors. “Which” reports are very useful – usually available at local libraries. Can you buy second-hand? Can you share with someone else?

For herbal supplies, bottles and the like, delivery is environmentally more efficient the greater the bulk you purchase – but you have to weigh this up against the need to “shop around” to get the best therapeutic quality – and you don’t want to buy so much of anything that it goes past its shelf-life. You may also be able to make a huge difference by joining forces with a group of herbalists to buy centrally – see under “Sharing with other herbalists”.


MAKE YOUR OWN MEDICINES

The third of our “Greening” series of discussion papers covers environmentally aware herb gardening & foraging. For now, suffice it to say that making your own medicines can bring very considerable benefits to yourself, your patients and the planet, notably:-

  • The soundest of all approaches to herbal medicine production from an environmental perspective.
  • Quality exceeding commercially manufactured equivalents.
  • A close working relationship with living plants that enormously enhances understanding of them and thence effectiveness in prescribing.
  • An appreciation of herbal medicines as plants species, not just products.
  • Positive contribution to personal physical & spiritual wellbeing.
  • The opportunity to trade medicines with other practitioners (e.g. whose local environments support different plant populations).
  • Hard work is repaid by reduced costs.


SHARING WITH OTHER HERBALISTS

We encourage all herbalists to form small, localised, autonomous groups. One interpretation of our mission is to act as “transition herbalists” (in the same sense as “Transition Towns”) – rehearsing the skills that will be needed in an energy-descended, relocalised, community-orientated environment. Herbal medicine is lucky in the respect that it can thrive on the most basic of technologies and there is a great deal of historical experience to draw on. Here are some of the things that are already a routine part of some of the more enlightened herbalist’s activities:-

  • Giving each other herb plants and seeds. Plants from a friend will be remembered and loved long after ones bought from nurseries!
  • Treating as a shared experience the securing of licences to purchase duty-free spirits, getting equipped and started with medicine-making, simplifying and enhancing at each stage.
  • Making and giving each other tinctures, ointments & other medicines. Wonderful they are too!
  • Re-examining our indigenous/naturalised/garden-raised materia medica in depth – in order to adapt our treatments to their use.
  • Allocating the growing, foraging and producing of the above according to the different habitats and facilities that we each have to offer.
  • Working to establish which herbs must for the time being be bought in and who the best/most acceptable supplier is in each case. Also to establish a list of herbs that must ultimately be prioritised as continuing imports (e.g. ginger & cinnamon).
  • Buying centrally and sharing commercially sourced medicines, packaging supplies, etc.
  • Sharing knowledge and experience of environmental initiatives in home and practice.
  • Exploring ways to work more closely with our local communities and sharing ideas and ideals arising from local activities.
  • Recording knowledge & insight arising from all the above to share, adapt and enhance for our own benefit and for the use of others, now & in the future.
  • Running workshops and other events to introduce fellow practitioners, students and our local communities to herb growing and medicine-making.

Although we continue to work hard gleaning and disseminating information about changes in the commercial, political and legislative arenas that affect herbalists, the activities outlined above are our prime preoccupation, our joy and inspiration, a huge boost to morale, and a considerable enhancement to the economy and therapeutic effectiveness of our practices. We strongly recommend it!


FEEDBACK

Environmental initiatives are still in their infancy, so there’s a great deal of scope for discovery, experimentation and invention. We all need to pool this knowledge. We hope to assemble a growing number of informative documents and factsheets designed to help ourselves and our colleagues reclaim personal responsibility for the way we go about our work and the impact it has on the poor old planet.

Please join in!


Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Canal 12 group of independent herbalists for their collective work in originating this document, and members of the Independent Herbalists chatroom for some very positive and useful feedback.

Like many of the Herbarium articles, this will be maintained as a live document, revised from time to time as new information and ideas present themselves. It was last updated in December 2008.

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