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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 (www.transitiontowns.org) 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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