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I wrote about the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees in my article on beekeeping in 2009, see 7. Articles (f) Beekeeping.     Now in 2013 neonicotinoid pesticides are in the news and an EU ban on the 3 most toxic will come into force in December, and will last for 2 years.  This is a start.  Neonicotinoids should never have been approved for use.  Regulation (EC) No.1107/2009 Annexe II Criteria for approval p.43 states that “A plant protection product should not be persistent in the environment”.  The persitance criterion is fulfilled where the half-life in soil is less than 120 days.  Neonicotinoids are very persistent, clothianidin (produced by Bayer in 2003, when their patent protection for imidacloprid expired) has a half-life of over 500 days (in some cases persisting for over 3 years):  it is also toxic to earthworms, ants and collembola (springtails), and can build up in the soil year on year affecting (and expressed in) any following crop or wildflower.  They are soluble in water which means that water sources can be contaminated by field run-offs or overspray, potentially devastating aquatic life.  Many different products are produced including seed dressings, foliar sprays, soil drenches, turf applications, home and garden uses, and veterinary products (i.e.  pet’s flea treatment).

Bayer reportedly made US $830 million for sales of imidacloprid and US$267 million for clothianidin in 2010.  In the UK cropland treated with neonicotinoids went from 0.65% in 1994 to 30% in 2010    (3 million acres).

It is argued that there is no proof that bee colonies have been badly affected by neonicotinoids:  this is not true.  North Dakota beekeepers took Bayer to court in 1995 when rapeseed crops were sprayed with imidacloprid and they lost their colonies of bees.  The US has colony collapse disorder (CCD) and a study funded by Harvard Centre for the Environment in 2010 found that when  16 colonies of bees were exposed to low levels of imidacloprid, 15 died out within 23 weeks with identical characteristics to CCD*.   France lost one-third of its commercial honeybees in 1999 following widespread use of imidacloprid as a seed dressing for sunflowers.  In Germany 8 different seed treatments containing neonicotinoids were banned for use on sweet corn following honey bee deaths (11,000 colonies).  Similar die-offs have been reported in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, Belgium, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Japan, China and India.  Japanese ecologists are pressing for a ban.

Many independent studies have found that neonicotinoids affect the nervous system of bees, disrupting foraging, orientation and causing premature death.  Guttation drops (like sweat on the leaves) on treated sweet corn plants will kill thirsty bees within minutes.  No-one has been able to test the effects on developing bees fed contaminated pollen but it is thought that the bees immune systems are compromised, causing increased susceptibility to diseases – and increased levels of the gut pathogen nosema are seen.

In Italy neonicotinoid maize seed treatment was banned in 2008, since then bee populations have been recovering.   The monitoring network APENET reported bee deaths in maize growing areas were reduced to zero during the growing period and winter losses declined from 37.5% to 15% in 2010-11.  APENET has also found that farmers’ untreated maize crops did not suffer reduced yield and productivity was high.  They concluded that banning neonicotinoids on maize greatly reduced bee mortality and by rotating crops pests were kept under control and yields maintained.

Although a 2-year ban is due from this December we should not become complacent.  Britain did not vote for this ban, we abstained.  Two years is not enough given the long lasting contamination of the soil.  Unfortunately politicians seem to be influenced by corporate interests rather than the public or the environment.  The public can make a difference checking ingredients and refusing to buy products containing neonicotinoids (i.e. in garden pesticides and spot-on flea treatments).  There is evidence of adverse health effects on mammals.  Gestational exposure in rats to a single dose of imidacloprid “produced significant neurobehavioral deficits and pathological alterations in their offspring”.    Treated maize is fed to cows and they provide us with milk and meat.

The plight of honeybees has caught the public imagination partly because they are such good pollinators of our food crops.  All other pollinating insects are suffering too and so are birds, bats and amphibians.  You might want to watch an American video “Vanishing of the Bees” online at

*In Situ Replication of Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, by C. Lu, K. Warchol and R. Callahan, Bulletin of Insectology, June 2012.

For the names of all the different neonicotinoid pesticides see Wikipedia online.

