You are currently browsing herboscy’s articles.

UPDATED: new recipes added

Syrups and other medicinal preparations that contain some form of sugar are popular with the public (because sweet things taste nice), but are less popular with practitioners, who hesitate to contribute to health problems such as dental decay, cardiovascular disease and late-onset diabetes by adding to a diet that may already be overburdened with refined carbohydrates. These two opposing forces have to be balanced – some of the benefits of syrups and the like will become apparent as we go on, suggesting that despite our concerns, a small range of sweet medicines, perhaps designed for very short-term therapeutic strategies anyway, are a worthy component of a comprehensive approach to prescribing.

Read the rest of this entry »


I was recently doing some routine housekeeping on my computer when I came across these two files from 13 and 12 years ago – and having copied them to the Herbarium team for interest, was asked to post them here, along with some explanatory notes.

During 2001 Michael McIntyre, Chair of the European Herbal Practitioner Association (EHPA), had fronted a series of regional meetings called the ‘EHPA Roadshow’ – to promote the notion of Statutory Self Regulation (SSR) to herbal practitioners, mostly members of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH). There were subsequent complaints to the NIMH Council that its members felt they were simply being lectured – there was no balance of arguments and little opportunity for open discussion. With some reticence, NIMH Council organised a meeting in London in December 2001 to address this problem. I say ‘reticence’ advisedly – the event was notified to NIMH members with only a few days notice, the date and venue but no time was given, and thankfully the attempts by ‘Michael and his team’ to stage-manage the proceedings were successfully countered. Subsequently NIMH disowned the event, declaring that it was not an ‘official’ NIMH meeting: both the audio-tape and the Hon. Gen. Sec’s written minutes went missing, and it was never reported to the NIMH membership. Therefore you will have to rely on my own recall of the occasion. About sixty practitioners and students attended: speaking for SSR were Michael McIntyre, Andrew Chevallier and Alison Denham (NIMH president) – in opposition, Christopher Hedley, Susan Allshorn, Susan Tosoni and myself. This took up most of the morning, the afternoon being devoted to an open discussion from the floor. 

I believe this was the only occasion that SSR (now simply SR) was ever properly debated, and it’s not surprising that the outcome embarrassed the EHPA (now EHTPA) as the majority of those attending held against regulation. Below is a transcript of my own submission to the meeting. What fascinated both myself and my peers was to see how little has changed in terms of argument or context in the ensuing years.

Stephen Church


‘First and foremost, I’m here to represent the interests of Carol’s & my patients – and they do not want us to be registered!

We live and work in the middle of what are officially the three worst Health Authorities in the country and most of our patients, (we calculate about 70%), have been injured, betrayed or simply abandoned by state-controlled medicine. Part of their choice in coming to see us is for the very reason that we are not controlled by the state.

They don’t want us to be hobbled by bureaucracy, they don’t want us to become more expensive, they don’t want any more tampering with our materia medica or our freedom to make medicines for them, they don’t want our good work to be meddled with in any respect – they just want us to be left alone to get on with treating them in the fashion they have come to love and trust.

So this is a human rights issue, relating to freedom of choice, and it’s a good and just choice, because like all our colleagues we do a great deal of good, but never any harm.

However, this principle of freedom of choice extends beyond our relationship with our patients. Herbal Medicine is the indigenous traditional healing system of the British Isles – the Folk Medicine, the medicine of the people. The National Institute of Medical Herbalists is not that tradition, nor even is professional herbal medicine at large – we’re just a part of it.

Herbal medicine happens on many other levels between ourselves and basic home self-help. Good professionals have always nurtured, supported and taught to all these other levels – but now we’re seemingly set on a course that will destroy much of the rest.

Seven years ago we stood hand in hand with our patients and the public to protest against legislation that would have removed a huge raft of herbal remedies from public access – and between us we won the day – in fact, my information is that we broke the British public’s lobbying record in doing so.

Now it seems that part of the SSR package is to nominate a great many herbs for “practitioner use only” – once again denying the public a freedom of choice. They will most certainly campaign again, but this time I’m expected to stand in opposition to them. That, I’m afraid, I cannot do.

We also have to consider the freedom of choice of future generations. I don’t know how long the Empire of the Capitalist West can sustain itself, but it’s already shown itself to be vulnerable and one day, (if we have learnt anything from history), fall it certainly will. Quite what use are we going to be then – if we have developed our own grinding bureaucracy, have all but merged with the orthodox model and become dependent on the phytopharmaceutical industry?

