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We acknowledge our profound sadness at the passing of Stephen Church, a man who can be called an elder in the world of herbal medicine, as can his wife, Carol.

Stephen and Carol were founder members of The Herbarium: they had a clear vision of the herbal knowledge they wished to preserve and share.

Stephen originally worked in the music business before going on to train at the School of Herbal Medicine, followed shortly after by Carol. Their passion to practice stemmed from first-hand experience of the wonderful efficacy of herbs for their young family. His role model for becoming a herbalist were his GP, who worked alone with his wife manning the phones etc. He would come out day and night to visit his sick patients and would always recommend good home nursing first rather than reaching for the prescription pad.

Stephen and Carol created a joint practice and herb garden in their family home and garden in Coulsdon, Surrey. Stephen worked diligently within his community, supporting thousands of patients throughout his life-time; it was not unusual for him to treat many generations of the same family over many years.

Stephen and Carol have inspired several generations of herbalists with their openness, their willingness to share their experience, their recipes and their herbs. They happily opened their doors to students and colleagues alike. We are all impoverished now that we can no longer call upon him to have a chat and access his vast wisdom and knowledge.

However, we are fortunate that part of Stephen’s legacy resides here within The Herbarium. Together with Carol, Stephen produced a large majority of their tinctures from the herbs grown in their back garden, a small chalky plot on the North Downs. Stephen encouraged his students and colleagues to get to know the herbs by growing, harvesting and processing them. Stephen was rare in that his knowledge was based on practical experience and not just theory. In 1975 Stephen bought a copy of Grow your own Fruit and Vegetables by Lawrence D. Hills. Carol is sure this is where he got his Bish Bash Bosh method for making tinctures. The knowledge they gained from decades of this work provided the backbone of The Herbarium’s ‘making files’.

Stephen inspired in us the courage to stand in our truth, against the prevailing mood of the times. Because of his quiet, authentic courage we stepped up and out of line, and together were supported through one of the most politicised episodes in modern herbal medicine. With his incisive thinking and embodied knowledge he challenged us to remain true to what endures in herbal medicine: The politics and people come and go, but the nature of the plants prevails.

Stephen was full of humour, wisdom, music, stories, and philosophy, some taken directly from Leonard Cohen and Terry Pratchett and some uniquely his own. He lived his life full of love for the people and land around him. Stephen approached the ending of his days with continued insight and equanimity, knowing that nature would lead the way and his last few months of life were full of blessings: Stephen loved his garden and he managed to get into the greenhouse this February and sow all the seeds for the year ahead – one of the things he was desperate to do before he died – and an unexpected final visit to Banstead Woods with his family, where the bluebells were flowering, was a magical moment.

We know that Stephen loved The Herbarium. He always felt that herbal medicine should lose its aura of secrecy and be shared with everyone. Carol tells us that, of all the work he did, his proudest achievement was the ‘making files’.

We send our love to his family who will feel his absence the most, his wife Carol, children Sam and Joanne, grandchildren Jim and Edie, and the cats Rosie, Daisy and Dusty.

We salute you Stephen Church, go gently into the beyond and save us a space at the table…

 

On 26th March 2015 the Department of Health published its ‘Report on the Regulation of Herbal Medicines’, authored by Professor David Walker. You can access the full report at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-on-regulating-herbal-medicines-and-practitioners – but it is summed up thus: –

‘Having taken into account the evidence available and the views of representatives of the sector, I consider that despite strong calls by many for statutory regulation, there is not yet a credible scientific evidence base to demonstrate risk from both products and practitioners which would support this step.’ (p.28).

This effectively puts the whole issue of the statutory regulation of herbal medicine ‘on ice’ for the foreseeable future. Hooray! A victory for clear thinking, common sense and the precautionary principle! Let’s hope this is the end of the top-down dictatorial bureaucracy that has plagued herbal medicine for so long, and heralds a new era for the grass-roots approach that The Herbarium has joined so many others in fostering.

However, you may have noticed that The Herbarium has been ‘on ice’ itself for more than a year. It’s true to say that those of us who have been working diligently to counter statutory regulation for years (in some cases, decades) have found it arduous and on occasions personally very distressing, so at the risk of mixing metaphors, we feel somewhat burnt out. Equally in the last year or two, we have all found ourselves moving on in one way or another – new homes, new children, new jobs.

The Herbarium will remain on the internet as a reference – the ‘political’ posts may have some historic interest, more importantly the practical medicine-making files, and our other informative articles still continue to grow in relevance and popularity. There might be more to add in time – perhaps new blood, new inspiration – but for now, we’re resting! A big ‘thank you’ to everybody who has looked this way, subscribed, commented, and most important, used the Herbarium as a practical workbook.

Neil Pellegrini (‘herbalistic’)

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