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The Importance of Herbs

by Dylan Warren-Davis

Carmel Woods

About eight years ago I was invited to join in a botanical walk and survey at Carmel Woods, in Carmarthenshire. A small seam of limestone has created a pocket of rare plants, now defined as a site of SSSI. A group of interested botanists assembled at the car park and we were soon instructed by the organizer to follow him to the woods.

As we walked across a meadow to the site I found myself walking in stride with a guy in his 70’s. We struck up conversation. He described how he was a retired hospital consultant and had a life long interest in botany which he was now free to indulge. When he asked me what I did, I explained that I was a medical herbalist. Anticipating the usual automatic denigrating response from a conventional doctor, I was pleasantly surprised by his mild mannered, respectful interest.

“That’s interesting. How did you get to be involved with herbal medicine?”

I explained that my mother was a herbalist, who through my teenage years exposed me to all aspects of herbs, so on leaving school I immediately started on a training to be a medical herbalist.

By now we had reached the botanical focus to the walk and encountered a range of interesting plants, one of them was tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) so I explained to the group how the name tutsan was derived from the French 'toute saine' meaning 'all heal.” Though the herb had fallen from current use, it was clear in its name that it was once held in high regard as a healing herb.

Gerald picked up on my historical knowledge of herbs. “You seem to know a lot about the history of herbal medicine.”

I explained that I had made a personal focus of researching medieval herbal medicine. “Why medieval herbal medicine?” he asked.

I described how shorty after qualifying as a herbalist I asked the question, “If pharmacological science is verifying the traditional uses of herbs, then how have the ancient herbalists worked out their uses in the first place – centuries before science was ever invented? That seemed to me to be a very important question to understand, as not only does it provide a clear understanding of how their historical uses were worked out, it also enables their use to be transposed into modern herbal practice.”

He became intrigued as I expanded on how answering that question had taken me on a lengthy journey through Western metaphysical ideas, through medical astrology, alchemy, cabala and hermetic teachings. I demonstrated how this knowledge applied to some of the herbs we encountered as we walked along.

“This is fascinating Dylan. It is so important that you have brought this knowledge alive again. We are going to need this herbal knowledge in the future.” Gerald immediately launched unexpectedly into a scathing attack on pharmaceutical drugs saying, “they were not at all up to what they are cracked up to be. In fact they typically do far more harm than the good they are meant to do.”

He described how he chose to become a doctor because he wanted to help people, however through his career he had become appalled at the degree of harm that the drugs he, and other doctors had prescribed, had caused their patients. Clearly it had weighed heavily on his conscience.

“It is why so many doctors have mental breakdowns, become alcoholics, addicted to drugs or even take their own lives – through realizing the harm that they have caused.” He carried on to explain how the pharmaceutic industry has such a hold on the medical profession that if you don’t prescribe a particular drug for a particular diagnosis, you can get struck off. 

All discussion and debate about the harm that drugs are causing is suppressed. Consequently you are stuck in the invidious position having to prescribe a particular drug in the full knowledge of the harm it is going to cause the patient or risk your career.” He pointedly said, “Even now I am retired, I cannot speak out otherwise I will risk loosing my pension.”

Gerald (not his real name) described how, when he became a consultant, he decided to move into a field of medicine that reduced the need for prescribing drugs.

“Even then I used them sparingly. At least that way I could prolong my career and minimize the harm done.”

He said one of the things that attracted him to herbs is their relative safety of medicinal use. He added, “The way that the pharmaceutical industry in overt and covert ways seeks to undermine herbal medicine is shocking; it is deliberately done to undermine people’s confidence in herbs, to make more patients dependent on taking drugs and maximize sales.”

He said, “I know of three of my family members who all wound up in hospital due to the adverse effects of the drugs they were taking. Their time in hospital did little for them and so I suggested to each that they go and seek out the advice of an experienced herbalist. They all did as I advised and they all significantly got their health back.”

I said to him the main problem with conventional medicine as saw it, is that it lacks a therapeutic framework. Instead illness is defined as a marketing opportunity to exploit with drugs or surgical procedures without consideration of how to make a person well again. “That is exactly what is wrong with modern medicine. Profits come well before healing.”

“I just can’t believe we are having this conversation today, for I have not been able to fully share my concerns with any of my colleagues. It is extraordinary that I should have had it with you – a medical herbalist. I feel so much better for having met and had this interaction with you. It has been most enlightening. 

If I could have my entire medical career again, knowing what I know now, I would not become a doctor. They are no longer the healing profession that they make out to be. I would like to become a medical herbalist like you - for you guys are the real healers.”