Herbal Medicine, Does it really work?
I asked this question a lot before heading down this wonderful rabbit warren of a career path and the unequivical answer to it is... "YES, ABSOLUTELY!"
Most medicines come from plants, whether it be salicylic acid (from which we get aspirin) or spearmint which contains "Carvol", a constituent that any parent will recognise from over the counter infant remedies.
Are herbal medicines the same as pharmaceuticals? No, generally not. That said, some do have dramatic effects and are regarded as poison for this very reason. Think Henbane, Deadly Nightshage, Foxglove etc. Some extracts are illegal such as heroin from the poppy plant or cannabis (though slowly, ever so slowly, we are beginning to see the light in regard to this particular little gem of a species). Most herbs though take time to create the desired effect. St. Johns Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) can take a few weeks to help people suffering from depression but it should be noted, that many anti-depressants require the same.
So, which is better?
Pharmaceuticals take inspiration from plants, they extract constituents and isolate them for study and research. This action creates opportunites for patenting. It allows the company to make something powerful that will tackle a specific illness and fix the problem. Patenting allows for profit, and lets face it, profit is what these companies are all about. The fundamental difficulty for patients is that you need to take a cocktail of drugs for different individual illness' which can negatively interact with each other and cause damage elsewhere.
Herbal remedies are fundamentally different. As little or no money can be made from whole herbs there isn't really an incentive to study the whole plant. That is not to say we are without research. There is ample research having been undertaken over the years and herbalists have the advantage of 1000's of years of practice. Herbs are also something of a mystery. Take St. John's Wort as an example. There have been hundreds of studies on particular isolates of St. Johns Wort. It is generally understood that the constituent hypericin is responsible for the herbs anti-depressive properties. What is not understood, however is the fact that St. John's Wort seems to help people with depression better when taken as a whole herb as opposed to taking an individual constituent. Aspirin is another example. Taken as a medicine we now know that we run the risk of thinning our blood and for some patients aspirin should be avoided at all costs. However, it is facinating that when taken as part of a whole plant, the pain relieving properties remain (albeit slightly weaker) but the blood thinning properties are absent. Which would you rather have?
So should you just go to the nearest health food shop and buy lots of herbs?
Well, perhaps. However, herbs are funny little things and it seems they have caught on to the fact that big business' are also on the herbal health & well-being band-wagon. Herbs make it very difficult for companies to gaurantee their effectiveness as the constituents of plants vary greatly according to climate, soil ph, rainfall, sunshine etc. Standardisation can allow for purity but it can also provide opportunies for companies to add isolates to products that are substandard. Take rosehip for instance. Lots of rosehip capsules claim to be enriched with vitamin C or as being extra strength. Its always good to ask yourself how they managed to make an extract stronger than it might be naturally. It is very unlikely any of them can claim to be organic if they are adulterated in such a manner.
Take dandelion for instance? It is known for being a hepatoprotective and diuretic. Its a funny diuretic though as it is also full of potassium which most diuretics make the body excrete. Dandelion root also contains up to 40% inulin in its roots, making it a great pre-biotic. However, there is a catch. Only dandelion root harvested in winter will have this much inulin. Harvest it in spring or summer and there may only be as little as 2 % inulin. Use dandelion leaves in the spring on your salad for its potassium rich diuretic properties but if you wait too long and the flowerheads start to bloom then most of the plants nutrients and goodness have already moved on up the plant and into the flower. In which case consider making some dandelion wine instead.
The problem for customers, is knowing that the manfucaturer you buy from knows intimately the plant you are buying. Has it been harvested not just organically and ethically but also at the right time of the year when that part of the plant is at its most potent? You might also want to ensure the shelf-life is adequate and that the plant won't loose its properties.
Then there is the question of bioavailability. A plant might be good for a certain condition. It may well be that reishi mushrooms have the potential to be anti-cancerous but did you know that if you drink a tea or tincture - the properties within the product will be very different? That has huge implications as to how the body may be able to make good use of the medicine you are giving yourself. Go back to any commercial herb extracts and that kind of information just isn't available. Instead they sell you the reputed benefits of a herb without telling us how best to extract its nutrients.