Sally Viney


For several years I have been involved with a group of herbalists providing herbal first aid and acute medicine services at some of the summer festivals, including Glastonbury and The Big Green Gathering. The group was started by friend and experienced herbalist Dedj Leibbrandt and operates out of a converted caravan. A geodesic dome and a large tent combine to provide a consultation and treatment/observation area, a chill out and rest area where patients and the public can drink a selection of herb tea blends (we usually concoct various combinations on the spur of the moment!) and a catering area where we are all fed and watered after a hard day’s work. The caravan’s well stocked dispensary has a comprehensive selection of herbal tinctures (some of which are pre-formulated mixes), some dried herbs, essential oils, infused oils and creams. We also carry a selection of wound dressings, latex gloves, Mefix tape for securing dressings, bottles for dispensing the herbs into, and various other bits and pieces which come in handy.

Herbal first aid and acute medicine are an entirely different ball game to working in a clinic, where the vast majority of the patients have chronic, long standing illnesses. With herbal first aid, you get to deal with all those gory and gruesome things like wounds, burns and abscesses that you don’t tend to see in clinics! But once you get your head around the difference in therapeutic approach, herbal first aid is quite easy – what you see is what you treat. If someone has burnt themselves, for instance, you don’t need to know years of background to their complaint, minute details of their diet, or their family history. Once some basic information has been collected, all you do is treat the burn.

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…and any other fowls you may care for.

Credit for much of the information in this article must go to Kath Irvine, a passionate permaculture-transition gardener, and Ali Sutherland, herbalist and pharmacist, who have both been inspirational contacts since my family’s relocation to New Zealand.  Over here many homes have a few chooks scratching around to provide them with healthy, affordable eggs. Kath’s years of hard learned experience is shared by her through her workshops – and website, .

Whether you already have (or aspire to have) a few feathered and hopefully egg-laying friends, the information contained herein will provide a guide to maintaining a healthy flock, with a few hemisphere-specific plants thrown in, so common sense adaptations are allowed.  Hopefully feeding herbs to chickens escapes whatever crazy regulatory frameworks various governments try to impose. (Telling chickens what herbs they can or cannot eat would be an interesting dance to watch).  Not all the advice below is strictly herbal but is all good holistic natural stuff.

Chickens eat green plants!  So why not grow plants they need to keep them in top health, and reduce the likelihood of worms and mites, etc?  As a wise Greek chook keeper may have said, “let food be their medicine and medicine be their food”. Whilst on a philosophical note, chickens are happiest and healthiest in the rare circumstances where they are able to range freely during daylight hours – fencing them in is only for the convenience of humans, and/or to keep predators out. So do try to give them as much space as is practicable, with plenty of mixed flora to keep them well nourished and interested.  I could have written more about chicken housing and land management from a permaculture perspective, but it’s not strictly herbal so you can explore these further by reading on the subject – Kay Baxter is a Kiwi who has written from experience on these matters… and the use of “chook tractors”.

All the following suggestions can be adapted according to how much land and space you have. Plants can be grown specifically in chicken runs as a food crop, or alongside protected runs that chooks can peck at through chicken wire – or plants can be grown in trays and taken to them. A word of sensible advice to stop the total destruction of perennials is to cage the base of the plants, thus letting the plant grow up through it and the happy hens only get to peck the top layers. Also plan the usage of land and growing according to seasonal needs.

Essential herbs are chickweed, comfrey, elder, feverfew, garlic, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, tansy and wormwood. Also valuable are cleavers, clover, kale, rocket, silver beet and spinach – and for us Kiwis, kikuya, puha and Wandering Jew. Recommended grains are barley, buckwheat, maize, millet, quinoa, and wheat. To complete the list, consider sunflower, Jerusalem artichokes and fruit trees.

N.B. Garlic is often recommended, and for many purposes – but it will impart its flavour to eggs – nice in omelettes, not so nice in cakes!

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by Gail Faith Edwards

Paul Bergner of the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism recently posted an interesting paper entitled How to Become a Master Herbalist in Thirty Years or More. Bergner begins Part I of his paper with the declaration that Western Herbalism is dying in North America and Britain. He argues that 90% of our herbal knowledge has “gone down the drain.” While I am not sure I agree with him, I do think his ideas are worth considering.

