Many people around the world are voicing their concern that conventional medicine is arguably profit-centered, not prevention-centered (but rather focusing on treatment). Additionally, an increasing number of people are talking to their physicians about preventative health and wellness measures and are asking for non-Rx solutions to support a healthy lifestyle.
In light of this, we thought it would be interesting to discuss preventative treatments that are often available in one’s garden and surrounding area.
Charlotte Webb, Medical Herbalist, speaks to The Blue Dot Post’s Sheena Bratt about her passion and vision for herbalism in the home:
Sheena: Good morning Charlotte, I’m delighted to be speaking to you today about such an exciting subject. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself in relation to the work that you do?
Charlotte: I am a mother of two and a Consulting Medical Herbalist with a 2:1 BSc (Hons) degree in Herbal Medicine from the University of Lincoln, England. My passion is to return the knowledge of herbal medicine to the people who’ve lost it – it’s a vital part of our heritage. In a nutshell, I’m a natural healthcare professional who wants to go right back to grassroots and see people taking ownership for their own preventative medicine and treatment of minor illnesses – which in turn will dramatically reduce the numbers of long term ill health problems (both physical and mental).
In my business, I see patients for consultations, facilitate community discussion and learning through herb walks and talks and also run workshops, e.g. Herbs for Women’s Healing which discusses such topics as the role of stress and societal expectations for women and their implications on common issues such as the unprecedented numbers of dysmenorrhea (medical term for period pain) and PMT cases – this prevalence is taken for normal, but menstrual issues are normal only in our current culture, not biologically. Herbs can be used for societal change in a very peaceful and empowering way, both indirectly and directly.
Sheena: So what was it that originally got you into herbal medicine and what generates your passion for it? And are there other things which you would emphasise in conjunction with herbal medicine?
Charlotte: I started off just experimenting with herbal teas as a teenager and was always interested in any natural alternative to the current model of ‘healthcare’. When the time came to choose a university subject, I was astounded to see one could study a BSc in Herbal Medicine and applied immediately. The course was dramatically eye opening and challenging my preconceptions and worldview right from the very first week. It was a great platform for self development which is a vital component of training for a medical herbalist. We have the concept of The Wounded Healer; one who seeks to help others needs to also heal their own pain while accepting their limits to do so.
All of us suffer on some level and I constantly remind myself to let go of ego in consulting; I am helping someone with their health problem, but that doesn’t make me superior, and it’s vital to encourage the patient to take ownership of their own health. I want to see my patients claim sovereignty in their lives and that must start with their healthcare. We’re so conditioned to take a pill for an ill and not look any deeper, but beneath every illness, there are layers upon layers of cultural conditioning, past pain, poor food choices; all of these must be addressed if true healing is to take place. Herbs play a vital role, not least in getting the person to a state of mind where they want to make changes. Prescribed herbal medicine must be in conjunction with making good choices in the rest of the person’s life…herbs can offer amazing acute actions, but for deep healing to take place, commitment is needed. It’s a wonderful journey that I’m proud to walk with my patients. We are all fighting our own battles and I have met some incredibly brave patients who inspire and teach me.
Sheena: What are some of main benefits you’ve seen from your own practice and others?
Charlotte: I’ve got a long list of testimonials from happy patients who have seen such benefits as: conception of children despite 2 years of subfertility; dischargement from gastroenterologists and asthma nurses; cessation of pharmaceutical drugs; achievement of normal birth without the slightest medical intervention (use of herbal birth kit); child with cerebral palsy waking once a night maximum from leg spasms instead of 3-4 times a night (mother and child both much happier!); increased immunity to common colds and infections; cessation of migraines and period pains. To name but a few! It’s a rare patient that won’t benefit from herbs.
For myself, my health and well being depends on my continued good relationship with herbs. When I am consistent with taking my herbs, I am a happy, well nourished, productive person. When I am remiss, I experience muddled thinking, tiredness, irritability. The difference is quite astounding.
Sheena: What is ethical wildcrafting?
Charlotte: Ethical wildcrafting is simply taking no more than you need for a year’s supply of the plant medicine. Obviously not harvesting endangered species. I choose large communities of the plant I’m seeking, obviously healthy, and take 30-50% of it (with permission from both the landowner if necessary and the plant spirits). I don’t take the elders of a community. e.g. if there is a small hill of nettle and cleavers, abundant and healthy, I’ll take 50% of the bottom section – young fresh top shoots. I wouldn’t take the top section because they’re older (not optimum for nettle harvesting), but also out of respect for the elders of that community. I have found this attitude of respect for elders (of all species) is quite prevalent among my herbal colleagues.
