Making & using external preparations is all part of what attracts us to herbal medicine in the first place: you can make them yourself from simple ingredients; there are almost limitless creative combinations to be discovered & made; they visibly work; the process is alchemical. Making things like ointments and creams at home is one of the most satisfying ways to spend an afternoon. All you really need to get started is a heatproof bowl, a pot of hot water, some basic ingredients & some jars. You can always add to your materials and equipment later.

But first, a few definitions: –

  • Aqueous: describes water itself and also all constituents that can be mixed with or dissolved in water, e.g. herbal infusions & decoctions, floral waters (such as rose water), tinctures & fluid extracts, vinegars, syrups, glycerine & glycerites, vinegar and honey.
  • Oleaginous: describes oils and all constituents that are soluble in oil, e.g. Fixed oils, infused oils, essential oils, paraffins (soft or liquid), fats, greases, waxes & resins.
  • Ointment: (or salve): a semi-solid non-aqueous preparation; in other words, contains only oleaginous (‘oily’) constituents.
  • Paste: an ointment (or sometimes a cream) that incorporates finely powdered herb(s).
  • Emulsion: a mixture of oleaginous & aqueous (oil-based & water-based) ingredients.
  • Emulsifier (or emulgent – what a brilliant word): an agent that makes it possible to form a stable mixture of oils and water, e.g. borax, beeswax, soap, lanolin, some gums, and egg. Proprietary emulsifying agents such as Lanette Wax & Emulsifying Wax BP are also available – less natural but more efficient.
  • Phase: when making emulsions, one refers to the oleaginous phase (all the oily constituents mixed together) and the aqueous phase (all the water-soluble constituents mixed together). When they have been combined (in the presence of an emulsifier), you will either have caused the aqueous phase to be suspended in tiny droplets surrounded by oil, or the oleaginous phase to be suspended in tiny globules surrounded by water.
  • Cream: the most popular form of emulsion, usually containing oil globules suspended in water (o/w) but sometimes water droplets suspended in oil (w/o).
  • Vegetable oil: (sometimes called a ‘fixed’ oil).  Extracted from a nut, seed or other plant source. Popular examples are Sunflower, Olive and Sweet Almond oils. The best quality is cold pressed, cheaper forms are extracted with solvents (often after an initial cold pressing). Fixed oils are not to be confused with essential oils!
  • Infused oil (or macerated oil): a vegetable oil in which fresh or dried herbs have been infused. This may be a hot or cold process.
  • Essential oil: volatile oils from aromatic plants, usually extracted by distillation but occasionally by pressing (e.g. citrus fruit peel) or by dissolving into fats & then separating (‘absolutes’). Not to be confused with vegetable oils!

We will in due course be detailing liniments, plasters, compresses, poultices, pessaries, suppositories, ears drops, herbal baths, washes and more – but will give appropriate definitions as we go.

Read the rest of this entry »

Homemade soups are nutritious, cheap and easy to make. There are no added colourings, preservatives or chemical flavour enhancers as found in most shop bought soups, just real food. Like my approach to making jams & jellies, soups are a wonderful way to use up any small quantities of odds and ends and turn them into something unique, delicious and full of nourishment. It’s a great way to introduce infants and young children to vegetables! Young children should not have added salt, so remove their portion before adding stock cubes and seasoning, and liquidise or mash to the desired consistency.

Some recipes include specific herbs & spices but do take the opportunity to include anything you fancy anyway. Thyme and Winter Savory are particularly useful as they’re available fresh right through the winter. Parsley can be kept in the freezer simply by chopping it coarsely and bagging it. And then there’s my favourite, Lovage leaves, (which can also be frozen like Parsley). It’s delicious, adds an extra bit of ‘umami’ to any soup, and brings out the flavour of everything else.

A good hearty soup can make a full meal in itself when accompanied by a nice thick doorstep of fresh crusty bread – or use up some of the day-before-yesterday’s bread in the form of toast.

Anyway, at the time of writing it’s a cold November day, so I’m off to make some soup!

Carol Church

Leek & Potato Soup

This one is one of our favourites, and such a good winter standby, as leeks are so easy to grow and will sit there waiting to be used from September to March.

