Katie Holden on Herbs - The Earth's Own Apothecary. Learn their potential and how to use them.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light enters you.
Imagine that for every ill, you had a plant instead of a pill. Perhaps you reach to take the aromatic mint Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for your stress headache, cold sores or insomnia. This herb has range - you might even offer it to your children for restlessness and your mother for slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
This simple swap speaks volumes to the holistic approach and tools for radical self-care. The new wellness industry is booming as we all grow tired of a disease-care system that doesn't give us individualised answers about how to stay healthy. As we've grown tired of being tied to waiting lists, and medicines that give a quick-fix, we've also grown curious. The symptoms are leading us back to the root cause and taking us on a personal journey of healing.
Nothing about your care is routine, or mandatory. Every decision you make will be held with respect.
The ancient Arabic physician Avicenna wrote that Lemon balm enabled 'the mind and the heart to be merry', and beekeepers have long rubbed it inside hives to attract new bees, and to keep the established ones home. It contains Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, and bitter principles (although it withstands a long steeping time of more than ten minutes and does not become bitter to taste). Consider that this complexity benefits you in myriad known and unknown ways the next time you come up against discomfort, and has no side effects when taken correctly.
As we begin to reintegrate some of this old wisdom into our medicine, scientific methods of inquiry are confirming the therapeutic validity of these plants. This year alone, studies have evaluated the impact of Melissa on cardio-protection, mild depression and psoriasis, and found positive results.
Whether the ancient people came to their practices by trial and error, by intuition or other means, we can benefit from integrated knowledge that supports the use of herbs in everyday health and beyond.
Surely you too have laid down in the juicy green grass and felt blessed by the blossom and the scents on the soft spring breeze?
My own passageway into herbal medicine came after an eruptive rash behind my daughter's knees persisted, despite corticosteroids and all manner of topical creams. We were referred to specialist dermatologists only to be given more petrochemicals. Then the first appointment with a Naturopath showed me the possibility of working towards vibrant health with natural living. The holistic framework gave us tools to discover roots and networks of causation behind her health issues, and it is this path of curiosity, exploration and dynamic healing that I walk every day with my family and clients.
When we first become unwell or feel ourselves 'going under', there can be this sense of obligation to push through and soldier on, if only to put off the inevitable crash and unraveling until the last minute. In crisis times where many families have no close relatives helping them raise children, round-the-clock work from home and struggling community, financial and time freedom issues, it is almost a badge of honour to tangle yourself into exhaustion.
Whilst conventional medicine may meet you at this critical point in your health journey with heroic measures including antibiotics, antidepressants, surgery and survival substances like antihypertensives - this crossroads can also present you with opportunity to explore herbal support that will deeply nourish the systems and organs that are depleted, allowing the body eventually to course-correct. In many cases via conversation between the client, clinician and herbalist, both types of medicine can be taken in conjunction to good effect.
Give me Chamomile for two feet firmly on the ground. When I've been worried and sleepless, burning myself out.
Preventatively, acutely and in chronic cases - there is nothing as abundant, sustainable, and diverse as the Earth's own apothecary. Carefully stewarded and used, we have a plentiful resource to support ourselves and our families before, during and after a health 'crash', to ward it off completely, or to mitigate the impact.
How do I tap in and take herbal medicine?
There are a few common ways to engage the help of plants and involve yourself in the alchemical dance, as humans and herbs exchange energy and create symbiosis.
Bring plants inside your home, they devour electromagnetic energy and oxygenate the environment
Create a culinary herb garden, with mint, parsley, lemon balm, chives, ginger, sage and more, so that you can always include fresh in your meals from your living larder
Include spices - they have untapped superpowers! Try cardamom to enhance digestion of grains and dairy, and reduce a hyperacidic stomach; cayenne to stimulate circulation and endorphins; celery seed to support protein digestion and lower uric acid levels; or cinnamon to improve absorption and inhibit pathogenic bacteria
Brush up on edible plants in your local area and collect small amounts of potent wild medicine, for example forage for cleavers and nettles from clean sites
Learn to make some easy swaps for your home pharmacy: fire cider and elderberry syrup to ward off the 'flu, calendula compress for burns and scrapes, motherwort for premenstrual mood, or a violet tea for headaches
Perhaps I need deeper work and guidance?