There is an art-form to herbalism. And that's really important to understand. Herbs can be misunderstood and thought of as powerless or ineffective because they aren't being used appropriately. It takes someone with the knowlege of a herbs polarity, solubility in water or ethanol etc., to really harnesses the power of the plant. Its complex. Plants are also known to work synergistically with the body's metabolism. Herbalists use herbs to fix the body but rather support the body in healing itself and that has many therapeutic implications for how they practice.
Herbs work. However it takes the body (and the person) to want to get well. Creating a healthy balance and lifestyle is all-encompassing. That's why herbalists take into account diet, history, trauma, symptoms, causes, emotions and spirituality. Only when the whole person is being supported can the body get the chance to recouperate and sadly, in this busy world, many of us have lost the innate connection to our inner selves.
An added little problem for herbalist in this country is how the law prohibits us from labelling things as medicinal. I've always been fond of corporate conspiracies but the fact remains that there is lots of poor information out there because despite the research confirming a herbs potency and effectiveness we are not allowed to state these properties when selling them over the counter. We can prescribe herbs for clients that are specific to conditions but we are not allowed to sell them over the counter to people walking in. Certainly, some herbs carry contraindications but surely it is better to empower us to be responsible and state those claims along with advice as to how to take such medication safely. It empowers patients, is much much cheaper than pharmaceutical products and surely hones in to that wonderful proverb that food is our medicine.
Alas, the government would rather disempower people wishing to care for themselves, make it difficult to remain self-sufficent and instead create numerous means to intoxicate us by legalising pesticides, herbicides and dietary guidelines (forget the food pyramid please - its just a lie! In no uncertain terms Carbs should not be making up the main part of our diet and polyunsaturated plant based oils are not better for your health.) that are absolutely detrimental to our health and to those plants & animals we share this planet with.
Reduce, Reuse & Recycle (Or Compost!)
Any Herbalist worth their salt is concerned for the environment in which they live.
Climate change is a global emergency that school children seem all to aware of. Indeed, it will directly impact this ermerging generation as global sea rises, mass migration and environmental catastrophies become all too common. Meanwhile, the leaders of our world continue their wreckless abandon to adulterate and pillage this wonderful creation we live in.
Herbalists are, by nature, in touch with their surroundings. The feeling of partnership and symbiosis is integral to them and their environment. A profound appreciation that we neeed to care for the very plants that so lovingly return to us protection, medicine, food and nourishment.
With that in mind we needed to really think long and hard about packaging. Teas, Tinctures, Vinegars and Tablets all require a bit of thought, ensuring a product is preserved, free from oxidisation and transports well. We also need to be mindful of the problems our consumption of plastic may well have on the world around us.
In a sense its easier with the medicines to be packaged in an environmentally friendly manner; amber glass bottles can be reused many many times and preserve the life of the product better than any plastic might be able to offer. Packaging teas however is not so simple. One needs to think of everything from the potential tea-bags you offer to the way they are packaged. Zip Lock pouches seem a logical answer but even the kraft pouches that look so wonderfully biodegradable need to be sent to an industrial composting facility to be broken down and many of them contain plastic or foil in their make up. Further thought needs to be given to labels too, many lables are biodegradable but to get a truly compostable label one needs to be prepared to pay substantially more.
All tea-maker's go with convention when it comes to preserving teas. An aluminium tea caddy that stops light and oxidisation. We take a similar approach with an additional caveat. Our aluminium tins are excellent for storing herbal teas but we don't wish to rely on people recycling. We like the idea of "reusing" first. We have opted to sell 100% compostable pouches for our teas which can be thrown on your own compost heap at home. You simply open the pouch and re-fill your aluminium tin or kilner jar at home.
Granted, the teas will not keep as long in these pouches and they are not as air-tight as some polypockets. They also allow light in. As our pouches act only as short term packaging and as our teas are made in small batches with little or no shelf time between manufacturing and dispatching we think they are an excellent alternative to any other product on the market. Frankly, it all boiled down to "at what cost?" Do we go for ziplock bags at the cost of the earth we are so enthusiastically trying to harness the energy of? Or, Do we make a compromise that we can all live with and offer something back to the world in return?
