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We acknowledge our profound sadness at the passing of Stephen Church, a man who can be called an elder in the world of herbal medicine, as can his wife, Carol.

Stephen and Carol were founder members of The Herbarium: they had a clear vision of the herbal knowledge they wished to preserve and share.

Stephen originally worked in the music business before going on to train at the School of Herbal Medicine, followed shortly after by Carol. Their passion to practice stemmed from first-hand experience of the wonderful efficacy of herbs for their young family. His role model for becoming a herbalist were his GP, who worked alone with his wife manning the phones etc. He would come out day and night to visit his sick patients and would always recommend good home nursing first rather than reaching for the prescription pad.

Stephen and Carol created a joint practice and herb garden in their family home and garden in Coulsdon, Surrey. Stephen worked diligently within his community, supporting thousands of patients throughout his life-time; it was not unusual for him to treat many generations of the same family over many years.

Stephen and Carol have inspired several generations of herbalists with their openness, their willingness to share their experience, their recipes and their herbs. They happily opened their doors to students and colleagues alike. We are all impoverished now that we can no longer call upon him to have a chat and access his vast wisdom and knowledge.

However, we are fortunate that part of Stephen’s legacy resides here within The Herbarium. Together with Carol, Stephen produced a large majority of their tinctures from the herbs grown in their back garden, a small chalky plot on the North Downs. Stephen encouraged his students and colleagues to get to know the herbs by growing, harvesting and processing them. Stephen was rare in that his knowledge was based on practical experience and not just theory. In 1975 Stephen bought a copy of Grow your own Fruit and Vegetables by Lawrence D. Hills. Carol is sure this is where he got his Bish Bash Bosh method for making tinctures. The knowledge they gained from decades of this work provided the backbone of The Herbarium’s ‘making files’.

Stephen inspired in us the courage to stand in our truth, against the prevailing mood of the times. Because of his quiet, authentic courage we stepped up and out of line, and together were supported through one of the most politicised episodes in modern herbal medicine. With his incisive thinking and embodied knowledge he challenged us to remain true to what endures in herbal medicine: The politics and people come and go, but the nature of the plants prevails.

Stephen was full of humour, wisdom, music, stories, and philosophy, some taken directly from Leonard Cohen and Terry Pratchett and some uniquely his own. He lived his life full of love for the people and land around him. Stephen approached the ending of his days with continued insight and equanimity, knowing that nature would lead the way and his last few months of life were full of blessings: Stephen loved his garden and he managed to get into the greenhouse this February and sow all the seeds for the year ahead – one of the things he was desperate to do before he died – and an unexpected final visit to Banstead Woods with his family, where the bluebells were flowering, was a magical moment.

We know that Stephen loved The Herbarium. He always felt that herbal medicine should lose its aura of secrecy and be shared with everyone. Carol tells us that, of all the work he did, his proudest achievement was the ‘making files’.

We send our love to his family who will feel his absence the most, his wife Carol, children Sam and Joanne, grandchildren Jim and Edie, and the cats Rosie, Daisy and Dusty.

We salute you Stephen Church, go gently into the beyond and save us a space at the table…



On 26th March 2015 the Department of Health published its ‘Report on the Regulation of Herbal Medicines’, authored by Professor David Walker. You can access the full report at – but it is summed up thus: –

‘Having taken into account the evidence available and the views of representatives of the sector, I consider that despite strong calls by many for statutory regulation, there is not yet a credible scientific evidence base to demonstrate risk from both products and practitioners which would support this step.’ (p.28).

This effectively puts the whole issue of the statutory regulation of herbal medicine ‘on ice’ for the foreseeable future. Hooray! A victory for clear thinking, common sense and the precautionary principle! Let’s hope this is the end of the top-down dictatorial bureaucracy that has plagued herbal medicine for so long, and heralds a new era for the grass-roots approach that The Herbarium has joined so many others in fostering.

However, you may have noticed that The Herbarium has been ‘on ice’ itself for more than a year. It’s true to say that those of us who have been working diligently to counter statutory regulation for years (in some cases, decades) have found it arduous and on occasions personally very distressing, so at the risk of mixing metaphors, we feel somewhat burnt out. Equally in the last year or two, we have all found ourselves moving on in one way or another – new homes, new children, new jobs.

The Herbarium will remain on the internet as a reference – the ‘political’ posts may have some historic interest, more importantly the practical medicine-making files, and our other informative articles still continue to grow in relevance and popularity. There might be more to add in time – perhaps new blood, new inspiration – but for now, we’re resting! A big ‘thank you’ to everybody who has looked this way, subscribed, commented, and most important, used the Herbarium as a practical workbook.

