Updated: Aug 24
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) celebrated its 150th anniversary at the NIMH conference in October 2014. Hananja Brice-Ytsma, NIMH Director of Education had phoned me the previous December asking if I would be interested in co-editing a commemorative book with articles written by herbalists from around the world. On reflection, it was meant to be as we did not set any specific themes but allowed the collective energy of the participating herbalists to decide the titles and content! The only requirements were that articles had to be 500-3,000 words on any aspect of Western herbal practice, referenced and initial drafts submitted within 6 weeks! Everyone who said they would accept the challenge and write something for the book did so within the very short time frame. When we reviewed the twenty six submissions, we were surprised to find that the titles neatly fell into five categories: herbal heritage, herbal research, herbal experiences, herbal therapeutics and herbal philosophy which in turn led us to the title for the book, Herbal Exchanges. It took another 6 months to complete the editing, sourcing images, book production and proof reading before the book was finally ready for launching at the 150th NIMH Conference. A tremendous achievement and one whereby all of the herbalists involved in the project gave their time freely and for this we are truly grateful. These excerpts hopefully will give you a flavour of the rich and diverse content in the book:
The Tonic Prescribing Principle of 1860 in modern herbal practice One of Napiers' most famous formulas was The Nerve Debility Tonic. This was a complex mixture for the 'stresses and strains of modern living', for 'when one could just sit down and cry'. To quote from an early text of John Napier, 'The first action is on the nerves of digestion, encouraging blood supply so that food may be properly digested. The nerves to the bowels are restored, easing congestion, and headaches, and blood supply to the muscles in the back and neck, to ease tension. It is all too easy to dismiss this explanation as being unscientific and fanciful. But behind the marketing speak of the time were some solid beliefs that had stood the test of clinical practice for over 100 years... (Dee Atkinson, pp.12)
Research informing herbal medicine practice The professional herbalist can be seen to be in an often challenging position as herbal practice continues to develop, integrating traditional and ancient medicine with modern scientific and evidence-based practice; all the while having to reconcile often incomplete and conflicting sources of evidence. The increasing level of clinical surveillance and regulatory frameworks makes further demands on the herbal profession to justify their practice and defend their herbal heritage and tradition. Quality assurance of the herbal medicines themselves is crucial and must have a high priority even though resources for research in this area are limited... (Julie Whitehouse, pp. 82) My life and work with herbs During the Second World War my mother was asked to go to Arnhem, Oosterbeek (in Holland, in the area where 'A Bridge too Far' was filmed) to help out in a home for elderly people. This brought about a turning point in my life as there was no school for me to attend. Next to the house was a large monastery and I became friendly with one of the monks who played a great part in my young life. I must have been intelligent enough to take in what he taught me, much of which made a lasting impression on me. I went to help him in the herb garden every day and he would tell me all about the medicinal uses of the plants, roots and trees. With great passion, the monk taught me the wonders of God's creation in nature... (Jan de Vries, pp.107)
Trunks and leaves – producing the well rounded herbalist Teaching, working with local groups spreads the vital message that we, as a species, must reconnect with nature or we are lost – the earth will move on to its next experiment leaving us behind. Teaching and taking part in local groups and grass roots environmental organisations is the only way to change humanities attitude towards the earth…(Christopher Hedley, pp.122).
The microcirculation: a new frontier in cardiovascular phytotherapy We receive nearly all our tissue nourishment and oxygen via the circulation of blood. The common view is that our circulatory or cardiovascular system consists of veins, arteries, and the heart. Hence, all circulatory health problems are seen to arise from malfunctions of these key structures of the macrocirculation. But missing from this perspective is any consideration for the largest, and most neglected, part of our circulatory system. This is the microcirculation, the part that actually does the job of tissue nourishment... (Kerry Bone, pp.153)
Some thoughts on a common philosophical perspective We will have a healthy future only in so far as we are willing to make a stand on our experience and beliefs and our ability to select and develop the intellectual 'tools' of our craft... (Andrew Chevallier, pp. 218)