Herbal tinctures are concentrated preserves of medicinal plants made using alcohol and water. The alcohol (commercially, ethanol) extracts a large range of the phytochemicals, both acidic and alkaline constituents, and allows the potency of the plant to be held in solution for upwards of two years. There are also dried forms, including powdered (by the spoon or encapsulated) and cut herbs (loose tea) that have a longer shelf life than freshly picked plants and allow us to use out-of-season remedies year round. The herbal range includes native, naturalised and exotic medicines, perhaps fifty to one hundred herbs or more to choose from in a standard herbalist's dispensary. For those avoiding alcohol, we may use organic glycerite or vinegar to extract the active properties and create bespoke formulae that are unavailable commercially. Tinctures and other liquid forms are conveniently dosed by dropper or dram-ful a few times per day, depending on the case.
Peer into the plant pharmacy, and a rainbow of medicine beckons you:
Red hawthorn berries for nourishing the heart
(flavonoids, antioxidants, procyanidins)
Yellow dock root for boosting low energy
(calcium, iron, magnesium, quercetin, sulfur)
Pink rose buds for heat inside and out
(malic acid, quercetin, essential oils)
Green stinging nettles for allergies
(protein, beta-carotene, vitamins B, C, E, K, flavonoids, amines, mucilage, saponins)
Orange calendula flowers for infections
(iodine, manganese, potassium, flavonoids)
Purple echinacea for weeping eczema
(vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, polysaccharides, echinacoside)
Blue vervain for digestive cramps
(essential oil, mucilage, saponins, sulphur, zinc)
Brown milk thistle seeds for liver balance
(flavonoids, tyramine, histamine, gamma-linoleic acid)
Within this there is scope for specificity and an individualised treatment for the client, meaning no 'standard' remedy for any one syndrome or disease, but rather a particular blend of properties that will work together towards healthy homeostasis.
Case in point - we all have different energies.
An insect bite that swells red and holds fluid beneath the skin could use some cleavers and echinacea to move the lymph and boost immune cells. A bite that bled could use yarrow and one that became infected and suppurative might need a strong antiseptic, like goldenseal or plantain. If we can be specific about the herb, so too about the person using the herb. A 'hot' person with a red hypersensitive reaction may need cooling with barberry bark, whereas someone with cold extremities could use the warming quality of calendula.
For autoimmune disease in particular, as we dive into a holistic treatment framework, and look at emotional and spiritual health through the lens of what physical symptoms are telling us, there is an initiation into reflective work that asks, why?
Holistic herbal treatment seeks to alleviate symptoms alongside correcting the drivers and original causes that create our health trajectory. It takes an attitude of inquiry and reflection and sometimes it takes longer than we wish; with chronic conditions it may take strong commitment to supply the body with specific nutrients, superfoods, herbs, bodywork and practices that cultivate a balanced nervous system amidst a busy life. But it is here that there is deep healing, and eye-opening conversations to be held. Once the 'windows of perception' are cleared, expect to feel energized and reconnected to your power!
Herbalist & Naturopath
Herbal protocol for Autoimmunity.
Family medicine and the female rites of passage (menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause).
Completing postgraduate certification in Iridology and research in intergenerational iridology, which will enhance the reading of inheritance and allow greater specificity in treatment. Further training as a Junior Herbal Leader and Postnatal doula, Spring 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do your herbs come from?
I work closely with specialist U.K. based suppliers that have rigorous quality and safety standards in place. Most of my herbs are cultivated in Wales with adherence to organic growing and ethical wildcrafting principles, using innovative extraction methods to enhance efficacy.
Is there a standard amount I should take?
There are general guidelines for dosage within which we have some flexibility according to each client's condition and individual factors. Many adults get along with teas, tinctures and powders taken twice or three times per day, around the 5ml/5g mark; children and elders need less.
Some plants have a narrow 'therapeutic window', which means we only prescribe a fixed amount, to avoid toxicity.
Do herbs have side effects?