Carol & I are truly blessed to have the resources to grow and make most of our own medicines, and through this we can give witness to the fact that you could all but cut our practice off from the outside world and our patients would hardly notice the difference. Herbal Medicine’s great and enduring strength is that it can function to a high degree of sophistication on spectacularly low technology. Of course, Carol & I are not the only custodians of this priceless knowledge and together we are all determined to protect it and keep it safe, come what may. Where your own personal choices regarding SSR are concerned, you’re going to have to decide which way to go – to remain part of this timeless tradition, or to try something dangerously different – surely it must be clear that you can’t do both.

I just used the term, “personal choice”, and advisedly.  Many of you may not have realised that although the Institute has been a key player in the move towards SSR, when it comes to registration each and every one of you will be applying to be registered personally. So where we put our hands up at Institute AGMs and the like, we may have some small influence on the process – but ultimately each of us has our own very private decision to make – do I want to be a state-controlled herbalist or not?  I believe that if the answer is not, then no harm will come to you, because our patients and the public will defend you – as indeed I believe your own professional body should, SSR or no SSR.

Short of a miracle – and that miracle will have to start happening here today – Carol & I will be leaving the Institute shortly – it would be hypocritical to remain part of an organisation that continues to act contrary to our own fundamental principles.

But of course we’re concerned for the fate of herbal medicine as a whole – and we’re convinced that what we have here is already a runaway train careering towards disaster. SSR is too expensive and herbal medicine is too humble and too diverse. We’re also ignoring the fact that herbalists are by nature people who choose freedom – we don’t like being organised. But if we turn aside from SSR at the eleventh hour, (or heaven forbid the thirteenth hour when our registration papers arrive and we don’t fill them in), then disaster it will be.

Meanwhile, right now, herbalists out there are suffering – they’re not doing well and their plight is in great part due to neglect of their real needs by their own professional body. We’re also pouring out graduates from the various universities to get the numbers up, but again, we’re doing precious little to help them gain a living either. Instead all we have is the fond hope that once we’re registered, doctors will find work for us. You must be joking!

I’d like to reiterate that the last four speakers [opposing SSR] have elected to speak more briefly than we were invited to so that this meeting can be something that we’ve never had since the term SSR was first heard – a consultation with you, the present and future membership of the Institute, to find out what you think about it all.

By all means ask questions, but don’t accept any politician’s answers. There is clearly great unrest, which I think arises from the sense that our political helm is not representing our interests to the state, but are instead representing the interests of the state to us. We want answers to questions, but if Michael and his team can’t provide them, perhaps it’s not too late for us to start providing answers ourselves.

So an even greater priority is for us to place a hand on the reins and express openly what we do and don’t want from SSR, what we are prepared to sacrifice, what must not be sacrificed at any cost, and what we hope to gain – which so far as I can make out, is too little to even consider. If you don’t take courage and grasp the nettle now, there may never be another opportunity.

Good luck to you all, and thank you for listening so patiently. Now it’s over to you.’


Despite the clear message of dissent voiced at this meeting, it was ruthlessly ignored, so a few months later in the spring of 2002, (and in the midst of a great deal of unpleasantness), Carol and I did indeed leave NIMH. However, to our surprise, the editor of ‘Herbal Thymes’ (NIMH’s own internal newsletter) accepted and published this article from us in the February edition: –


Carol & I informed the Council of the Institute earlier this year that we would not be submitting to SSR and therefore must expect to leave the Institute shortly. We thought we were a voice in the wilderness when everybody else was in favour, or at least accepting of its inevitability. We’ve learnt a lot since then. We’ve found ourselves in surprisingly good company. If we’re used to being blanketed with motivational rhetoric from the Institute’s pro-SSR core then at least the present Council acknowledges the need for more information and a fair balance of opinion if we are all to be properly informed. In particular, we’ve found a culture of fear, based on the main political platform of SSR – that we must do or be done unto, and our only hope is to hide behind the skirts of the bullies. SSR is not inevitable. If there are enough people who really want it with their hearts, why should they not – but we can and must still insist on a safe haven for the tradition of herbal medicine. Clearly two heads cannot sit on the same shoulders. Here are some reasons why:-

What’s wrong with SSR?

Firstly, the ‘self regulation’ bit is just a smoke-screen – it’s ‘statutory’ that counts, and beware! Our understanding is that you will only be voting for a General Herbal Council to be set up – it will decide what it’s going to do later when we’ll have precious little influence. Herbalists will apparently not be in the majority on this Council, and the rest, the so-called ‘lay representation’ will be government appointees. So despite all the fine words, we’re looking at state registration & state control.