3 medium leeks

4-5 medium potatoes (I like King Edwards)

1 onion

Water

Sunflower oil and butter

Salt, pepper (1 vegetable stock cube if preferred)

Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Peel and finely chop the onion. Prepare the leeks – strip off the outer leaves and remove the top growth an inch or two above the main stem. Run a knife through lengthways from the root to the green top. Half turn the leek and repeat. Run under cold water to get rid of any soil trapped between the layers of the leek. Shake off excess water. Chop crossways into small pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat approx 1 tablespoon sunflower oil and a knob of unsalted butter. Add the onion and potato and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring to prevent the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the leeks and continue to cook gently for a further few minutes until soft. Add approx 1½ pints (850ml) water, (and a stock cube if you’re using one). Stir, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 25-30 mins. Add salt and pepper as desired.  Serve.

Can be eaten either as a chunky soup, or liquidised (in a food processor, or using a hand blender) to a smooth creamy soup.

Read the rest of this entry »

This was a difficult article to write, partly because of the exceptionally high level of feedback from the rest of the Herbarium team, but mostly because it tried so hard to turn itself into a small book. I’ve confined myself to a single but telling aspect of the dialogue that the times demand. With the apparent mothballing of the Statutory Regulation process, the ongoing demise of the educational system created to serve it, and the meltdown of the herb trade in the wake of the THMPD, herbalists in the UK must pause to consider who and what we are, and where we’re going. Are the ‘professional’ herbalists of the last two centuries about to die out, and should we really mind? What sort of herbalists might replace them, and with what ethos? How would they learn their craft?

Stephen Church

In the early 1990s when I was working for NIMH and exploring what might have been a more inspiring model for professional development than is manifested these days, I spent some time with Crosby Chacksfield, an extraordinarily able educator who, amongst many useful things provided me with these two definitions: –

  • Competence: the ability to function satisfactorily in familiar circumstances.
  • Proficiency: the ability to function satisfactorily in both familiar and unfamiliar circumstances.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Competence is about applying established solutions to pre-defined problems. Competence can therefore be measured, so it is easy to document, easy to teach, and easy to assess. Competence is based on vertical thinking. Competence is also the territory of risk management, evidence-based processes and centralised control.

Proficiency, by contrast, is about having abilities both more profound and broad-based – acumen, skill, flair, and audacity – to work in unknown territory and still be able to move towards a positive outcome. Lateral thinking is required. Proficiency is hard to measure, teach or assess, although it can be exemplified, recognised, and ultimately approved (or, of course, disapproved when it doesn’t go well). Proficiency used to be the territory of the professional – individuals sufficiently highly educated, conditioned and motivated in their chosen field (teaching, law, medicine, etc) that they could be trusted to act according to the best of their ability with a high degree of autonomy. There was a framework of competencies, of course, but also clearly plenty of headroom for individual talent and experimentation.

In a way, my discussions 20 years ago might seem to have very little relevance now, as proficiency (and professionalism) have been thrust aside in favour of an almost fetish-like demand for competence. Why has this happened? My own guess at the reason is two-fold. It’s partly because we now live in a world where human organisation is based on central control, and you can only control what can be measured and assessed. At the same time, the computer/interweb environment is the modern way to administer these control systems – and computers cope brilliantly with the yes/no environment of competencies, but very poorly with the ‘it depends’ environment of proficiencies.  Which chicken came before which egg is hard to know, but one can easily see how much of the modern world of occupational and social order (or disorder!) is defined by competency-based systems, and how badly it has all gone wrong: it has caused the dumbing down of just about everything, and has contributed to the creation of pyramidal, over-bureaucratised systems that are now creaking under their own weight.  On a more parochial level, one observes that workers in those fields that touch closely on herbal medicine – teachers, midwives, nurses, even doctors themselves, have had their status insidiously eroded by a process of de-professionalisation as proficiency has been sacrificed on the altar of competence. One also notices how much the demand for ever more detailed definition and evidence of competency has been done in the name of safety, and yet this process has manifestly failed to make the world a safer place.