Bergner sites an example of the rigorous and diligent study required of herbal students in earlier times and states that without this level of rigor in study and practice, leading to mastery of our subject, our profession is doomed. He goes on to discuss the deepening process that takes place over many years of study and practice and how important this is for current and succeeding generations of herbalists.

In Part II of Bergner’s paper he asks – What are some of the routines, practices, disciplines that can lead to progressive development of an herbal career and lead to mastery in the field?

Like Bergner, I too am an elder herbalist “focused on training a younger generation in the routines, practices and attitudes that will lead to mastery.” As such, I would like to address his timely and thought provoking question here.

1 – Sense of Place. The cultivation of a deep sense of place is invaluable for an herbalist. We all emerge out of an eco system, a bioregion, we are all connected elementally, as well as ethereally, to our surroundings, to our place. Understanding this sense of place and how it relates to plants and people is an important part of the herbalist’s path. It is often overlooked, as when a woman in north-eastern America is offered an herb that grew in South Africa as a remedy for her ills. Cultivate a sense of place, its critical to understanding the actions as well as possible effects of combining individual plants and people.

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Heather Ellemor-Collins lives in The Channon, near Lismore in New South Wales, Australia. By British standards this is pretty remote, and the climate is subtropical. Her journey in herbal medicine since graduating from Southern Cross University is fascinating – some problems (and triumphs) are familiar territory, others are unique to this very different geographical and social environment.

The Past

When my first child, Miriam, was an infant, I set about establishing an herb garden and making my own tinctures.  I tried to do everything with the best quality ingredients I could source.  I bought organic alcohol from the sugar cane industry in Australia.  I made fresh plant tinctures, as per Stephen & Carol Church’s protocol, with herbs I could grow or wildcraft in large enough quantities. I made other tinctures with premium quality dried herbs from Tasmania.

I did much alone, and much with my friend and colleague Terri Nicholson, which was a wonderful experience.  We’d get together and press a series of macerated tinctures while our kids played together, and we could share our excitement as we saw our plants thrive, and our sadness or confusion as others perished.  We sampled and compared our tinctures, as sometimes we used different alcohol percentages to each other.  We waded through her dam to harvest an as-yet-unidentified Nymphea sp.  We freely drank the excess licorice tincture that wouldn’t fit in the bottles, and enjoyed its delicious flavour and its relaxing effects.  I would be much poorer as an herbalist without this companionship. The journey of the witch and scientist within is strange and wonderful, and sharing it with another of your own kind only makes it more so!

In total, I have so far grown about 70 herbs and made 70 tinctures.  I’m happy with that number so far.  Sometimes there are herbs I don’t have and want to put in a mix, and I buy them from town.  But you can do a lot with 70 good herbs.  I think knowing a moderate selection of herbs really intimately and depending less on access to a growing number of herbs, many of which are imported, is one of the keys to sustainable herbal medicine.  I certainly have a completely different relationship with herbs I have grown and loved and then made into medicines than herbs I know exclusively from information on paper and an industrial tincture. Using my own herbs, I feel like an herbalist. I give plants I know and love to people I care about.  Using foreign herbs from bottles, I feel a bit like a thief and a phytopharmaceuticalist.  How would I even know if the tincture really tastes like the plant or not?

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Herbarium Technique

Making a herbarium is exciting and rewarding, as each plant you press provides you with a valuable experience, allowing you to connect more closely with the plant through observing and working with it, and helping you to understand and remember it in a way that is never possible from just reading about it in a book. It consists of a three part process – collecting the plant material, pressing & drying, and mounting. Here are my recommendations learned via experience and years advising students and receiving their helpful feedback.

Niki Lawrence


Materials list for plant collecting: –

  • Plant press
  • Plastic bags
  • Garden secateurs & trowel
  • Small note book & pencil
  • Jeweller’s tags (optional)
  • Camera (optional)
  • GPS & altimeter (optional)

Plants chosen should be good representatives of the species and should contain all the essential features necessary for identification, i.e. leaves, stems, flowers & seeds (+ roots if suitably small and the plant is common and abundant).

