The Medicine Garden, Western herbalists

Steve Taylor MNIMH, Herbalist

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Herbal medicine seemed to find me....

..rather than me choosing it as my career,  I spent a long time unsure how best to make a positive impact on the world and the people around me, and then I found that I was doing just what was right for me,-working with my friends the plants! There had been no great revelation just a gradual discovery of a way of doing something that felt positive and helpful. As a young person I found that the natural world was a great soother, when feeling dejected there was no better way of changing ones mood than seeking out dappled sunshine through leaves and the sound of the wind in the tree tops. 

However I knew little about plants and their uses until I began to travel and experience cultures that still used and depended on natural resources to provide for all their basic needs; food, shelter, and medicines. Only then did I really begin to appreciate how entwined the creatures of this planet are with the natural world that sustains us all, right down to the air we breathe.

The first time I experienced the physical healing power of plants was when travelling in the Amazon with my wife; she was struck down with a severe bout of dysentery. We were staying in a basic boarding house which we shared with rats and cockroaches, the rats danced above us on the ceiling at night and the cockroaches spied on us from dark corners by day, and as there was only one toilet which was limited to a water supply for only an hour a day it was the last place you would wish to find yourself when sick. Having purchased every kind of drug and medicine in the local pharmacy that had been promised to work and having had no improvement, we took the advice of another traveller to relocate to a clean bed in a small pension that had its own water suppply on the edge of town. Carrying my very weak wife, we were shown to a clean room by the owner on arrival, a local woman who seemed kind and concerned. She returned soon after with a glass containing a pale liquid, saying it was a local remedy made from the juice of a forest plant that she was sure would help. It only took a few hours before the stomach cramps subsided, and by the next morning my wife even had a small appetite, and in a few days were continued our travels. This showed me that what nature had to offer could actually succeed where all our modern scientific resourses could not.

When I later discovered that I could train to work with plants in this way I knew it was something I must explore.

It took four years of study and  seemingly endless exams to qualify as a herbalist and join the National Inststute of Medical Herbalists. I have continued to deepen my knowledge of herbs by learning through treating the people who have come to me, meeting experienced herbalists, travelling to meet tradition tribal healers, working with Romani shamans and native American Elders, and studying in depth other systems of natural medicine.

As a western Herbalist I concentrate on using the plants I know best, those of Britain and Europe, we have a long tradition of herbal medicine in this part of the world that is as effective and as developed as the traditional medicine form the East that we hear so much about.

However this doesn't mean that one one cannot use and learn from other systems of medicine, I find the diagnosis of disease we get from modern western medicine invaluable , but alonside this I use the pulse and tongue diagnosis techniques I have learnt from studying Chinese and tibetan medicine.

Using the best quality herbs, adapting the way we give a herb for each person in each situation is essential to get right if a herbalist is to help their patients effectively.

I have been  involved in a project at Kew gardens called "Ethnomedica". We are gathering as many memories of how people used to use plant rermedies in the home. Home treatment with herbs was commonplace before conventional medicine was used in such a widespread way due to it being provided for freeon the NHS. The plants that have been chosen as home remedies are in use because they have been successful. This success means they get recommecded to others,more peole use a succeccful remedy and traditional use grows. Although this folk medicine is rarely considered relevant as "medical evidence" it does in fact give us a very good starting point for how we can best use a herb. I also find that studying the medicine of the ancient Greeks such as Hippocrates, the medeival herbalsits such as Culpeper, and using their approach to understanding how to use herbs as part of an energetic system has enabled me to develop a wide knowledge base from which to work.

The most exciting moment as a herbalist is when a patient tells you about something that a herb has done for them which is far beyond both their expectations and yours, this is often when you learn the most valuable lessons about using herbs as medicines, and then find a new way of helping other patients who come to you.



In Joza Townshipwith "Tata Sogwini" Clan Elder having been presented with "Sangoma" healing beads by the tribal diviners.