Read the rest of this entry »

Herbal Beers! What a marvellous idea, it struck us with the force of a revelation 4-5 years ago and we have been cheerfully making beers on and off (time permitting) ever since. Our original inspiration was Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book ‘Sacred Herbal & Healing Beers’ highly recommended as inspiration for recipes and general beery herb lore.

Our motivation was the realisation that our beer habit at the time was costing far too much. Our herbal beers cost us less than 50p a bottle to make. I’m not including the price of buying the bottles as they get re-used so many times that their cost is offset. Homemade herbal beers are also much more delicious, more complex and flavoursome in taste than commercial beers (or home brew in a can) and, because they contain herbs, you can fool yourself that they’re good for you. Which they are of course. Mostly.

Included in this article is general advice as well as several tried and tested herbal beer recipes to get you going. Tried and tested does not of course mean infallible – all beers fail sometimes for no apparent reason and that is part of the organic and mysterious world of herbal beer making.

Read the rest of this entry »

…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, www.ediblebackyard.co.nz .

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!

  Read the rest of this entry »

This is the place in the Herbarium where we offer personal reflections, observations and snippets of information that don’t warrant a full article. Everybody can join in, (use the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the ‘Blogservations’ file) but please keep faith with the core values of the Herbarium. We won’t, for instance, accept personal political rants or questions about herbal treatments – there are enough herbal chatrooms for such purposes already.

***********************************************************************

Carol & I celebrated the Herbarium’s 50,000 hits with a bottle or two of Elderflower Champagne, made to Nathalie’s excellent recipe. It was delicious, with a slight hint of Lychees in the flavour, wickedly alcoholic… and no hangover!

It occurred to us in our cups how fitting it all was – something learnt from our own close herbal friends that we can enjoy and in turn share with others. There’s a point to be made that it doesn’t matter if you’re a practitioner or not, whether you’re teaching or learning or just mildly interested, everybody can take it into their own homes and live the Life Herbal. You can make your own beverages (alcoholic or not), seasonings, salad dressings & preserves, you can fill yourself with superfoods from gardening and foraging, your can make your own cosmetics, toiletries, furniture polish, insect repellant, you can treat your own animals, you can make your own Christmas presents of candied Angelica or Rose chocolates, and so on and so on.

This is a homely approach to using herbs that has always been there, (if less popular than in better times) – it’s enormous fun, deeply fulfilling, economically good sense, helps us tread lightly on the earth, and keeps us in intimate contact with the plant world as we follow it through the seasons. If anybody’s getting too bogged down with all the hard, mechanistic stuff being thrown at herbal practitioners at the moment, go out and gather some Marigold, Lavender, Borage, Cherries, Blackcurrants (to mention but a few that are in season in this earlier-than-usual summer) and make something wickedly self-indulgent with them. It’ll make you feel so much better.

Stephen & Carol

***********************************************************************

The History of Medicine

2000 BC: 
Here, eat this root.

1000 AD:
That root is heathen.
Here, say this prayer.

1800 AD:
That prayer is superstition.
Here, drink this potion.

1940 AD:
That potion is snake oil.
Here, take this pill.

1985 AD:
That pill is ineffective.
Here, take this antibiotic.

2011 AD:
That antibiotic doesn’t work any more.
Here, eat this root.

by Gail Faith Edwards

http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The disagreement between herbalists who want to be recognised by the state and those who don’t want to be organised is as old as the hills. Those of you who have willed for statutory regulation (SR) are on the eve of achieving your dream, and we hope you will make the very best you are able of the trials and the opportunities it will present. However, there is one last bit of business to attend to, which might even unite us briefly, in countering the proposal to reform Section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968. We hope you will take up this cause as it profoundly affects the future and security of those choosing to work in a regulated environment, as well as the rest of us.

Firstly, here is Section 12(1) itself:

Section 12. Exemptions in respect of herbal remedies

(1) The restrictions imposed by sections 7 and 8 [Licences and Certificates relating to Medicinal Products] of this Act do not apply to the sale, supply, manufacture or assembly of any herbal remedy in the course of a business where—

(a) the remedy is manufactured or assembled on premises of which the person carrying on the business is the occupier and which he is able to close so as to exclude the public, and

(b) the person carrying on the business sells or supplies the remedy for administration to a particular person after being requested by or on behalf of that person and in that person’s presence to use his own judgment as to the treatment required.’

