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The Time to Re-weave Our Spirit of Co-operation – A way to rebuild and strengthen our lost communities.

In our introduction to The Herbarium we state that it is the creation of a small autonomous group of independent herbalists, who have come together in the spirit of co-operation, to share knowledge and resources, and find different ways of organizing ourselves in a rapidly changing world.  We would like to expand this concept of co-operation to inspire, support and facilitate others to venture into a constructive relationship with each other and the communities in which we find ourselves, that transcend current limitations such as cyber communities or the restrictions and differences we may place unintentionally between members of different organizations and individual herbalists.  We value communities grounded in real people and the earth.

Human beings are social animals, and we can achieve much if we participate and work co-operatively with each other, especially if we are clear about our common intent and aims, which are ideally for the ‘greater good’.  We are clear we do not have prescriptive answers or solutions, but rather we echo the Transition Town ethos – where as a community of people involved in herbalism at many levels we identify the issues that are of concern, and then in an inclusive and collective manner find the solutions that work at a grass roots level.  We would postulate that we have lived for too long under the restrictive view of one reality that asserts itself as the only one, i.e. that life on our planet is one of competition, survival of the fittest, one of control and domination of the Other, a reality that has built in victimhood and disempowerment at its core.  However, we need to explore other realities and many, ranging from those at the edge of scientific research to those who keep the ancient indigenous wisdom alive, confirm that while the energies of the Universe may be constantly changing the ethos is one of co-operation and harmony, albeit it a delicate one in human hands.  The current human predilection for  ‘ruling elites’ is a dead end for human evolution, being based on fear and control which is life sapping and a block to creativity, full vitality and empowerment.

All our current ways of being are, and will continue to be, put under great challenges and much needed questioning.  Let us reflect that at the moment, most of our social and political structures are based on paying (usually) distant others to do something for us – along with the assumption that our needs will be met and taken care of.  It is all the ‘they & them’ who control our lives, whether that be central or local government, power suppliers, health services, schools, various regulatory bodies etc.  Most of these systems are motivated by wealth creation and the social-political forms of control are predominantly fear based.   As we can see from the current economic situation, those who were assumed to be the ‘experts’ actually have had a poor understanding of what they purported to control and that the whole system is driven by selfish and individualistic needs to acquire more (illusory) excessive wealth for a few at the top.  As this ineffective state of affairs unravels we have experienced for example the scandal of MP’s expenses, the continuing issue of banker’s bonuses, the bizarre handling of swine ‘flu and vaccination programmes.  Entangled with many of these events, and maybe typified by the MPs expenses was the cry “I was only following the rules”, this is a dangerous place where we negate our personal and collective responsibility and integrity.  Then there is the disempowering ethos of governing bodies that proclaim they know what is best for us, and if we should raise questions then it must be we who are at fault.  All these activities consume vast amounts of money (usually taxpayers) and time, let alone the diversion caused by the obsession with targets.  All this is a distraction from humans using their time in an effective and creative way to find real solutions.

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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.
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Herbal Medicine, like everything else, needs to have a policy towards climate change and, more pressingly, the effects of passing peak oil production and the consequent influences of energy descent. We are also starting to see evidence of an equal anxiety, that of unsustainable bureaucracy. Herbal medicine in its own small way can observe at first hand the effects of incomprehensible, ambiguous and conflicting regulations. Heedlessly unjust, antisocial, counter-environmental and petty, they are surely accelerating towards collapse. In the interim, this obsession with regulation of both herbal practitioners and suppliers edges us closer to the orthodox models of globalisation of supply and demand and a high-technology, high-energy approach to the way we go about our business – entirely in the opposite direction to what, in our deeply considered opinion, will be needed (whether we like it or not). We can either start rehearsing our own necessary adaptations in an imaginative and well co-ordinated fashion or we can complacently wait for the worst to befall us from dramatic & sudden changes in socio-economic forces. Suppliers, like practitioners, all have different starting points – but we think it’s clear that there is a line we all have to travel down together.

We believe that herbalists and their suppliers should be at the cutting edge of environmental initiatives. This, regrettably, is not the case. Even now the majority of the medicines available to practitioners from commercial suppliers are not grown organically. Too little attention is paid to sustainability issues, fair working conditions for third world growers and producers, carbon footprinting of herbal supplies, and so on. The situation is even worse where the over-the-counter trade (that supplies the public) is concerned.
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This, the third of the “Greening” discussion papers, is the outcome of a fascinating and impassioned consultation. It has resulted in a very lengthy document, rightly so as it lies at the heart of the resurgence of the living tradition of herbal medicine, and touches it at all levels. Equally, gardening is a complex subject even given a specific environment or context. For those of us confined to a scrape of barren and neglected urban soil, huge efforts will be required to create humus and fertility, correct deficiencies, reduce infections and infestations, and so on. More rural folk blessed with a deep and fertile soil are hardly bothered by any of these considerations – nothing needs to be added or changed, herbs will happily push their way in gay profusion through the weeds, and the winter die-back can be left for the wildlife to enjoy. We may experience extremes of alkaline or acid soil. We may choose to use simple organic husbandry, raised-bed systems, companion planting, permaculture, biodynamics, gardening by the moon or just our own idiopathic approach. We clearly can never be comprehensive and certainly not definitive – nevertheless gardeners are fascinated by gardening and all opinions are gratefully received and duly considered. For this reason we have included a “Hot Tips” section at the end of the document which we expect never to stop growing.