Collecting too many plant specimens during field trips is wasteful; it is recommended that you collect only about three samples of your chosen species to ensure you have adequate space in the plant press and sufficient time and attention to devote to each specimen. Taking 4 – 10 specimens is standard practice for official herbarium collectors as usually one specimen is given as a courtesy to the nearest herbarium in the region or country of origin and another is lodged with the main official herbarium in your own country (e.g. Kew Gardens Herbarium), and another might be sent to a specialist to view.

Sexuality: Remember to check if your plant is bisexual, or if it is monoecious (sex organs on different flowers but on the same plant), or dioecious (plants contain either male or female flower but not both). For example, Urtica dioica (Nettle) is dioecious so you will need examples of both male and female plants in order to represent the species clearly.

If very small plants are being collected then gather enough so that several small specimens can sufficiently fill three A3 mounting sheets – mounting one tiny specimen on a big sheet looks odd.

Preferably collect specimens in dry conditions, a good time being mid-morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day causes plants to wilt. If specimens are at all wet or you need to wash soil off the roots then dry them carefully before pressing.

Field notes must be recorded at the time of collection, noting the following:

Date, collection number, location, habitat, habit, special characteristics.

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April 2nd 2010

Announcement from the Health Secretary

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, issued a statement on the Department of Health’s website on April 1st, in a long awaited response to the Ministry’s consultation on the regulation of herbal medicine. This press release can be accessed at

At the heart of it is this: – ‘I am… minded to legislate to ensure that all practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines to members of the public in England must be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)… I believe that the introduction of such a register will increase public protection, but without the full trappings of professional recognition which are applied to practitioners of orthodox healthcare.’

This is not an executive statement, and is followed by the proviso that discussion will be required with the Health Ministers of Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, and they will make a full joint response in due course. It’s not difficult to see that that this would almost certainly hold over any further activity until after the UK general election in May, so cannot be taken as read.

The CNHC is a relatively new umbrella register that was set up by the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health – for a total to date of 15 so-called ‘third tier’ complementary therapies such as Aromatherapy, Reflexology and Reiki. Its website can be found at Registration is currently voluntary and, significantly, does not automatically require membership of a PA.

Far from moving Herbal Medicine a significant step towards parity with ‘practitioners of orthodox healthcare’, this has to be seen as a move in the opposite direction. It seems little more than a form of voluntary self-regulation, but whatever it is, it is not Statutory Regulation! We believe this is a punishment for the bombastic, self-serving and often mendacious manner in which herbal medicine’s pro-SR campaign has been conducted. It’s not as if they weren’t warned: in the DH ‘Extending Professional & Occupational Regulation’ report last July, it said, ‘In the past there has been a danger that the extension of professional regulation to new groups has been overly driven by the aspirations of emerging professional groups themselves, as a means to establish themselves as safe and effective players in the health care arena. This has at times led to the use of the terminology of “aspirant” groups. This term was introduced by the HPC for the purpose of indicating when applications for regulation were made to it by groups who were seeking recognition as “professions”. The term has since become associated with those groups seeking regulation through emphasising the risks inherent in their professions in order to secure their positions within health care, for reasons of status and market position as well as for reasons of public protection and patient safety.’

A few hours after the DH pronouncement, NIMH broadcast to its members that ‘Andy Burnham has announced that statutory regulation of medical herbalism is to go ahead. This is a great day for the NIMH and a vindication of all the hard work put in by members over the last ten years or so.’ We have always been at pains not to interfere with the internal workings of the professional associations – all we can suggest is that those herbalists who still remain loyal to their PAs should look at what is said on the DH website, look at the CNHC website, and draw their own conclusions.

What do we make of all this ourselves? It looks like another government minister getting his desk cleared before the May election – if it’s a baton that will be picked up at all by the new government, if the CNHC idea will be actioned, and with what level of priority, remains to be seen. It’s still all going to take a very, very long time. We are certainly not going to suffer the same paralysis evidenced by the PAs, waiting for a political outcome whilst all around them is seemingly falling apart. Will we submit to the cheap and unchallenging demands of CNHC membership? We think not! It still ignores the principle that as ever, there is neither need nor justification to regulate Herbal Medicine.