Why on earth should we choose to submit to state control at a time when the state concerned is so manifestly out of control?  Why should we become part of a process that one senior NHS worker referred to as ‘another example of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?’  Why, instead of the dream of ‘free herbal medicine for all’ are we willing to accept punitive charges for the privilege of being registered?  It’s our patients who will inevitably foot the bill.

Read any newspaper these days for increasing evidence that state registered medicine is not a guarantee of safe & ethical practice – whilst the Institute’s own matchless record will be sacrificed. Moving ever-closer to the orthodox model may amuse allopaths & academics but will not improve our effectiveness in practice. The promises of more doctor referrals or jobs within the NHS are ridiculous – such is their disappointment in this respect that Osteopaths are de-registering in droves – and allopaths feel even less kindly disposed towards herbal medicine!

The Principle of Freedom

As in most parts of the world herbal medicine is the indigenous traditional healing system of the British Isles – the folk medicine, the medicine of the people. Over the centuries we’ve proved particularly good at resisting attempts to persecute, hamper and legislate herbal medicine because ordinary people will fight for their innate right to reach out and pluck a plant for their nourishment and healing – and to seek sources of supply and the advice of experts if needs be.

Herbal medicine is practised at a continuum of levels from the humblest home self-help to the headiest heights of professional practice. Good practitioners have always nurtured and supported these different levels – and yet an inevitable consequence of state control is that much of the middle ground will be lost. Isn’t it telling that the only ‘perk’ of SSR on offer to date is that there will be more practitioner-only herbal remedies!

The key issue is not to do with the profession, or the state, or even the general public, but our patients. Freedom of choice! A substantial proportion of our patients have been injured, betrayed or abandoned by state-controlled medicine (or for other reasons are simply mistrustful of it) and a powerful motive for seeking our help is that we are not state-controlled. Ultimately everything we have solemnly sworn to is for the benefit of our patients – are we to abandon or betray them ourselves?

What’s the alternative?

One of the curiosities is that traditional herbal medicine, real herbal medicine is in amazing good shape at the moment. With the growing availability of organics, the proliferation of small fresh-herb manufacturers and more in-house medicine making, we have herbal remedies of a quality unimaginable even a few years ago. We have been able to access global ideas and resources with ease and have been enriched by the experience. Our contact with other traditional healing systems and their (often oppressed) practitioners continues to grow, and we link these inextricably with the concepts of ethnobotany, ecology & conservation, for which we take increasing responsibility. Holism has progressed from theoretical re-invention to a well-practised and highly effective model in which intuitive techniques, the concepts of energetics and an insistence on the indivisibility of body/mind/spirit have become routine to our work. We are no longer frightened of magic. A folk tradition is not an antique artifact, it’s a living thing that adapts to and is sustained by the times it finds itself in. We and our patients have something to be proud of and we will not relinquish it gladly.

SSR was never inevitable – one of the prerequisites is that a “substantial majority” of us must be in favour (in Civil Service terms this usually means over 70%). That would be hard to achieve within the Institute, let alone amongst the other herbalist bodies. The question now is, having considered the full implications, will we turn aside from it in unity, or are we facing another of herbal medicine’s famous schisms?  Either way, we have nothing to fear – as always, our patients and the public will protect themselves by protecting us if needs be.

A final thought: of late the world has been dominated not by western democracy but by western capitalism – and now the world economy is teetering on the brink of quite a precipice. In the face of such uncertainty gaining a top-heavy official structure, moving towards the allopathic model and increasing our dependency on the phytopharmaceutical industry sounds like entirely the wrong direction. Being the last drop of oil on a machine belching blue smoke is not a place in history to be savoured. Instead we must re-affirm herbal medicine’s unique value as a cheap and effective medical therapy that can function to a high degree of sophistication on remarkably low technology and with very little call on external structures or resources. Was there ever a greater need for the custodians of this extraordinary knowledge to keep its flame burning bright?

That is our determination, as we hope it may be yours.

Stephen & Carol Church


 Looking back, some of the language has changed (professional bodies rather than professional associations, for instance), and there are a few technical differences between SSR and the current proposals for SR: but the main tenet of the principled objections could have been written yesterday. In point of fact, the current ‘big push’ to achieve state sanction dates back a further 10 years to 1991, and the arguments were just the same then.