Ethical wildcrafting has a common sense base – i.e. it’s being aware of things like, if you harvest all of the elderflower blossoms, not only have you stripped the tree bare of beauty and flowers for others (both humans and non-human animals), you’ve sabotaged your own elderberry harvest as there will be few, if any, berries to harvest come autumn. Ethical wildcrafting also has a spiritual thread, as it’s being aware of not purely focussing on your sole desires, your immediate needs. It’s forward thinking, planning, it’s treading carefully on our earth, it’s respect for all other life and recognising that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Sheena: Would you like to discuss 2 or 3 herbs that are currently abundant in the UK, and some of their main beneficial properties, and how they might be taken?Charlotte: I’d love to! Currently I’m having a love affair with elderflower, which can be picked fresh for teas in early summer (simply pour boiling water, steep 15min and strain), dried on racks for use through the year (my favourite way to use it) or made into tinctures from the fresh or dried material. I’m having great success with elderflower with my hayfever patients currently – it’s worked quicker than even I would have predicted, I think it’s especially potent this year! Elderflower is also used as a gentle diffusive to release the heat of a temperature while keeping the temperature just high enough to burn up pathogens in an illness – this is a particularly safe and effective herb for children’s fevers and I use it regularly for teething fevers with my two children.
To use: Simply take 1 teaspoon of dried elderflower to a small pot/mug and add boiling water, steep 15 minutes, strain and drink warm – dose varies, e.g. I’ll take a cup myself, give half a cup to my 4yr old and give maybe 50-100 ml to my 18mth old.
Nettle is an abundant ‘weed’ that everyone will know – by sight or touch! Simply collect the top heads, before flowering, through spring and either use fresh or dry them for a year’s supply. To dry, you would hang in bunches from a line across the ceiling – mine are hung up with small craft pegs from lines criss-crossing the clinic room. When dry (3-4 weeks) they can be crumbled and stored in glass jars for a year (they will gradually lose potency and it’s best to make fresh every year – not least because it keeps you connected to nature’s cycles). Nettle contains large bioavailable stores of iron, calcium and trace minerals and is my go-to herb for blood cleansing, iron boosting, energy boosting and pregnant and nursing mothers.
Hawthorne is a beauty, I use the flowers and leaves in spring/early summer and make into a fresh tincture – I do this by filling a mason jar with the fresh flowers and leaves and pouring on vodka (this is the menstruum to draw out the constituents). Label it and shake vigorously twice a day for a month, then strain into sterilised amber bottles. It’s an excellent heart remedy, on all levels – it helps blood pressure, angina, tension, stress and grief. I especially use it as a daily prophylactic with elderly patients. In the autumn it gives berries which make excellent tincture and are full of vitamin c and immune boosting properties.
Sheena: This is all extremely fascinating and I must add that I know of many people including myself who have first hand experience of the amazing health benefits. For people that haven’t got the experiential evidence, would you be able to point us in the direction of a couple of peer-reviewed studies showing the health benefits of some herbal remedies? And perhaps also for how long our culture has been using herbal medicine?
Charlotte: Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine and there is evidence of its use from paleolithic times. (Links to studies coming)
Sheena: Are there places where people would be best advised to not gather herbs, and places where it would be ideal to do so?
Charlotte: Your own garden is ideal! Most gardens will have nettles, dandelions, cleavers, mint. Fields, meadows and woods with public right of way are ideal but ensure your herbs are off the beaten path because of dogs being walked in the area – herbs collected slightly above ground levels and off the path are ideal.
Although herbs are abundant in urban spaces, don’t gather right next to a road, even a quiet one, minimum is 100 yards away but I prefer 200 yards if possible. This is because of the plants absorbing pollution from car exhausts. Don’t gather from private property unless you have express permission.
Sheena: What is your vision for the future?
Charlotte: I want to see a home herbalist in every family, daily dispensing herbs for well being as preventative medicine. Also, dealing with acute illness with confidence in their abilities in natural nursing. My role would be educational and consulting on the more long term, chronic conditions, medicine making and book writing.
Sheena: An inspiring vision! Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
Charlotte:: My final word to anyone interested in herbs would be: just get out into your local environment and take a walk, properly look at the local plants, get a good plant ID book and get to know your environment. It doesn’t have to cost a thing and you’ll reap the rewards of even the smallest harvest and use of common local plants (which are 1000 times more potent for your than any exotic plant, by virtue of the fact you share the same environment). Just get started, no matter how small or sporadic!
Thank you for allowing me to talk about my favourite subject and spread the message of herbal healing even further afield! It’s been a pleasure.
Sheena: Thank you so much for talking to us today, it certainly has been insightful!
Charlotte Webb is founder of Homestead Herbal.