Category: Blog

Rediscovering British herbs with Native Awareness

11203591_10153299665834282_3942814190489003464_oA few years ago I decided to go on a Native Awareness course, native skills one, which is an introduction to bushcraft skills and the skills of native peoples’. Learning those native skills really got me thinking about how medicinal plants are used by native people across the world as well as our ancestors in Britain.

At the time my knowledge of British medicinal plants was limited and I suddenly saw that for the shame it was. I was a herbalist living and practising in Britain but the number of British plants I was prescribing could be counted on one hand. It was also obvious that my plant ID skills could also do with updating, especially poisonous plants.

That realisation sent me on a bit of a journey of personal study, and working with other herbalists who use a lot more British plants, expanding my knowledge and skills.

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When James (the founder of Native Awareness) asked me if I would be interested in teaching a medicinal plants course with him, I was excited but also very nervous. James has a vast knowledge of plants himself and I was unsure what I could bring to such a course.

 

 

After months of planning we taught the first medicinal plants course in 2014, and it involved lots of experimenting. Neither of us had dried medicinal plants using fire before, and the results were interesting! But it forced me to look at alternative ways to make medicines like infused oils, balms, and poultices.

10314020_10152426359889282_4783032923788498560_nI couldn’t help feeling a deep connection with the medicine people across the world who must have had (and still do have) these problems. How breaking a plant down with a stone makes a very different poultice to one done in a food processor.

I was thrilled to be asked back to teach again in 2015, and I was raring to go with new ideas. The fire drying was improved and the infused oil was the strongest I’ve ever seen made. I also introduced a few new topics to the medicinal plant ID, wild crafting, and medicine making; poisonous plants and medicinal mushrooms.

11160059_10153299700634282_7411604696093964325_oYear on year as my knowledge and skills grow I add new things into my workshops. So no two courses are ever the same, this also stops me from becoming bored!

I also learn a great deal from the people on the courses, everyone has a story to tell about how they have used a plant, or how their granny always used to swear by nettle tea.

This year I will be back teaching with Native Awareness again, from 29th April to 1st May, Ravenshill Wood, Worcestershire. For more information or to book, please contact James at Native Awareness.

Click here for more great photos from the medicinal plants courses.

 

Frequently asked questions – what to herbalists get asked?

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked and the answers I give.

1. Can herbs be used to treat children?

The simple answer is yes but with everything that depends on what the situation is, is the child taking medication? For more information on herbs and children take a look at my recent blog.

nettle_flower_full2. Can herbs be used to help eczema?

The answer is yes in most cases but dietary and lifestyle changes also need to be taken into account. The treatment will be taking herbs both internally and externally, while treating the whole person and the cause. I have written three blogs on eczema, “Eczema – what is it, What role does diet play in eczema, and Can herbs help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema?

3. Can helps be used by people taking medication?

That depends on the type of medication they are taking, the dosage and the reason they are taking it. There are many medications that are sensitive to not just herbs but foods too. It is important to always consult a medical herbalist if you are taking medication and want to take herbs too. They are trained to understand the interactions between herbs and drugs and they will be able to offer alternative herbs that do not interact with your medication.

I will be writing more about how herbs interact with drugs and safe herbs to use at home in a new blog.

ollie4. Can I give herbs to my dog?

Lots of people want to look after the health of their pets in a more natural way and it’s understandable that they would want to look at using herbs for that. However, it is important to remember that only a veterinarian can prescribe medicines of any kind, whether herbal or not to any animal.

The rules around herbal medicines for animals are quite similar to people in that you can buy some herbal products over the counter from your vet. They are approved herbal medicines and include things like anti-anxiety drops for dogs which contain valerian.

There is a bit of a crossover however with herbs that are more foods than medicines. There are lots of recipes where culinary herbs are given in homemade dog food to improve nutrition. If you are wanting to do this make sure the information is from a reputable source (i.e. approved by a vet).

5. Can I make my own herbal medicines?

Yes, and I encourage you do to so. I have some tips and easy to follow recipes for using simple herbal medicines at home. Take a look at my free downloads here.

