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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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