March 2010


Since November 16th when the Department of Health closed its consultation, it has made no response, and it seems increasingly unlikely that one will be forthcoming before the imminent UK General Election. One nonetheless has to assume that herbal medicine’s pro-regulation lobby spearheaded by the EHTPA gained some inkling that things were not going well – since November they’ve been busy with the media and have continued lobbying MPs. As the EHTPA and the large PAs such as NIMH evidently have nothing else left in their armoury, they have concentrated on the message that herbal medicine is inherently dangerous and therefore must be regulated as a matter of urgency. This is an absolutely extraordinary stance for the representatives of herbal practitioners to take, the more so as it patently isn’t true.


We’re deeply saddened to learn that, short of a miracle, the BSc course at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine is closing in September. This was far and away the best course in the UK and, we should take this opportunity to thank Maureen & Keith Robertson & their staff for turning out so many fine practitioners during the last two decades. We hope that placements can be found for their students to complete their degrees elsewhere.

Two other BSc courses, Edinburgh & Lancashire, are ‘teaching out’, leaving nothing further north than Lincoln still functioning, although curiously, the Leeds Metropolitan University is just announcing provisional details of new course. At the same time, there are anxieties being expressed regarding the ability of the three London university courses to maintain the most expensive part of the operation, namely their training clinics. We are faced with the possibility that there might be no higher education in western herbal medicine before long, or failing this that what remains may represent a further reduction in quality.

It would be too easy to blame all this on the recession, but in truth this is only partly to do with cutbacks in university funding. The primary problem is dramatically diminishing enrolment in these courses, compounded by higher drop-out rates. Why should this be? Part of the problem, as we have often complained, is that whilst the PAs have spent 15 years in an all out effort to achieve statutory regulation, they have been extraordinarily neglectful in addressing problems of competition, the dramatic growth in the over-the-counter trade, the need to counter adverse publicity from the ‘quackbuster’ brigade, and so on. Likewise they have failed to maintain anything like an acceptable level of postgraduate and professional aid & support, resourcing, professional development, information sharing, PR & promotion, and so on. The other major problem, we are convinced, is that Statutory Regulation, far from making a career in herbal medicine a more attractive proposition, has appeared very big-brotherish, part of the overbearing feel of the whole thing arising from within herbal medicine itself. One listens to countless BSc graduates who complain that their training was neither a pleasurable experience, nor did it prepare them to enter practice with any confidence, nor do the PAs do much to ameliorate either of these things.

Returning to the plight of the Scottish School, this is a unique set of circumstances as its BSc course is externally validated and is dependent on student fees and charitable funding. One can’t help wondering how different the situation might be if it were to be relieved of all the expense, bureaucracy and impedimenta of a BSc course – a humble diploma has proved adequate in the past (and in reality provided a high standard of occupational training that has never been improved on). This is not a viable solution at the present, because a BSc is nominated as the minimum qualification for members of a regulated herbal profession… but if, as we anticipate, SR fails, there are surely lessons to learn here for the future.

A source of hope

We are clearly apprehending the end of an era. The most telling reflection is that SR is no longer relevant – whether it happens or whether it’s shelved will make no significant difference. So what phoenix will rise from the ashes? Whilst all this has been going on, whilst the mainstream of herbal practice has been losing its confidence, whilst patient rolls have been dropping, whilst we wonder where the next generation of herbalists will come from, there are nonetheless herbalists out there that have been doing well despite it all. They are the ones that have embraced the Transition Herbal Medicine ethos, have been making their own medicines, engaging with their local communities, organising the herb patch in community gardens, running workshops, conducting herb walks, working in close harmony with neighbouring herbalists (and students!), and so on. We once again draw attention to the quite startling popularity of the Herbarium – in part because we are trusted to speak the truth where the ‘politics’ of herbal medicine is concerned, but mostly because the practical information we provide to help herbalists work in a sustainable, self-reliant fashion is being used so much. We know from feedback and the number of overnight ‘hits’ that this is rapidly becoming an international phenomenon.