6. Can herbs be used in pregnancy?

There are some herbs that can be used in pregnancy, for example raspberry leaf tea, but I always recommend anyone who is pregnant and wanting to take herbs to speak to a medical herbalist before taking herbs.

DSC_25947. Can herbs cure cancer?

This is a very important point. There is no ‘cure’ for cancer whether herbal or pharmaceutical. Chemotherapy for example is a treatment of cancer, not a cure.

The law states very clearly that no-one must claim to cure cancer. So if you see an advert for a new Amazonian herb that can ‘cure’ cancer please don’t go out and buy it.

Herbalists can support people with cancer and who are undergoing cancer therapies, for example, herbs can be used to reduce the side effects from chemotherapy.

 

Please remember if you are unsure or have any questions about herbs and whether they are right for you, it is important to get the advice of a medical herbalist.

You can find a qualified medical herbalist using any of these lists, or you can get in touch with me.

 

Herbal Medicine research blog – Nov – Dec 15

In November and December the following health research has caught my eye.

1. A new study showed that Andrographis reduced triglyceride levels in patients with raised celerytriglyceride levels (one of the measurements of high cholesterol).
2. A new study of celery seed has shown that when given to patients with arthritis, it reduced pain and inflammation to a greater extent than aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.

3. A new study has shown that Ginkgo improved attention spans of children with ADHD and hyperactivity.

4. Turmeric has been shown to be effective at treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

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5.Holy basil has been found to improve cognitive function and reduce stress in healthy people.

6. A new study has shown that patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for head and neck cancer with radiation dermatitis, were treated effectively with a combination of St John’s wort and neem oil.

Eczema blog part 3 – Can herbs help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema?

Traditional herbs for eczema

Traditionally herbal treatment of eczema would be two fold an external preparation to alleviate symptoms and an internal medicine to ‘cleanse the blood’.

Traditional blood cleansers would have been dandelion, burdock, yellow dock and nettle.

Modern herbal medicine treatment is very similar, although we now know that the blood cleansers are allowing the liver to detoxify, reducing circulating metabolites, decreasing inflammation and inflammatory markers.

nettle_flower_fullAn easy and safe remedy to try at home

An easy and safe remedy to try at home is nettle leaf tea. You can either gather your own (in the spring or summer) or buy the tea bags at a health food shop or supermarket.

I recommend drinking three cups a day.

External treatments for eczema

External treatments for eczema are many and varied but they usually consist of herbs that are antimicrobial (to stop infection within the eczema site), anti-inflammatory herbs (to alleviate the redness and swelling at the eczema site), and often an anti-pruritic (or anti-itch).

Clinical research

A study of 72 patients with moderate eczema showed that when half of the patients were given a chamomile cream, and half were given a hydrocortisone cream, they were equally effective.

herbal medicine 3 picChamomile is one of the key herbs that I use in my practice for eczema. A cold, used, chamomile tea bag can be effective and relieving the itch and inflammation on very irritated eczema where the skin is completely broken.

Another study showed that St John’s wort when used topically on eczema can reduce inflammation and the condition of skin in the area. A study of 28 patients with moderate eczema used the St John’s wort cream in comparison to a plain cream. The St John’s wort cream was more effective and decreased the eczema symptoms.

Other herbs that have been studied clinically and found to be effective at reducing eczema symptoms are: gotu kola, Oregon grape, liquorice and pansy.

Could herbal medicine help you?

If you or a someone you know suffers from eczema, I recommend they go and see a medical herbalist. A medical herbalist can make an individual prescription, for both the external and internal symptoms.

Find a qualified herbalist through any of these lists.

 

Eczema blog part 2 – What role does diet play in eczema?

Herbalists have made the link between diet and skin health for some time but it’s taking modern research a little while to catch up.

Glass of milk
Glass of milk

Dairy products, are they bad for eczema?

As far as I am aware (please send me the link if I’m incorrect), there isn’t currently a published study can shows the link between dairy products and an increase in eczema symptoms. However, some doctors think there is a link and some are recommending that it is removed from the diet.

I always recommend that people with eczema may find that switching to a nut, oat or goat milk may find a reduction in their skin inflammation. It’s important not to use soya milk however, as that can have the same inflammatory action as cow’s milk.

Are pro inflammatory foods a problem in eczema?

