The future of herbalism in the UK
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists is the longest standing professional body representing all aspects of clinical herbal practice from educational standards, to ethics to research to the herbalists themselves. In celebration of their 150th Birthday they have collated a collection of articles from some herbal experts. Read on to discover what herbalism has to offer our future.
‘An increasing number of herbal medicines are now proven to work beyond reasonable doubt. The introduction of the Traditional Herb Directive in April 2012 also means that herbal medicines are safe and often safer than conventional medicines, which have a shorter history. Of course, herbal medicine goes far beyond doctors suggesting patients buying herbal medicines over the counter. Medical herbalists are the alchemists of mother nature’s gift.’ Dr Michael Dixon (Herbal Exchanges, p.vii)
The outlook for herbal medicine
An excerpt by Barbara Griggs
When I ﬁrst embarked on a study of herbal medicine, some 40 years ago, I knew nothing whatever about my subject: at least, I had absolutely no practical experience of it, unless you count using a dock leaf to ease the smart of a nettle-sting. I grew up in the Cotswolds, in some of England’s most beautiful countryside. Its herbal riches were part of my childhood scenery – hedgerows blooming with hawthorn and dog- roses and elderﬂowers, road-verges thick with yarrow and dandelion and cleavers, green meadows painted with cowslips and poppies; and underfoot, everywhere, the humble plantain. But when anyone in the family fell ill, no wise old grandmother brewed up herbal teas or salves to cure us: we called in Dr Duncan like everyone else.
Unlike France and most of our Continental neighbours, England lost touch with its traditions of herbal doctoring many years ago, for the most part brutally eradicated by the Industrial Revolution. Pockets of local knowledge survived, as Gabrielle Hatﬁeld has painstakingly documented in her books, but by the 1960s, with new ‘miracle’ drugs ﬂooding onto the market, dispensed free by our wonderful National Health Service, who needed that old grandmother stuff?
This was a view shared by practically everyone I knew, even in the hippie early 1970s. So lightheartedly embarking on a history of herbal medicine, along the lines of ‘whatever happened to …’ I was surprised to ﬁnd that there still seemed to be quite a lot of it about, a kind of green underground movement. (Herbal Exchanges, p. 49)
Sourcing herbs sustainably: past, present and future?
An excerpt by Anne Stobart
Sustainability of herbal supplies is a worry. In a comprehensive article for the Herb Society, Sue Minter identiﬁed the top 300 medicinal plants and concerns about their supply in the longer term (2009). She noted that the UK is a signiﬁcant importer, at eleventh on the world list of herbal importers. Raw plant materials are still shipped all over the world and trade now involves billions of euros both in imports and exports (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations 2013) through a relatively small number of key market centres such as Hamburg in Germany. A breakdown of statistical detail on this world trade is not readily available as the categories of medicinal natural products overlap with categories for products used in perfumery and cosmetics, and other categories relating to essential oils, gums and resins.
There is a speciﬁc category for some 'medicinal plants' (coded 1211) which records a world level of exports for 2012 of nearly US$ 2.7 billion of which almost one-third is exported from China (International Trade Centre 2014). This is likely an underestimate of the overall trade, most of which is wild-harvested. Concerns about sustainability in herbal supplies from less developed countries have underpinned calls for regulation (Vines and Behrens 2004). Today, increased levels of medicinal plant regulation to protect the wild harvest should beneﬁt herbal practitioners and patients in terms of certifying the quality of supplies, and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to make a sustainable income. The new Fairwild standards provide considerable protection for both plants and people’s livelihoods (Kathe 2011) – but there is quite a hurdle in ensuring education for growers and suppliers to understand and use these standards, and for patients and consumers to appreciate the need to properly protect the sources (which comes at a cost). Imports and exports of raw plant materials for cosmetic and health uses are largely managed for and by multinational corporations, and relatively few small-scale businesses are continuing to provide supplies for the clinical herbal practitioner. These businesses have valiantly worked to improve the quality of herbal supplies, to respond to regulatory changes and to continue to serve herbal practitioners. Here we can see that herbal practitioner and herbal growers and manufacturers have interests in common, and the importance of continuing with ongoing links through NIMH. (Herbal Exchanges, p.136)
Managing the menace of antimicrobial resistance with herbal medicine
An excerpt by Michael McIntyre
Herbal medicines have been used as antimicrobials for thousands of years, yet they remain effective and this suggests that bacteria, fungi and viruses have a reduced ability to adapt to a plant-derived antimicrobial regime. This is likely to be due to the synergistic effect of the orchestra ofchemicals contained by medicinal plants that prevents bacteria, fungi and viruses from developing immunity to their constituents as multi-targeting by the chemical combinations increases efﬁcacy and reduces resistance. The antimicrobial action of each individual herbal medicine is further enhanced by the use of herb combinations routinely employed in all herbal traditions. Synergy occurs at both a pharma - codynamic (what the drug does to the body) and pharmacokinetic (what the body does to the drug) level (Gibbs 2013, Teucher et al. 2004) and a number of papers have been published investigating potential beneﬁts conferred by the synergism of phytoconstituents (Bishayee et al. 2012, Ricciardiello et al. 2011, Fiebich et al. 2011, Gertsch 2011, Yang et al. 2014). (Herbal Exchanges, p. 146)
Some thoughts on a common philosophical perspective
An excerpt by Andrew Chevallier
Medicinal plants span the continuum that runs from food to medicine to poison. As a generalisation, plants can act as food, medicine or poison depending on the dosage used; in any given situation, the aim is to use the lowest effective dosage and the best tolerated herbs for the patient concerned.
Herbal extracts that are close to their natural state (and level of dilution) are more likely to be well tolerated than concentrated extracts. Medicinal plants and simple extracts are particularly well-suited to supporting self-healing processes, promoting effective digestion, absorption, metabolism and elimination, and mitigating the effects of acute or chronic stress.
The dilute dosage and synergistic interaction of the complex of constituents within medicinal plants means that they tend to support rather than override normal physiological function and self-healing processes; combinations of different medicinal plants extend this idea of synergistic activity further, different plants and constituents reinforcing the activity of other plants and constituents. (Herbal Exchanges, p. 217)
The above extracts are from Herbal Exchanges produced to celebrate 150th anniversary since the founding of NIMH in 1864. Copies of the book can be purchased from www.nimh.org.uk
This compilation of extracts is reproduced in this format with the kind permission of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH). No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the NIMH and the publishers, Strathmore Publishing. ©The National Institute of Medical Herbalists 2014. Copyright of individual articles: the contributors.