Throwing nature to the wind, we also opted for business cards that are 100% recycled and compostable. They have the added benifit of being infused with seeds that will germinate and offer wonderful foraging food for your local pollenators. It feels good to give something back. Take note of our details and throw the card away as you please. Litter the earth with some seeds and allow nature to fight back against Glyphosate!
And Finally, a word on Tea-bags. Many of us have now become aware of the fact that most of our tea-bags are infused with plastic. Its not good for your health, not good for the compost heap and frankly, not good for the oceans either. We spent a little bit of time contemplating this issue as we set up shop. There are lots of options out there. Plastic free, bleach free tea-bags, reusable tea-bags and a plethora of infusers available to the consumers. Firstly, despite their convenience, tea-bags do not allow adequate water to surround the herbs for infusion. If you are drinking tea to derive benifit and flavour from the herbs - Tea-bags are just not the way to go, even the ever so trendy pyramid ones. Further, T-Bags seldom offer the therapeutic doses in a tea-bag the body could benifit from. Many offer about 2g of herb per tea-bag (around a tsp) when most of the herbal teas we suggest require about a tablespoon of the herb (although many of these can be used and reused).
Some infuser pose similar problems and whilst there are nice tea-pots around online we seldom make a herbal tea for more than one person. So, we have opted for an infuser for you mug that is easy to clean, simply empty it into the compost heap and rinse or put in the dishwasher. As time goes on we will hopefully be able to supply branded lidded mugs to perfectly infuse your tea, but for now we must cust our cloth to suit our means - the infuser it is! Anyone taking a 6 month or annual subscription can get one of these from us for free by way of saying "THANK YOU!"
Vocation Vocation Vocation....
Ministry, Mission & Medicine
3 words that all share one thing in commmon: "vocation".
A sense of calling seems to seems to be associated with each. Until recently I'd spent my life focusing on the first two. Any childhood notion of becoming a doctor vanished in and around the time I dropped Chemistry as one of A'levels and took a gap year to serve the church.
In 2009, that changed. Having spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals, my mother informed me of a dream she had of me wearing a white coat. I laughed it off as a fanciful idea; aspirations of a parent wanting her child to suceed. The idea of 7 years training also contributed to my lack of enthusiasm at such pursuit. I had after all been to University twice by this stage and the thought of a repeat venture was certainly not something I would relish.
10 years later this dream has taken on a new meaning as I come to a close of my first year's training as a Medical Herbalist. Forget the 7 years of training to become a doctor. I'm in the slow reader's group! It took 9 for me to be coaxed and cajouled into something I absolutely love.
Its interesting that on reflection, my decision to do Biology, Geography and R.E may slowly be revealing itself as the smartest thing I could possibly have done. I seem to have pursued all three paths in the vocational calls of Ministry, Mission and now as a Herbalist, Medicine.
Having spent the last twenty or so years working for the Church, and mission financing the course is an issue, with that in mind, "The Wild Sage" was born.
The Wild Sage is my Crowdfunding project. A way to raise funds for an education I hope to use in the future to help those around us. To sustainably raise enough money each month to pay for my course inbetween college and clinical hours. I've never really been someone who found it easy to ask for money so I've tried to offer something to people who would like to support us whilst blessing them with good health in the interim.
The idea is to offer a monthly subscription of wonderful herbal goodness that are organic, seasonal and very very tasty. I'm offering 4 teas packed and posted to your doorstep in reusable and compostable packaging. You get to sit back, relax, receive the herbal benefit of a cuppa in your hand whilst knowing that you are also supporting our little family as we take the next step in our vocational path to serve the people we love.
We will be selling teas individually to people who cannot support us with a subscription as it will also promote "The Wild Sage" for when I do start practicing. In the interim however a subscription service is the easiest way to maintain an effective and efficient stock contro. It also permits me to buy herbs in bulk for a specific number of clients.
Further, I'm offering anyone that takes up a full years subscription of teas the opportunity to consult from a trainee medical herbalist during these next two years of training. I will not offer diagnosis at this stage but can prescribe a treatment plan for pre-diagnosed illness's and would love the opporunity to bless those already supporting us. The consultation would be free; the medicines are not - though you might find that the tea subscription could be tailored better to your needs!
So, here is to the next two years of study. I would love it if you might share in our adventure and consider supporting us with a monthly tea subscription.