A problem with TCM

A court case concerning a Chinese retail outlet has recently received considerable press coverage. A mislabelled complex remedy (containing a banned substance, Aristolochia fangchi), was alleged to have caused kidney failure in a customer – it should be noted that the shop assistant accused was found not guilty. We will surely all be relieved next year when the THMPD can stop China exporting this sort of remedy into Europe. However, it was a problem of the over-the-counter trade and has nothing whatsoever to do with herbal practice, let alone western herbalists. Nonetheless the EHTPA & NIMH seem to have joined forces with the ‘quackbusters’ on this one, somehow managing to interpret it as evidence that herbal practitioners must be regulated. This is absurd.

CRB & ISA checks

An issue has arisen regarding herbal practitioners apparently being compelled by at least one PA, without consultation or notice, to undergo checks from the Criminal Records Bureau. Whilst responsible practitioners are unlikely to object to being able to evidence a clean record from the CRB, the fact remains for the time being that it is a service provided to employers, and there are no arrangements available as yet for self-employed complementary practitioners. Likewise the remit of the Independent Safeguard Authority does not appear to include herbal practitioners, provided we do not engage in consultation with unaccompanied vulnerable individuals.

(Written from the heart, for those that sometimes wonder about if they will ever make a living as a herbalist).

There is an old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and I believe that if we are to survive and flourish as herbalists in the future, and actually make a modest if not good income on which to support ourselves, then we must look at how we can re-invent ourselves. Is there a need to do this? Well I for one think emphatically yes!

Who are we re-inventing ourselves for? Well, the people, ‘Joe Public’… people who don’t have a clue about herbal medicine. Those thousands of people out there that could be consulting you in this great symbiotic relationship of you helping them to help themselves to a healthy life with Herbal Medicine. Exchanges of time & expertise, money changes hands and everyone is happy.

But, for many of us this ‘money’ thing is just not happening. I speak from experience as a herbalist that very nearly gave up and threw in the towel. I could not have been more broke and in debt that when I left University with my shiny degree in Herbal Medicine (not gained freely without some life threatening health issues and the near collapse of a marriage). For me, Herbal Medicine was a calling, and once I had finished that part of my training I saw that I could never go back to whom I was and the previous dead end jobs I despised.

Necessity has been my friend and ally. That, together with sheer ’bloody mindedness’ has propelled me forward and encouraged me to think of ways to become a busy herbalist generating an income.

In many ways, I feel that certain PA’s have done us no favours, tying our hands in the beginning with rules about what we could and could not do. Placing an advertisement in that well know yellow book and waiting for the telephone to ring, giving the odd talk, was their idea of PR.

I saw that this was not going to work. I watched and spoke with friends who were Homeopaths, Acupuncturists and Naturopaths. They set up websites, promoted their medicines, and raised a profile for themselves. Their PA’s certainly seemed to be active in the PR department. The public certainly knew about them, but sadly, not us. Unless a person just happened to know about the existence of Western Herbal Medicine, we seem to be forever be lumped in and mistaken for ‘Chinese/TCM’ by the media. Most web searches and Googling of ‘herbal medicine’ always seem to produce the word ‘Chinese’ before the word herb. The endless oriental emporiums that have invaded our high streets and shopping centres have not helped us either, they just seem to reinforce to the public that Chinese herbal medicine is the only herbal medicine out there, (nothing wrong with TCM, but they really don’t need the publicity like we do!!).

Over the first few years of practise, it became apparent that something needed to be done. Out of necessity, I needed to take matters into my own hands and work out how I could earn money from my calling. And, after years of reflection and honing my skills, this is what I came up with as a game plan for struggling herbalists.

I also have to thank my two mentors here in Essex, one of which has shown me how she became a great success.

Top tips for getting ahead  or Having your fingers in many pies!