Secondly, here is an extract from the statement released by the MHRA on February 16th 2011:

‘If practitioner regulation is in place for the purposes of creating an Article 5(1) scheme this also opens the way to reform Section 12 (1) of the Medicines Act 1968. Under Section 12 (1), practitioners may prepare unlicensed herbal medicines on their own premises for use following consultation with individual patients. It is intended to move to the position that only registered practitioners would be able to operate under Section 12 (1) after regulation of practitioners is in place.’*

*Greater detail on the background to this, for instance, what Article 5(1) is all about, is covered in ‘Statutory Regulation Facts & Fictions’. Meanwhile, here’s our analysis of the current situation:

Why we all need to keep Section 12(1) of the Medicines Act 1968 unchanged

To the UK Government: Reforming 12(1) is not necessary to comply with the Traditional Herbal Medicine Products Directive (THMPD). Restricting all unlicensed medicines to the exclusive use of regulated practitioners would effectively outlaw the many herbalists who will not register with the HPC. This is not simply a matter of bowing to pressure groups or even the wishes of the majority:  it’s also important to protect individual choice, applicable where such choices neither cost the public purse nor cause harm. Those who for whatever reason choose to consult with unregulated herbalists should still be able to do so legally under the caveat emptor principle, thus upholding fairness and common law rights. It also avoids the future potential embarrassment of prosecuting UK citizens for doing no harm.

It is clear from the disclusion of acupuncturists from the regulatory process that the Department of Health sees no need to regulate complementary therapies per se. To regulate herbalists beyond what is required to comply with the THMPD makes a mockery of the principle of proportional legislative impact, and thus inexplicably discriminatory.

Read the rest of this entry »

At the end of this article we copy a Ministerial Statement from Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, published on Wednesday 16th February, and also a statement from the MHRA published on their website on the same day.

The main substance of these announcements are: –

·      In order to comply with European Directive 2004/24/EC, (aka THMPD), herbal practitioners (of all traditions) will be statutorily regulated by the Health Professions Council (HPC).

·      Section 12(1) of the 1968 Medicines Act would be reformed so that unlicensed medicines can only be used in the practices of HPC registered herbalists.

·      The arrangements should be put in place by 2012.

·      Acupuncturists, (hitherto considered to be a necessary part of the regulatory package) will not be regulated as they are not affected by the directive.

Like everybody else, we are in shock. Every indication was that the whole SR enterprise had foundered – it was an ill-conceived and unworkable plan, and assumed to be unattractive to a government beset by much greater problems and determined to cut costs. You can review the Herbarium’s commentaries on this in the ‘Law and Herbal Medicine’ files, which we will retain for the time being to help give insight into why we feel that this is all such a self-destructive nightmare.

Some insight into how this extraordinary eleventh-hour success for the EHTPA could have been possible comes from the PR company, Cogitamus, engaged during the final months of the campaign, who quote EHTPA Chair Michael Mcintyre thus: “On behalf of our thousands of members, I cannot thank or praise you enough for the vital support and advice you gave to us when it really mattered. Your intimate knowledge and experience of the health sector, combined with your understanding of both the formal decision-making processes and informal political dynamics in Whitehall, Westminster and the devolved administrations was exactly what we needed. It is no exaggeration to say that I truly believe you made a significant difference between ultimate success and failure in the final decision. I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending your services to any organisation in the health world needing calm, professional and deeply experienced advice or advocacy.”

So, this was less about our patients’ needs, the balance of arguments and good sense, and more about money (probably quite a lot of it) spent on lobbying. You may draw your own conclusions.

Whatever bringing SR to fruition might mean to other larger herbal modalities in the UK, it’s not good news for traditional western herbal medicine. Without the weight of numbers from the acupuncturists, with a government keen to spend as little as possible of taxpayer’s money, with the HPC under pressure to regulate way outside their comfort zone – this will cost regulated herbalists very dear – so much so that, given the humble incomes of most of us, it is unlikely to be affordable by all but a very, very, few – maybe too few to be sustainable. For the rest of us, having lost the right to make our own medicines, or indeed to buy them, and no doubt with other disincentives in place, we would be forced underground to work outside of the law. This is not an obvious recipe for growth either.

