Herby Sense

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Mar 252011

By Frida Mittmann.

The last traces of winter are still circulating in our lecture theatres, offices, factories and homes generating influenza, snuffles, sore throats and fatigue. These are minor illnesses, however, and do not necessarily have to be cured with strong antibiotics that radically kill all bacteria, including the beneficial ones which can lead to unpleasant side effects.

It is a characteristic of our current lives to consume more rapidly, show a reducing interest for local medical traditions and simplify our lives with hasty cures at the long term expense of one’s own health.

Last Friday the Climate Change Project hosted nutrition expert Dr Chris Fenn who gave a lecture about Well-being and Mental Health which included explaining the harming effects of the ingredient Aspartame. This chemical sweetener included in NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Canderel, Benevia and E951 is also added to the Cold & Flu Lemsip remedy as well as many carbonated drinks.

Aspartame derives from GM micro-organisms and the short term side effects range from nausea to blindness.

To most of us, this is a new revelation because we take industrial medicine for granted, assume it is tested and is somehow a quick and reliable help. Obviously chemical medicine is vitally important for grave illnesses…. but we are talking about simple colds here.

Seasonal changes give colds and bacteria advantageous chances to spread. To prevent and cure the common cold, herbal infusions can be a great alternative, being tasty, affordable and natural. The time your body will spend degrading the additives and chemicals of an antibiotic could be potentially the same period in which herbs can act naturally.

This slowing down of effect will not only enable you to become healthy sooner, it will help you understand and reflect also on the products ingested to increase your fitness and quality of life. Knowing one has pleased their body with something healthy feels good and is therefore beneficial psychologically. To satisfy one’s senses with fresh and flavoursome herbs locally is beneficial both to one’s health and the environment.

Obviously chemical medicine is vitally important for grave illnesses…. but we are talking about simple colds here.

The Beannachar Camphill Community on the South Deeside Road, for instance, grow their own herbs and offer their homemade teas at the Newton Dee shop. Newton Dee is also a Camphill Community, which is further west of Aberdeen and is a community offering adults with disabilities meaningful work and the chance of personal development.

Their shop has particularly specialised in organic and biodynamic products. Other worthwhile shops for exploring herbal alternatives are Nature’s Larder in Holburn Street and MacBeans at the corner of Little Belmont St.

An idea to make use of herbs was also implemented with the planting of a herb garden in Hillhead last October by Aberdeen University students. In addition to culinary herbs as chives and parsley, medical herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage were planted also.

If you visit there and see the buds and flowers shooting out you may get into the mood to go out any buy yourself some seeds and plant some herbs in a pot on your window sill. Sow the seeds in shallow boxes now and then transplant seedlings either outdoors or in bigger pots in the spring.

A light, well-drained soil is best for starting the seedlings indoors. Be careful not to cover the seeds too deeply with soil. Generally, the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown. Rosemary is the easiest of all – simply cut off a branch from an existing bush and stick it in the ground and ‘Voila’ it self roots and starts a new bush ….. Easy.


Dec 312010

By Suzanne Kelly.

The next time you look for herbal remedies or even loose herbs you’d been able to buy freely, you might find them on an European Union list of banned products rather than on the shelf.

In a move which may well see small herbalists and herbal suppliers forced to close, the EU has decided that hundreds of herbal tinctures, blended remedies and even some loose herbs such as Pau d’Arco and Meadowsweet may be banned, or available only on prescription.

A Herbal Forum was set up to look at the issues involved in the legislative changes; but the outcome seems to mean that many herbs – some used for thousands of years throughout the world – will now be treated as if they were untried pharmaceuticals.

It is true that there have been problems in the past with some people having bad reactions to herbal medications, and the industry does need a form of quality control.  However, many feel that the legislation is far too heavy-handed for the small number of problems that existed.  In the UK for instance, the herbal stimulant Kava Kava was banned following one person having an adverse reaction to it some years back – and it should be noted that the herb had been incorrectly prepared .

It should be equally noted that there have been some notorious problems with prescription drugs and adverse reactions, addition, and bad prescribing, and the problem of what remedies should be taken in what quantity and by whom is simply not based on whether the remedy in question is plant or laboratory based.

Neal’s Yard Remedies is without doubt one of the UK’s oldest, most respected suppliers of loose herbs, herbal remedies, beauty products and therapies.  It sells a very wide variety of loose herbs, many have roots (pardon the pun) going back to pre-Christian times, and are indeed tried and tested.  A spokesperson from Neal’s Yard confirms that the company has been involved for several years working with trade associations on the best way to implement the legislation in the UK, but notes future potential problems.

Taking a plant with such a well-documented history of success off the market would serve very little purpose

The way the law has been framed, many shops will have to cease selling many of their  herbal products, and the licensing of products made by combining two or more herbs would have to jump through expensive, time-consuming hoops, which many small producers and herbalists simply cannot afford.

Let’s look at Meadowsweet again.  This plant was used by the Celts and others (it was a sacred herb along with Vervain and Watermint); it contains a substance from which modern aspirin was in effect derived.  Used as a tea, Meadowsweet can provide swift pain relief with virtually no stomach problem – aspirin can cause minor stomach bleeding for many.

Taking a plant with such a well-documented history of success off the market would serve very little purpose:  most of us could find it growing wild, or buy it off the Internet.  And there is where the law has failed us:- rather than going to an established herbal practitioner which sells pure, untainted herbs, if you are forced to go to the Internet, you really are making a great gamble as to what you will wind up with.  If you find a plant growing, unless you are very competent, you might take the wrong herb, or as is sadly the case, you might pick the right herb, but it may well have grown on dangerously polluted soil.  Thus the law serves very little protective purpose.

A little tightening up of regulations would have been beneficial; this law seems more based on heavy-weight EU legislation – ‘taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ is the phrase that springs to mind.

My advice to those who use herbal products?  Stock up on your favourite herbal remedies  now.