All that the latest round of lobbying has achieved is an undertaking from the Department of Health that a new working group will be set up (a working party is the start of a process, not the end-game!) Meanwhile, copying the ‘herbalists exemption’ piecemeal from the 1968 Medicines Act to the new Human Medicines Regulations 2012 doesn’t give a signal that change is imminent. Do you see a pattern developing here? Any committee work, any new public consultations, will doubtless carry through past the next general election, when the whole thing will start from the bottom again, if anybody still has the stamina for it. Whatever fate befalls the EHTPA, NIMH will surely carry on – its own history of petitioning for official recognition is now in its 150th year. 

If the context and the arguments have changed so little, the micro-environment of herbal medicine has changed quite a lot. The failed experiment of the BSc courses has come and largely gone again. Those manufacturers who opted to invest in pharmaceutical-style processes have not profited from it, or at least not from the practitioner market. For the PAs, their members probably account for less hours of herbal practice in the UK than at any other time in post-industrial history: the recession is blamed, rather than acknowledging the huge mistakes made, or the neglect of the real needs of their members for an entire generation. But the worst thing of all is the current political gambit of the pro-SR lobby, declaring that herbal medicine is inherently dangerous (on the grounds that only highly trained BSc graduates, subject to rigorous state control, can be trusted to handle this hazardous medium). This affects all of us, and it may take decades to restore public confidence.

To end on a positive note, there are not huge numbers around of the custodians of traditional herbal practice to which I referred 12 years ago, but they are able, busy and resilient, and there is plenty of fresh blood joining in. Then there is another unanticipated change – to which the Herbarium has contributed but is only a small part – the sudden expansion of the ‘middle ground’, (what PA members would no doubt dismiss scornfully as ‘lay practitioners’). This is a wonderfully colourful and expansive environment, proliferating through a huge network of personal blogs and websites. Whilst PAs and their executives still bleat on about standards, conformity and control, the middle ground, I am quite convinced, will provide the motive force for traditional herbal medicine’s future, and it is there, I would respectfully suggest, that anybody who loves it as I do should turn their attention.      

There used to be an impressive list of different gums from which gels could be made (although they weren’t called gels then), many with their own medicinal qualities. Some, like Gum Arabic, Gum Tragacanth or Guar gum are still available but, as in the past, are used for internal preparations such as mucilages, suspensions, emulsions etc. In modern times there are gel-forming substances that are cheap enough and easy enough to use to consider them as the base for external preparations, in much the same fashion as creams or ointments. There is an advantage in that they can be produced without the need for heat – making it possible to produce an external application very quickly on the spot. There may also be, for instance, delicate tinctures, infused oils or essential oils to incorporate that will not be damaged or dissipated in the same way as a hot process.



Carbomer is a synthetic polymer commonly supplied as a ready-mixed gel. It is mostly used in orthodox pharmacy as a base for eye medicaments. Whilst not a natural substance, it has the same advantages as the paraffins – it is not absorbed by the skin, inhibits bacterial growth and is hypoallergenic. No problems have been encountered in use – it has been popular for some time now with aromatherapists.

Carbomer gel is usually purchased as ‘Base Gel’ – or most herbalists prefer to buy ‘Base Aloe Gel’, in which Aloe juice (itself technically speaking a gel, just to confuse you!) has been incorporated in the aqueous fraction.

The joy of using Base Aloe Gel is that it will absorb unbelievable quantities of aqueous and oleaginous constituents simply by stirring them together (no heat required). As an experiment, the limits lie somewhere around 1 part gel, 2 parts water & I part oil – in other words, it will potentially take up 3 times its own volume and still form a stable gel. Extraordinary! Considering the ease and lack of equipment required, this is an invaluable tool in the dispensary, as you can produce an external preparation for a patient on the spot in just a minute or two once you’ve got the hang of it.

Base Aloe Gel is essentially cooling and anti-inflammatory, but the overall effect will depend on added constituents. The gel can be used on its own for anything (like burns or prickly heat) you’d just want to put the cooling, healing virtues of Aloe vera on, or you can add only aqueous constituents like tinctures or honey. However, it’s best to add at least a little vegetable (or herbal) oil if you want to spread the gel over any significant area – otherwise the end result can be a little lumpy on application, and will often dry out to quite a hard, shiny surface. The gel will also happily take up essential oils too, which should be restricted to a maximum 5%.

It’s easiest made up by placing all the added constituents in the bottom of an ointment jar, topping up with the gel, and stirring (e.g. with a glass stirring rod) until it’s all thoroughly mixed. Note that initially the whole thing can turn into a runny liquid, but persevere, and it will stiffen up again as you keep stirring. Note that you can’t add solids such as beeswax or cocoa butter – they would have to be melted first, and this is a cold preparation. Things you can add apart from the obvious tinctures and oils are honey (especially Manuka honey), Neem oil, Cider vinegar, powdered herbs – the possibilities are endless.