How do we respond to this? No fear! The joy of a good pun is to be able to convey two things at once – we won’t be cowed into submitting to regulation, nor will we allow it to lure us back into the trap of fear that we’ve be doing so much good work to escape.

The statements of government ministers seldom prove to be infallible – as is so often the case, the devil’s in the detail. The schedule of a 2012 completion seems particularly unrealistic. There are at least two further public consultations to compile, publish, call in and analyse, parliamentary time has to be found to debate and vote on two streams of legislation, the HPC has to develop its new bureaucracy, the PAs and their members have to go through a multitude of adaptations. It may nonetheless be rushed through and be so full of holes as to prove unworkable. If it’s delayed for long, it may be delayed forever. It may anyway simply prove to be beyond the purse of any of the interested parties.

The Herbarium, as we often remind ourselves, was launched to try and give herbal medicine a future. This is not the future the whole SR rigmarole would assume – that the western world is recovering from a little recession and we can soon all get back to escalating our material consumption. It’s the future of climate chaos, energy descent, and the decline of global bureaucracies and power structures. (This is at the core of the Transition Herbal Medicine ethos). If it turns out that we’re a little premature, at least we’ve left a message in a bottle for our grandchildren. But if we’re right, and there are all the signs that we are, then our work – every sensible herbalist’s work – has to be in preparation for a very different working environment, and one in which we are again relevant and valued. So the message to everybody in the midst of our hurt is chin up, hold steady, and keep the faith. Herbalists are hard to kill – if history will out, impossible to kill. Remember that the worst-case scenario has happened before in living memory – herbal medicine was illegal from 1941 to 1968. It proved paradoxically to be a golden era for our forebears, and nobody was prosecuted. It was a consequence of sheer bloody-mindedness, weak legislation, and the reticence of successive governments to prosecute citizens for doing no harm. Those who battled to bring the thoroughly civilized and effective Section 12(1) into the new Medicines Act, however much they also dreamt of official recognition, must surely be turning in their graves at the horrors that foolish herbalists and jaded politicians have managed to cook up 50 years later. We will have no part in it.

Read the rest of this entry »

This has been added to the Herbarium as we wanted a place to offer personal reflections, observations and snippets of information that don’t warrant a full article. Everybody can join in, (use the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the ‘Blogservations’ file) but please keep faith with the core values of the Herbarium. We won’t, for instance, accept personal political rants or questions about herbal treatments – there are enough herbal chatrooms for such purposes already.

*********************************************************************************************

Last winter I found myself forced to harvest our Valerian root in freezing mid-February, and rather than the recommended preparation method had to content myself with merely picking out any adhering chunks of dirt (not to mention chunks of ice!) When I came to tincturing it, there was as one might expect a lot of earth in the bucket. No matter, it filtered out all right, and (this is the point) the resulting tincture was more aromatic (evocative of the flowers), much more potent & energetic and, (you’ve guessed it!), more earthing. The best ever, in fact.

On the strength of this, (and here I expect all those of you who still like your herbal medicines pasteurised, standardised and authorised to pass out), we’ve made all our root tinctures this way, simply picking them clean-ish and admiring the mud at the bottom of the bucket. By now we’ve done this with Angelica, Bistort, Echinacea, Elecampane, Liquorice, Lovage, Marshmallow, Poke Root, Solomon’s Seal, Teasel, Rose Root, and half a dozen others. All good. All very, very good. So that’s how we’ll go about it on future.

Are we being reckless? Actually, many gut problems, particularly diverticulosis, have by now (no doubt grudgingly) been strongly associated with the lack of dirt in out diet: we, like parrots, need a bit of grit at the bottom of our cages, and of course those ready-cleaned, double-wrapped vegetables from our supermarkets provide none. And all those bacteria that teem in the soil? Rather than pathogenic to humans, it turns out that they contain in their ranks some of the most useful probiotics – a term that sounds like somebody just invented something, when really it’s just another bit of evidence that we urgently need to restore the relationship that we and nature were once used to sharing, before we decided to take charge and ruin everything.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 514,292 hits