The simple answer is yes. While each person is different, eczema is an inflammatory condition and therefore foods that increase an inflammatory state in the body may well increase the symptoms of eczema.

Foods to reduce
  • Soya
  • Alcohol
  • Refined sugars
  • Preservatives
Foods to add in

Just as there are inflammatory foods, there are also anti-inflammatory foods. I recommend my patients increase these in their diet if at all possible.

  • broccoliOily fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits and vegetables (as many different colours as you can)
  • Wholegrains
  • Beans and pulses

Don’t forget external irritants for eczema, as the skin is the body’s barrier it has to be strong to avoid infection. In the case of eczema that barrier is damaged and broken.

Where possible try to get the most natural form of the following products to avoid reactions:

  • Washing powder/liquid
  • Soaps and shower gels
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Any beauty products that may come in contact with the area affected e.g. make up or perfume
Laura Carpenter
Laura Carpenter

If you or a member of your family suffers from eczema and you are interested in finding out if herbs could help, give your local herbalist a call.

If you’re in the Wellington area (in Somerset) feel free to give me a call or email to find out how herbal medicine could help.

Eczema – what is it?

Part 1 – What is eczema?

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write a blog about eczema as it’s actually something that I not only see a lot of in my clinic but also suffer from myself. It was also what started me on the journey of becoming a medical herbalist.

Accrording to the Eczema society, one in five children and one in twelve adults suffer from eczema.

So what is it?

Eczema is actually a very broad term meaning ‘itchy red skin’, and that covers a lot of different skin conditions with different causes.

So what are the main types of eczema?

  1. Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema is the genetic type of eczema, it often runs in families and has links to hayfever and asthma.

  1. Contact eczema or dermatitis

This type of eczema flares up when in contact with for example harsh chemicals. It is most commonly found on hands but can show across the body, if for example the irritant to blame is washing powder.

  1. Pompholyx (sometimes known as dyshidrotic) eczema

This type of eczema presents with blisters of clear fluid on hands and feet, restricting movement and causing pain.

There are other forms of eczema but these are the main types, for pictures and more detailed information visit http://www.eczema.org/types-of-eczema.

I personally suffer from all three of the main types of eczema. As I’m typing this my hands are covered in red scaly and dry skin typical of atopic eczema. I used a hand wash that was too strong my skin and it has taken over a week for my skin to recover.

In the next parts of this blog I will talk about the role of diet, and natural treatments that are available.

For more information on eczema please see the NHS website and the National Eczema Society website.

If you suffer from eczema and would like to see a medical herbalist, you can find one local to you via this link.

Are herbs suitable for children?

This is a question that I get asked quite a lot so I thought I would write about a few herbal remedies for children.

So are herbs suitable for children?

The easy answer is yes, but with all things there should be an element of caution. If you are ever unsure whether herbs are appropriate, please speak to your local herbalist. If a child is undergoing treatment for a medical condition, it is important to get advice from a herbalist before starting home treatment.

Matricaria recutita
Matricaria recutita

The most common condition that I get asked about is eczema, and that really deserves a whole blog of it’s own (which I will be writing shortly). But here are a few tips to try before considering going to see a herbalist for treatment.

1. Eczema in children is often linked to dairy intake, in particular cow’s milk. Try switching to a goat milk for a period of a few weeks and see if there’s an improvement. Don’t be tempted to switch to soy milk, this can have the same effect as cow’s milk.

2. To reduce the itch, try chamomile and oat baths. Fill an old sock with oats and a handful of chamomile flowers (if you don’t have these you can use chamomile tea bags (6 should do it)). Tie the old sock over the hot tap of the bath so that the water runs through it. When the bath is full squeeze the excess water out of the sock (you should get a lovely foamy, creamy liquid come out).

3. Ensure that the eczema gets air to it and is allowed to dry out, try to ensure it’s not scratched (I know this can be difficult). A cold (used) chamomile tea bag can be applied to particular hot areas of eczema to provide relief (remember to dry the area well afterwards).

 

Another question I get asked is, how can I get my child to take herbs?

And this doesn’t just go for children, there are plenty of my adult patients who don’t like the taste of herbs! Here is my recipe for cold and flu fighting lollies.