There’s not much point in giving a general formula as this is an almost infinitely adaptable medium, but for illustration, here are a couple of useful examples: –

Antifungal Gel

For athlete’s foot, ringworm, etc.

Base Aloe Gel


Tr Thuja occidentalis


VO Castor oil


EO Tea Tree


EO Patchouli



Read the rest of this entry »

Homemade soups are nutritious, cheap and easy to make. There are no added colourings, preservatives or chemical flavour enhancers as found in most shop bought soups, just real food. Like my approach to making jams & jellies, soups are a wonderful way to use up any small quantities of odds and ends and turn them into something unique, delicious and full of nourishment. It’s a great way to introduce infants and young children to vegetables! Young children should not have added salt, so remove their portion before adding stock cubes and seasoning, and liquidise or mash to the desired consistency.

Some recipes include specific herbs & spices but do take the opportunity to include anything you fancy anyway. Thyme and Winter Savory are particularly useful as they’re available fresh right through the winter. Parsley can be kept in the freezer simply by chopping it coarsely and bagging it. And then there’s my favourite, Lovage leaves, (which can also be frozen like Parsley). It’s delicious, adds an extra bit of ‘umami’ to any soup, and brings out the flavour of everything else.

A good hearty soup can make a full meal in itself when accompanied by a nice thick doorstep of fresh crusty bread – or use up some of the day-before-yesterday’s bread in the form of toast.

Anyway, at the time of writing it’s a cold November day, so I’m off to make some soup!

Carol Church

Leek & Potato Soup

This one is one of our favourites, and such a good winter standby, as leeks are so easy to grow and will sit there waiting to be used from September to March.

3 medium leeks

4-5 medium potatoes (I like King Edwards)

1 onion


Sunflower oil and butter

Salt, pepper (1 vegetable stock cube if preferred)

Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Peel and finely chop the onion. Prepare the leeks – strip off the outer leaves and remove the top growth an inch or two above the main stem. Run a knife through lengthways from the root to the green top. Half turn the leek and repeat. Run under cold water to get rid of any soil trapped between the layers of the leek. Shake off excess water. Chop crossways into small pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat approx 1 tablespoon sunflower oil and a knob of unsalted butter. Add the onion and potato and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring to prevent the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the leeks and continue to cook gently for a further few minutes until soft. Add approx 1½ pints (850ml) water, (and a stock cube if you’re using one). Stir, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 25-30 mins. Add salt and pepper as desired.  Serve.

Can be eaten either as a chunky soup, or liquidised (in a food processor, or using a hand blender) to a smooth creamy soup.

Read the rest of this entry »

This was a difficult article to write, partly because of the exceptionally high level of feedback from the rest of the Herbarium team, but mostly because it tried so hard to turn itself into a small book. I’ve confined myself to a single but telling aspect of the dialogue that the times demand. With the apparent mothballing of the Statutory Regulation process, the ongoing demise of the educational system created to serve it, and the meltdown of the herb trade in the wake of the THMPD, herbalists in the UK must pause to consider who and what we are, and where we’re going. Are the ‘professional’ herbalists of the last two centuries about to die out, and should we really mind? What sort of herbalists might replace them, and with what ethos? How would they learn their craft?

Stephen Church

In the early 1990s when I was working for NIMH and exploring what might have been a more inspiring model for professional development than is manifested these days, I spent some time with Crosby Chacksfield, an extraordinarily able educator who, amongst many useful things provided me with these two definitions: –

  • Competence: the ability to function satisfactorily in familiar circumstances.
  • Proficiency: the ability to function satisfactorily in both familiar and unfamiliar circumstances.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Competence is about applying established solutions to pre-defined problems. Competence can therefore be measured, so it is easy to document, easy to teach, and easy to assess. Competence is based on vertical thinking. Competence is also the territory of risk management, evidence-based processes and centralised control.

Proficiency, by contrast, is about having abilities both more profound and broad-based – acumen, skill, flair, and audacity – to work in unknown territory and still be able to move towards a positive outcome. Lateral thinking is required. Proficiency is hard to measure, teach or assess, although it can be exemplified, recognised, and ultimately approved (or, of course, disapproved when it doesn’t go well). Proficiency used to be the territory of the professional – individuals sufficiently highly educated, conditioned and motivated in their chosen field (teaching, law, medicine, etc) that they could be trusted to act according to the best of their ability with a high degree of autonomy. There was a framework of competencies, of course, but also clearly plenty of headroom for individual talent and experimentation.

