At the start of the COVID pandemic, for the first time ever I was unable to source essential remedies like echinacea and elderflower because my herb suppliers had run out of stock. It was alarming (and not to mention ironic) that during a global pandemic when we needed herbal medicines the most, the supply chain completely dried up. This begged the question – what would happen if we could no longer buy herbs on demand?
This horrifying realisation made me think about the importance of self reliance, and how even herbalists can take the availability of plant medicines for granted.
It made me realise that I need to become a more self sufficient herbalist.
Why being a self sufficient herbalist is key for the future
Global warming and the over harvesting of herbs means that some plant remedies are becoming increasingly scarce. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a classic example. This beautiful plant is endangered in the wild, meaning the herbal remedy can only be sourced from cultivated plants. Goldenseal tincture currently costs around £80 per litre litre, and so a remedy which was once a dispensary staple is now rarely used in patient prescriptions.
The irony is that goldenseal is easy to grow from the rhizome of an established plant. However, due to it’s popularity, even this is incredibly difficult to get hold of. This means it’s almost impossible to grow your own even if you wanted to. This is just one of the reasons why it’s essential to look after our endangered plants. We must encourage the cultivation of valuable remedies if we want them to continue to be widely available and affordable to all.
Another problem is that certain regulatory bodies are increasingly encroaching on the herbalist’s ability to prescribe. During the 14 years I’ve been in practice, I’ve seen a worrying large number of plants being removed from the list of remedies I’m allowed to dispense and sell. Recent times have seen herbs which have been safely prescribed by practitioners for hundreds of years come under threat. This includes common over the counter preparations such as St. John’s wort and echinacea, whose use is well researched and documented.
Finally, it’s a well known fact that small batch herbalists simply cannot compete with large, global healthcare companies who have the power to dictate market demand. “Unpopular” remedies (by this I mean herbs that are less profitable and usually only prescribed by herbalists) are increasingly falling out of fashion. Knowledge which has been handed down through generations about valuable plants such as sweet violet and figwort could potentially be lost, simply because there’s no longer a demand for them.
Life tastes better!
On a much lighter note, if you’ve ever grown your own food or eaten something that you yourself have foraged, you’ll know that it has a far superior taste to anything you could pick up off a supermarket shelf. What applies to our food also applies to our medicines. A tincture that has been freshly prepared from a plant grown in your own garden is always going to have way more therapeutic value than a product bought over the internet. Not only does growing your own medicines allow you to learn about the remedy in situ, it gives you a chance to forge a much greater connection to the land, as well as develop an appreciation of the time it takes to grow, harvest and prepare a remedy. Making your own medicines is a rebellious and empowering act. It’s my fervent belief that foraging, wild-crafting and basic medicine making skills should be taught to every child of school age.
With this in mind, here’s a simple (but very powerful) remedy that absolutely anyone can make from a few easy to obtain ingredients.
How to make your own super potent cough syrup
- A bag of organic, unrefined, brown sugar
- One or two large bulbs of garlic
- Three or four organic onions
- A small bottle of brandy
Peel and chop the onions and garlic. Sprinkle a layer of sugar on the bottom of your jar, and then create alternate layers of onions, garlic and sugar until the jar is full. Seal with an airtight lid and leave to sit for 2 to 3 days, during which time you’ll see the ingredients slowly dissolve to create a brown, goopy syrup.
Once ready, strain through a sieve and add half a bottle of good quality brandy. Not only does the alcohol act as a preservative meaning your medicine has a longer shelf life, it also takes the edge off the pungent flavour. Don’t be put off by the smell – it tastes delicious! The dose is one teaspoon of syrup either straight off the spoon or dissolved in warm water and sipped. Do this 2 to 3 times daily. Due to the alcohol content, this preparation is not recommended for children.
Some freebies to get you started!
If all this has whet your appetite to become a self sufficient herbalist, I recommend checking out the hundreds of free projects available on the Herbal Academy website. These range from how to make a tincture to instructions for making your own herb infused oils.
In the coming months, I’ll also be publishing some of my own online herbal medicine making courses. These will cover a variety of topics including making your own herbal vinegars, shrubs and mocktails and creating your own flower essences.
Grow your own plants, learn how to make your own medicines, support your local herbalist.
Self-Sufficient Herbalism: A guide to growing, gathering and processing herbs for medicinal use.
This practical book is written by medical herbalist Lucy Jones. It’s a great read for anyone wanting to know more about how to use herbs in their daily life, and is choc full of resources for any budding self sufficient herbalist.
The new complete book of self sufficiency by John Seymour is almost 50 years old yet the information contained within it’s pages is still as relevant as ever. Recently republished with a forward by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, it provides practical tips on everything from how to build a fence to making your own cheese.