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Warning bells have been ringing regarding Climate Change for over 30 years now. There are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide but none so predominant, this being primarily the consequence of burning the planet’s stocks of carbon-based fossil fuels so heedlessly since the Industrial Revolution. Some experts hold that this human activity has not significantly affected the climate at all or, at the other extreme, that we have set off a chain reaction that remedial efforts can no longer influence. Either way, global weather systems are becoming increasingly chaotic, and whatever the cause we still have to plan to adapt to the consequences. It should also be observed that whatever we might be doing to the upper atmosphere, there is a miscellany of harmful pollutants at ground level that still need urgent attention.

Another more imminent crisis is that the modern consumer-driven, global economy – dependent on economic growth and powered by all this fuel – is itself no longer sustainable. The near-collapse of the global banking system shows how vulnerable the super-systems by which we are organized and controlled have become. We will be keeping a watching brief on the complex interrelationship between environment, energy and economy in The Herbarium, in what will surely prove a rapidly changing landscape.

Meanwhile, ‘Transition Herbal Medicine’ is all about herbal medicine’s own contribution to the quest for solutions. We are grateful for the inspiration lent by the Transition Town movement – based on the ideas that individuals within their local communities can address and make a real difference to these problems by asserting greater responsibility for themselves, fostering a process of relocalisation, and reducing environmental impact. It’s at this level that we’re most likely to be able to learn how to consume less without it all being doom and gloom – there are genuine positive outcomes to be had as well. There is more, of course, so do please look at the Transition Town website ( and also check what Transition activity is going on near you.

So, what part are herbalists going to be playing in this new low-carbon, environmentally responsible, relocalised, community-based habitat? Quite an important one, we’d guess, if we grasp the nettle. Inevitably our ideas are formative, but will firm up as theory becomes practice.

Restoring and adapting our knowledge base

Herbal medicine’s great strength is that it remains an effective and viable medicinal therapy using the most basic technologies, with minimal demand for energy or external supplies and resources. We need to synthesise the best of the ‘old ways’ with the best of modern knowledge and skills. We need to return to making our own medicines for ourselves with low-energy processes based on organic, locally grown herbs. (This is in sharp contrast to the globally sourced, industrial processed herbal products that projected legislation would compel us to use). We need to turn aside from the exotic imports so familiar on our dispensing shelves, and revitalise our understanding and use of indigenous herbs. This is not just a case of reviewing the knowledge of the ancients, but in exploring herbs as a local resource we reconsider them in the face of changing patterns of health and illness.

It also has to be said that mainstream herbal medicine has become debased of late by the pressure for us to work in a more doctor-like fashion, diagnosing according to orthodox syndromes, and treating according to evidence derived from scientific research – as opposed to traditional knowledge. This has demonstrably lowered the ceiling on what can be achieved with herbal medicine, and we urgently need to re-skill (right now, let alone in the future!) according to vitalistic principles and holistic perspectives.

Fortunately, these are all readily achievable objectives. Herbal medicine is blessed with a huge archive of relevant recorded material and thankfully, here and abroad, there are plenty of experienced practitioners who have continued to work as the custodians of herbal medicine as a living tradition.

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– Fostering Autonomy, Accountability and Self-Reliance among Western Herbalists


Most Western Herbalists in the UK belong to Professional Associations (PAs). These organisations are currently very proactive in pursuing the regulation of herbalists and their medicines by the state.

The purpose of this document is to set out an alternative framework by which herbalists can organise themselves, one that avoids unnecessary state interference or the pitfalls manifested by the hierarchical organisation of existing PAs.

Brief Analysis of the Current Situation

At present we have a fractured (and sick) community of herbalists. Most herbalists work in isolation and have infrequent contact with their peers and elders. Most PAs, nominally the prime custodians of herbal medicine, are currently dominated by a status-driven minority that is out of touch with the needs and aspirations of most rank-and-file members. Herbalists have for a long time been told that statutory regulation (SR) is inevitable. This has tended to a sense of apathy among the majority and a helpless assent to a flawed legislative programme. In consequence, if these plans come to fruition, PA members will soon be compelled to enrol with the Health Professions Council (HPC) – an organisation offering the same centralised, top-down hierarchical structure as allopathic medicine, the NHS in general, and just about everything else that has failed to escape the attention of modern government.

We decline to accept the so-called ‘professionalisation’ of herbal medicine under the above arrangements, which is damaging to the interests of patients and practitioners alike. As practitioners we attempt to empower our patients by promoting autonomy, self-accountability and self-reliance. Thus it would be incongruous for us to voluntarily enter into arrangements designed to disempower us as people. We believe that it would not be possible to maintain our integrity as practitioners while being members of the HPC, an organisation whose norms and procedures would undermine our core values.

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