Here then are some ideas that have worked for me, and my mentor before me and perhaps some of you are doing these things already. Perhaps some of you are worried about trying, so as another author once said ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’

1. Become visible.

My workload doubled overnight when I went from working at home to working within a clinic. This clinic was attached to a health food store, and so there is often (but not always) a ready and waiting clientele there.  If you are not yet established and working from home, you may need to double or triple your efforts in PR to get your community to come to you. Get out and about, do talks, walks, local radio, farmers markets (see later entry). Write yourself a press sheet; learn the art of ‘blagging’, which means even if you don’t feel so confident and brilliant, tell everyone how brilliant you, are and what you can do for them!

Self-belief will bring confidence.

If you are not a great public speaker or get nervous, then try learning to overcome it, or use the written word instead. Local newspaper articles can be good. For example, I have just installed my dispensary in the high street clinic. This means I can do drop in clinics as well as full consults and sell herbs from the premises if required. It is the only high street in Essex where there is a traditional herbalist doing this, and so it may be news worthy. I have contacted the local papers and radio and am likely to get free publicity.

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A friend of mine inherited a couple of beehives, which had been left in the garden when he moved to a new house.  They were empty of bees and rather sad looking, I asked him if he planned to keep bees “Oh no” he said “I’m scared of being stung” and I agreed whole heartedly with him – why on earth would anyone want that.  Later we moved to Kent, next door to a picture-book family farm with cows, sheep, horses, chickens, guinea fowl, geese, dogs, cats and bees (the farmer and his wife were perfect too), the bees were looked after by a local beekeeper.  We used to walk our dog down the footpath past the beehives into the woods and one day the beekeeper was there with them – he shouted just one word, “RUN”, so my daughter and I ran with the noise of angry bees around us, we continued running deep into the woods but one or two bees followed us and we both got stung several times on the head and suffered for about a week afterwards with the diminishing pain.  Another time the farmer’s daughter had to jump into the pond to escape clouds of angry bees, afterwards she had trouble with her hearing until the doctor found and removed a bee from down inside her ear.  A friend of my mother’s kept bees for years and my mother used to complain about how sticky her whole kitchen got with the honey harvest.

I’m not sure when it was that my curiosity about bees got the better of me.  Perhaps being a herbalist and devoting my time to caring for patients, plants and the soil in the interests of health helped because I found bees were not healthy.  As a wild creature surely they should be, but they can suffer from viral infections, bacterial diseases, fungal infections, protozoa and most hives are now plagued by the varroa mite which can get quickly out of control during the summer (the number of mites doubling each 4 or 5 weeks) until they cause the demise of the whole colony of bees due to deformity and disease.

I joined my local bee association in 2001 and started going to their meetings.  These are always on the 2nd Sunday of the month from April to September.  They are held at different homes each month and in this way we all work with each other’s bees and see how they’re getting on.  It is fascinating and the hives can vary tremendously from year to year.  The beekeepers kindly gave me a second-hand hive and in no time we were called to collect a swarm from a garden in the next village.  The swarm looked very large to me and the noise of all those bees was overwhelming, I had to pretend not to mind but wished I could be inside the house behind glass windows watching with the family there.  We managed to get most of the bees settled into a cardboard box, which was then covered by a sheet leaving a small entrance for the bees still left flying nearby.  Later we returned, collected the box of bees and I was helped to site my hive (facing south-east away from the prevailing wind and to catch the early sun) and shake the bees into it.  To begin with the hive consisted of a brood box filled with frames of wax for the bees to build comb onto, this is placed on the floor which has an entrance for the bees at one side, a cover board goes on top the box with a roof over that – this particular hive is called a ‘national hive’.  Later when the bees need more room to store honey a ‘super’ is added above the brood box – this is a shallower box with shallower frames.

I was taught to use a queen excluder to stop the Queen wandering up into the super and laying her eggs there – to destroy queen cells to try and prevent swarming – to put apistan strips in the hive to kill the varroa mites but although I bought some the first year I couldn’t bring myself to use them.  In fact I don’t do any of this now.  My thoughts were always how can we help the bees to become more healthy and to live more naturally.  My bees are lucky because they are surrounded by a medicine chest of flowers, medical herbs grown biodynamically for my patients but they can fly a long way, it is said up to about three miles and we have farmland around us where sprays are used on the crops.

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