In a way, my discussions 20 years ago might seem to have very little relevance now, as proficiency (and professionalism) have been thrust aside in favour of an almost fetish-like demand for competence. Why has this happened? My own guess at the reason is two-fold. It’s partly because we now live in a world where human organisation is based on central control, and you can only control what can be measured and assessed. At the same time, the computer/interweb environment is the modern way to administer these control systems – and computers cope brilliantly with the yes/no environment of competencies, but very poorly with the ‘it depends’ environment of proficiencies.  Which chicken came before which egg is hard to know, but one can easily see how much of the modern world of occupational and social order (or disorder!) is defined by competency-based systems, and how badly it has all gone wrong: it has caused the dumbing down of just about everything, and has contributed to the creation of pyramidal, over-bureaucratised systems that are now creaking under their own weight.  On a more parochial level, one observes that workers in those fields that touch closely on herbal medicine – teachers, midwives, nurses, even doctors themselves, have had their status insidiously eroded by a process of de-professionalisation as proficiency has been sacrificed on the altar of competence. One also notices how much the demand for ever more detailed definition and evidence of competency has been done in the name of safety, and yet this process has manifestly failed to make the world a safer place.

Read the rest of this entry »

The disagreement between herbalists who want to be recognised by the state and those who don’t want to be organised is as old as the hills. Those of you who have willed for statutory regulation (SR) are on the eve of achieving your dream, and we hope you will make the very best you are able of the trials and the opportunities it will present. However, there is one last bit of business to attend to, which might even unite us briefly, in countering the proposal to reform Section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968. We hope you will take up this cause as it profoundly affects the future and security of those choosing to work in a regulated environment, as well as the rest of us.

Firstly, here is Section 12(1) itself:

Section 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.’

Secondly, here is an extract from the statement released by the MHRA on February 16th 2011:

‘If practitioner regulation is in place for the purposes of creating an Article 5(1) scheme this also opens the way to reform Section 12 (1) of the Medicines Act 1968. Under Section 12 (1), practitioners may prepare unlicensed herbal medicines on their own premises for use following consultation with individual patients. It is intended to move to the position that only registered practitioners would be able to operate under Section 12 (1) after regulation of practitioners is in place.’*

*Greater detail on the background to this, for instance, what Article 5(1) is all about, is covered in ‘Statutory Regulation Facts & Fictions’. Meanwhile, here’s our analysis of the current situation:

Why we all need to keep Section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968 unchanged

To the UK Government: Reforming 12(1) is not necessary to comply with the Traditional Herbal Medicine Products Directive (THMPD). Restricting all unlicensed medicines to the exclusive use of regulated practitioners would effectively outlaw the many herbalists who will not register with the HPC. This is not simply a matter of bowing to pressure groups or even the wishes of the majority:  it’s also important to protect individual choice, applicable where such choices neither cost the public purse nor cause harm. Those who for whatever reason choose to consult with unregulated herbalists should still be able to do so legally under the caveat emptor principle, thus upholding fairness and common law rights. It also avoids the future potential embarrassment of prosecuting UK citizens for doing no harm.

It is clear from the disclusion of acupuncturists from the regulatory process that the Department of Health sees no need to regulate complementary therapies per se. To regulate herbalists beyond what is required to comply with the THMPD makes a mockery of the principle of proportional legislative impact, and thus inexplicably discriminatory.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s something of a departure to have recipes in the Herbarium that don’t necessarily contain herbs. Why? Making food from locally sourced fruit is a nice contribution to the sort of self-reliant, eco-friendly life-style that we’re trying to foster. But we’re also mindful of Hippocrates’ edict – ‘All good foods are medicines, and all good medicines are foods‘. Herbalists are certainly proud of the nutritive virtues of herbal medicines – but the food on our table should also be good for us too. A more modern edict is to ‘eat colour‘ – and the pigments in our own homegrown berry fruits offer a fantastic range of antioxidants – there’s really no need to take exotic imported supplements when we have our own superfoods growing in our gardens and hedgerows. One of the revelations from making your own preserves and puddings is the stunning range of oranges and reds and purples, deep and glowing.

2010 has been a particularly good year for fruit – both home grown and foraged. From the garden we’ve picked strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, apples, pears & cherries; from next door’s garden – greengages, crabapples & quinces; and foraged from the Downs – sloes, rosehips and more blackberries.