The side effects of taking your herbal medicine are the therapeutic effects! When taken correctly as prescribed, there are rarely negative side effects as long as the practitioner has taken into account any herb-drug interactions, appropriate dosage, frequency, and duration of treatment.
Some herbs increase liver activity, bowel transit time or other elimination pathways. This may result in a short period of adjustment upon commencing the protocol.
How much should I expect to spend per month? The cost of herbs varies. Loose dried plants for tea blends are cheaper; tinctured herbs that have gone through a lengthy process of extraction in alcohol and water, are understandably more expensive. A month's tea blend will cost around £20, a month's tincture will cost £60. Both are potent and effective, although some herbs are only available as tinctures, and the phytochemicals of roots, stems, rhizomes and berries are better extracted by this method.
Isn't that a lot more expensive than conventional medicine?
The true cost of pharmaceuticals is not necessarily the price tag that you see on the pharmacy shelf. The industry relies upon huge petrochemical, industrial and natural resources to create new drugs for market. The pollution generated from these processes, released into the air and water systems of our planet is deeply concerning. Metabolites of pharmaceuticals are detected in municipal waste and drinking water.
Although herbal medicine appears expensive in comparison, sustainably cultivated and stewarded land for natural medicine is an attribute to our ecosystem, not a pollutant.
How long do they last in the body?
This involves the science of herbal pharmacodynamics (effects and mechanism of action) and herbal pharmacokinetics (activity in the body over time, including absorption, distribution, biotransformation, localisation in the tissues, and excretion).
Herbs taken by mouth and already in solution (tinctures, teas) enter the bloodstream quicker than herbs taken in solid form (powders, tablets). Biotransformation in the gut wall and liver is affected by concurrent ingestion of food, other medicines and individual pathology.
Traditional and folk methods, and current functional herbal practice is to dose at regular intervals through the day to ensure the body is supported consistently towards the therapeutic aims.
What is their shelf life?
Teas, glycerites, oils and powders can be expected to retain potency for around one year if stored in a cool dry place. Tinctures maintain potency for upwards of two years. Most herbs need to be kept away from heat and light sources to ensure shelf life.
How long will I need to take it before I notice a change?
This is different with each individual and health situation, but generally for acute medicines you should notice a difference in under 20 minutes, for chronic conditions it may take a week or so for noticeable improvement.
How long will I need to take them for?
It is usually understood that the longer the condition has been present, the more time the supportive measures need to be in place. However, some people respond very quickly despite suffering with chronic pain, digestion or other long-standing difficulties.
Can I take them with other medicine e.g. antibiotics?
Each herb is carefully checked for interactions with medications, food, alcohol and other lifestyle factors. The herbal prescriptions are tailored to suit your needs and there are many ways of working with conventional drugs. Sometimes we may need to wait before commencing herbs.
Can I use them if pregnant or breastfeeding?
There is some conflation of these two very different (though inevitably linked) phases of a woman's life. Pregnancy is a time for delicate and careful use of herbs, to avoid stimulating early labour or affecting the baby, and particularly tinctures due to the alcohol content. There are a handful of extremely safe herbs we can use to support pregnancy and the acute issues that arise. Postpartum and during lactation, on the other hand, are times when we are able to address a wider range of issues, gynae and hormonal in particular.
Can children use herbs, or use preventatively if there is autoimmunity in the family?
This is a key area of interest - and I'm keen to explore the ways in which we can heal our children before the manifestation of disease. There is a long history of botanicals being used to support children's immunity, digestion, skin, mental health and phases of growth including puberty. Many children today encounter a fairly toxic everyday living environment in terms of food, water, air and home materials. Helping them to mitigate some of this can involve herbal programmes.
Will my GP/specialist need to know about my treatment?
It is ideal to work together towards therapeutic goals, however it is up to the client how they would like this to look. In some cases there may be a need to refer for blood work, or to other practitioners if desired.
What are your most popular herbal offerings?
There is lots of room for flexibility in the treatment protocol as we keep in touch and adjust the formulae to suit your needs. Even standard (popular) remedies can be tailored to your constitution. Bitters, antimicrobials, liver tonics, mood lifters and anxiety relief, are some of the great mixes we can create.
See our Herbal Menu for a list of the individual herbs we stock and their prices.