 

ice lolliesCold and flu fighting ice lollies

Getting children to take any form of medicine can be challenging but immune boosting ice lollies always go down well.

Based on 900ml worth of lolly mix making 6 lollies (adjust accordingly if your lolly mould is smaller).

You can use a ginger syrup or tincture if you have it (2tsp to the mix), or 15g of grated ginger (about a thumb size piece).

1tsp lemon juice

Add in 6ml of Echinacea tincture (for ages 6+ only) – Optional

Add in 200ml of elderflower infusion (2tsp to 1 cup of water) with 2 tsp of honey dissolved in it.

Add 690ml of fruit juice of your choice.

Mix together and pour into the lolly moulds, once frozen two lollies can be given a day to treat a cold in a child of 6+ (up to four daily if over 10yrs or no Echinacea in the mix).

(These can also be used for adults who won’t take medicine in a liquid form, double the amount of Echinacea and elderflower and reduce the amount of fruit juice).

 

teddy bearWhat about helping children to sleep?

Children respond very well to herbal baths, so why not try some lavender flowers, chamomile flowers, and oats. You can use the old sock trick described above. This can help children relax before bed.

Another excellent remedy for children who struggle with getting to sleep, try a small amount of cold chamomile tea. Add to fruit juice or a hot drink to disguise the taste, and have at the last drink time before bed.

For more information about children’s remedies I thoroughly recommend Aviva Romm’s website. She is a herbalist and doctor and has some excellent tips and recipes. http://avivaromm.com/

 

Herbs and Health Research blog – October 15

This month the following research on herbs and health has caught my eye.

Rhodiola_ishidae_(200607)
1. A study comparing the effectiveness of the herb rhodiola with the antidepressant sertraline (also known as Zoloft), found that while rhodiola had a slightly less anti-depressant effect, it didn’t have any side effects. The conclusion of the study was that rhodiola could be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.

 
2. A systemic Cochrane review was conducted looking at 49 trials (with a total of 5980 people) looking at osteoarthritis and the effectiveness of frankincense taken internally. The review found that frankincense was effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis but that further study was needed. (49 trials and 5980 people showing a positive effect was obviously not enough to draw a positive conclusion).

3. A small study in Brazil has found that applying an alcoholic extract of arnica to tendon injuries twice a day reduced pain and inflammation.

olive4. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging has shown that patients with osteoporosis showed a significant improvement when taking a medicinal extract of olive for 12 months.

 

I also wanted to take a moment to talk about the ‘scare mongering’ regarding health topics in the news.

Firstly it’s important to remember that these stories are often written by people who do not have any medical knowledge at all. A set of statistics are looked at by a researcher and they are written into a story.

Secondly, stories that have headlines like “bacon gives you cancer”, is trying to make money. It is not trying to provide any useful information about the science behind that claim.

There are doctors, medical researcher’s and other health professionals working on research studies of their own and looking an analysing other studies for merit and ways to understand more about health. For that to work that science has to be conducted without the input of someone trying to make money (i.e. drug companies). Unfortunately studies require a lot of money and the only people with the money are the drug companies. This means that the majority of medical research is biased.

My advice would be to take your medical advice from your doctor or health care professional and not the news or internet.

 

It’s the time of year for mushrooms!

cropped for twitterIt’s that time of year again and if you follow me on Facebook and Twitter you will have probably noticed I post quite a bit about medicinal mushrooms.

I love medicinal mushrooms, they’re a fantastic medicinal resource and they are right on our doorstep.

One of my first YouTube videos will be on medicinal mushrooms.

But while I’m getting on with that why not take a look at the blog I wrote last year on medicinal mushrooms.

The wonders of medicinal mushrooms

A brand new clinic

I began my journey in herbal medicine in 2001, and since then I have dreamed of having my own clinic. While working in different clinics in different parts of the country have been rewarding, there’s nothing like having one of your very own.

 

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My new clinic is based in my home in Wellington, Somerset.

My main clinic days are Mondays and Tuesdays from 8am until 6pm but I also have clinics on other days, for more details click here.

 
If you would like to book an appointment or find out more information please call 07946150721 or email info@lauracarpenter.co.uk.

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