Making jams and jellies can be a bit of a mission in the large quantities you usually find in recipe books. What I’ve found is that using really basic techniques and equipment it’s easy to produce a jar or two whilst cooking the evening meal! Just as important, I try hard to use whatever fruits are available on the day, so they’re nice and fresh and I can choose to mix them together as well – so every ‘recipe’ is likely to be different, but the technique is always the same.

I’ve generally speaking used imperial rather than metric measurements because most kitchen equipment (and most jam jars) are still in the ‘old’ pounds and ounces.

Like all cooking, it helps enormously to make sure you’ve assembled everything you need before you start, and that it’s all nice and clean.



  • A large saucepan (jam expands a lot when boiling).
  • Measuring jug.
  • Kitchen scales.
  • Jars & lids (recycled is fine).
  • Labels.
  • Jam funnel (helpful but not essential).



  • Fruit, prepared as necessary (always unblemished & ripe).
  • Sugar: everyday white granulated is recommended, being inexpensive, but the choice is yours. Preserving sugar or invert sugar are unnecessary.
  • Lemons (to squeeze for juice). Note that lemon juice is usually added as a source of pectin (essential for the jam to set). Few home-grown fruits contain enough of their own pectin.



The ‘magic proportion’ of ingredients is simplicity itself – always use equal parts of fruit and sugar and you can’t go wrong. The basic method below calls for 3lb fruit and 3lb sugar, which should yield about 5 lbs of jam (the missing 1lb is lost through evaporation). It helps to know this so that you can have the right number of sterilised jars waiting. However (and this is the whole point!) you can use any amount of fruit, however large or small, so long as you stick to the 1:1 ratio with sugar. For instance, I’ve just picked what turned out to be 9.4 oz of raspberries (that’s all there were today), so with the same weight of sugar and a dash of lemon juice, the result (rather neatly, I thought) just squeezed into a 1lb jar. It took me less than half an hour. Lovely!

Read the rest of this entry »


Medicinal fungi have vanished completely from mainstream UK Herbal Medicine during the past century or more. One can only guess at the reasons – they may not lend themselves to commercial cultivation, there are potentially hazardous consequences from misidentification, and the strong psychoactive effects of many common indigenous fungi may have associated them too strongly with witchcraft. The reasons for their return are simpler to identify – namely, the cross-influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where fungi are not uncommon, the availability of comprehensive modern photographic field guides, the current popularity of ‘fungus forays’, and the pioneering work of a handful of modern herbalists, notably the great Christopher Hedley.

Medicinal fungi are worthy of interest as they can clearly be very useful: most have powerful trophorestorative effects to the immune system, especially in the context of cancer; some are additionally anti-microbial, or have tonic nervine properties, or benefit the cardiovascular system, for instance.

Having said all this, we are covering only one species here, and it’s timely to review Herbarium policy again: a discipline is imposed that nothing will be detailed unless it is based on personal experience, and ideally the consequence of several seasons of observation and adaptation. However, this protocol does not assume that the practitioner concerned must be one of the Herbarium editors, so we hope this section can soon expand.

Artist’s Bracket, Ganoderma applanatum – 1:3 25%, 3 – 4 weeks           

The Artist’s Bracket is a tough and woody fungus, parasitic on the bark of mature deciduous trees, in particular beech, and occasionally on fallen hardwood trunks. Those found close to the ground in public places should be avoided as they are a favourite target for passing dogs. It’s large, (look for something the size of a dinner-plate!), and so firmly attached to the tree it’s best to take a club hammer and cold chisel out with you, (along with a field guide to fungi until you are confident with identification). It can be harvested most months of the year, but early Autumn is most likely to yield examples of good size that have not started to decay.

Ganoderma is one of the most difficult subjects to comminute – the easiest way is to chop it into strips with a hand axe or chisel and feed these into a garden shredder, passing it through two or three times. Otherwise settle down to a lot of painstaking work with a sharp cleaver or chisel, aiming at thin slivers. Give it a good long maceration. You may want to experiment with higher concentrations of alcohol (references can be found to tincturing other fungi with 45% or more), or you might like to try the ‘Combined Macerated & Decocted Extract’ described in the ‘Tinctures & Fluid Extracts’ section, as it should yield the broadest spectrum of active constituents this way.