Neil Pellegrini (‘herbalistic’)

Now that the election dust has settled and, as expected, the political order has been shaken up, it seems a good time to cast a weary eye over the past decade and the ups and downs in the landscape of state regulation for herbalists. Let’s begin with some background on the biggest acronym in herbal medicine…


One of the chief protagonists in the drive for state-sanctioned ‘professional status’ for herbalists has been the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA, formerly the European Herbal Practitioners Association, EHPA), a pro-regulation lobby group formed in 1993 to (in their own words) enhance the legal basis of herbal medicine practice across the European Union (EU). The EHTPA is an umbrella body which represents professional associations (PAs). Representation of PAs within the EHTPA is on an organisational level: individual members of these PAs have no voting rights and no say in how the organisation is run, although each member is obliged to pay an annual £50 levy to fund the activities of the EHTPA. The PAs have a combined membership of around 1400, made up of herbalists from various traditions. The EHTPA was represented on the Department of Health (DH) Herbal Medicine Regulatory Working Group and the Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Practitioners of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Other Traditional Medicine Systems Practised in the UK, both of which produced reports recommending the introduction of state regulation for herbalists in the UK. The EHTPA lobbied hard, particularly via letter-writing campaigns, demanding that MPs and the former Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, support state regulation for practitioners. This campaign appears to have been unsuccessful.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology

The campaign for state regulation started in earnest in November 2000 with the publication of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Herbalists appeared to receive official public backing for state regulation as the report suggested that practitioners met key criteria, including (a) risk to the public from poor practice, (b) the existence of a voluntary regulation system, and (c) a credible, if incomplete, evidence base.

Statutory Self-Regulation (SSR) was to be introduced under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, which empowered the Health Secretary to ‘fast track a profession to SSR’1 via the establishment of a single umbrella body, recognised by statute, to represent, register and protect the title of herbalists.

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Since the publication of the Department of Health (DH) consultation document on statutory regulation (SR) on 3 August 2009 a number of practitioners of traditional western herbal medicine have been gripped by, what can be best described as, regulation hysteria. A pro-SR demonstration was held outside the Houses of Parliament, letters demanding SR have been fired off to MPs, and an article entitled ‘Herbal drug crackdown: Millions face having to buy remedies on black market as Europe tightens the rules’ recently appeared in the Daily Mail. The European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA) and its members are offering herbalists a stark choice: get behind SR or face oblivion from European legislation! But is herbal medicine really on brink? Below we attempt to separate fact from fiction (with a little help from the MHRA).

Fiction: Unless SR is implemented by 2011, section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968 will be superseded by the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) and European medicines legislation, effectively banning the practise of herbal medicine in the UK.

Fact: Section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968 remains available to herbalists in the UK beyond 2011, whether SR is implemented or not.

In an email (dated 6 November 2009), Richard Woodfield of the MHRA clearly stated that beyond 2011 ‘the s12(1) exemption [will remain] available where herbal practitioners are carrying out activity in accordance with the terms of that exemption.’

What exactly are the terms of the section 12(1) exemption? The exemption appears in statute in the following form:

12. Exemptions in respect of herbal remedies

(1) The restrictions imposed by sections 7 and 8 [Licences and Certificates relating to Medicinal Products] of this Act do not apply to the sale, supply, manufacture or assembly of any herbal remedy in the course of a business where—

(a) the remedy is manufactured or assembled on premises of which the person carrying on the business is the occupier and which he is able to close so as to exclude the public, and

(b) the person carrying on the business sells or supplies the remedy for administration to a particular person after being requested by or on behalf of that person and in that person’s presence to use his own judgment as to the treatment required.’

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The practice of herbal medicine is a fringe activity that occupies a culturally unique space in our society. Traditional western herbal medicine (TWHM) in the UK is a vibrant, vital and evolving practise, which is largely beyond state control. State regulation, which is underpinned by a positivist worldview, threatens the essential nature of TWHM by standardising its rich diversity of practice and criminalising independent practitioners. Listed below are just a few of the lies told in order to manufacture consent to the statutory regulation (SR) and licensing agenda.

Lie #1: Herbal Medicine is Risky Medicine

In the recent past western herbalists were happy to say ‘herbal medicine is safe medicine’, but now, in order to serve the SR/licensing agenda, herbalists are required to say ‘herbal medicine is risky medicine’. Why?

It is alleged that the poor practice of western herbalists is putting patients and the public at risk, but data on levels of poor practice among practitioners of TWHM has yet to be produced. The Department of Health (DH) could easily commission research to gather such data so that a rational and informed decision about the need for SR/licensing could be made. This has never been done. There simply is no reliable evidence base demonstrating that the public need safeguarding from practitioners of TWHM. Furthermore, were SR/licensing to be introduced without a supporting evidence base, then future judgements about the success or failure of such schemes to reduce levels of poor practice would be impossible to make.

Bureaucrats can theorise about potential risks all day long, but without a reliable evidence base demonstrating that real harm comes from the activities of western herbalists the imposition of any regulatory scheme would be completely unjustifiable. The precautionary principle applies here: if the potential consequences of an activity are severe, in the absence of full scientific certainty the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking action.

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