Ganoderma applanatum is closely related to G. lucidum, the Reishi mushroom so highly prized in TCM and the subject of copious research. This is a relatively rarer find in the UK (where we call it the Lacquered Bracket), and is most likely to be found on exposed roots of deciduous trees. Although the Artist’s Bracket is not so well researched, it has almost identical uses, and given the poor quality of dried Reishi imported into the UK, can be considered superior for our purposes, particularly for support of the immune system. One may also find G.adspersum, (syn. australe), mostly near the base of deciduous trees and often identified by the copious ‘cocoa powder’ spore deposits on the trunk; or the rarer G. pfeifferi on Oak stumps. It seems that they are all very similar therapeutically, as is the Birch Polypor, Piptoporus betulinus.

Drop-dose Tinctures, ‘Minimaxes’ & Flower Essences

Herbal practice in the UK is mainly concentrated on use of the tincture, dosed by the spoonful. In the 20th century, a ‘standard’ tincture had a strength of 1:5 – in the 21st, the standard is rapidly approaching 1:2. We still use our capsules full of powdered herbs, but again, we are under pressure to use tablets & capsules of the new enhanced extracts manufactured by the phyto-pharmaceutical industry. This situation moves us towards viewing herbal remedies simply as products, and to assess the therapeutic potency of these products according to levels of drug-like pharmacological action they have on us, side-effects and all.

This is an unwanted departure from the terrain of traditional herbalists, who celebrate an intimate relationship with living plants, and go to great efforts to ‘capture the imponderables of life’. Although we have a good understanding of gross pharmacology we also develop a fine appreciation of the subtle energies of each plant (just as we do the subtle energies of our patients). The more we go on, the more we come to appreciate that subtle effects can often prove more healing than gross ones, and that these effects are not dependent on dose, but on the vitality of the herbal medicine.

Producing the optimum quality from the living plant is in part the function of the body of knowledge conveyed regarding plant condition, harvesting times and techniques, comminution & production processes, and so on. However, one of the biggest single influences on absolute quality is intention. This is a concept alien to western material science but is dignified both by common observation and also the new science, quantum physics. When a herbalist has personally shared a plant’s journey from seedling to full bloom, perhaps many times over, has taken it from harvest to dispensing shelf in an aware and aspirational fashion, and has shared the wish with the patient for a healing union between herb and human, only then can the full potential of plant healing be realised. This is not to say that, for instance, a grower/producer or another practitioner might not play an integral part in this chain of events, but it will rely on a relationship intimate and healthy enough to ‘pass the baton’ intact.

Read the rest of this entry »


It’s often quipped that Holism is something that others say, but only herbalists do. There is some truth in this – herbal medicine is the broadest and most versatile of therapies, whilst close observation of the plant world tends to lead us towards a more open and inclusive world-view. Holism is the ideal context in which to practise herbal medicine – formalised paradigms ultimately limit potential and ‘lower the ceiling’ on what can be achieved with herbs. It’s amusing to note how often holism is quoted as the antithesis of reductionism (the prime methodology of western material science). This is not true: reductionism is an aspect of holism, albeit a small one, that in the grand scale of things needs to be kept firmly in its place.

Holism is not a paradigm, it’s a philosophy – albeit the most all-embracing of philosophies – embodied in the disarmingly simple statement, ‘everything is connected to everything else’. Nevertheless what follows is one of a number of versions of the ‘Paradigm of Holism’, having its origins in the 1970s when work first started to reestablish holistic principles in western healing traditions. This said, as a series of affirmations, characteristic of holism and of critical interest to practitioners of all sorts, it serves as a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration: –

  • Each patient is treated as a unique whole person – body, mind and spirit, – and in the context of family, community, culture and environment.
  • Holistic medicine emphasises the responsibility of each individual for his or her own health. Good therapy promotes understanding and self-care rather than treatment and dependence. Holistic medicine uses therapeutic approaches that mobilise the individual’s innate capacity for healing.
  • Holistic medicine promotes health as a positive state, not just an absence of disease. Likewise illness is seen as an opportunity for discovery as well as a misfortune.
  • Holistic medicine acknowledges that the cornerstones of health are good nutrition, good exercise, good relaxation and good sleep.
  • Holistic medicine makes use of perceptions and diagnostic systems additional to those validated by western material science.
  • Holistic medicine emphasises the potential therapeutic value of the setting in which health care takes place.
  • Holistic medicine demands an understanding of and a commitment to change those social, economic and environmental conditions that perpetuate ill health.
  • Holistic practitioners are not judgmental – rather they assist their patients in pursuing their own life choices according to their own beliefs.
  • Holistic medicine transforms its practitioners as well as its patients.


Blog Stats

  • 712,271 hits