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Biodynamic Herbs for Health

by Kirsten Hartvig(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 258 - November 2019

 

Modern medical herbalists use gentle herbal medicines with positive effects and few side effects. They either make their own preparations or use trade suppliers with established reputations for providing good quality herbs grown responsibly and often also organically. It is vitally important to be able to identify the herbs we use, and also to know the effect of their active ingredients.

I am proud of being part of that tradition, and over nearly 30 years of practice I have concentrated on using herbal teas, preferably locally grown. I am often asked if it is possible to get enough of an effect out of a herbal infusion or decoction to truly impact a patient’s health, and I obviously believe it is or I wouldn’t be doing it. I have nothing against using tinctures, however. They are easier for the patient to take, and it is easier to assess the exact dose given, so some herbs are definitely best prescribed in that form.

But the kind of natural health I am interested in allows for dose fluctuations. Making an infusion of your own herbal tea mixture is part of the healing regime. It gives focus and may help change habits away from caffeinated drinks like black tea and coffee.

 

Biodynamic Herbs for Health

 

Working this way has naturally limited my use of some of different herbs I learnt about at the School of Herbal Medicine in Tunbridge Wells many moons ago, but I still have hundreds left in my repertoire, and I incorporate foods that have important medicinal effects which have largely been forgotten. I also use herbs that are better known as spices, and I use berries and common weeds that patients can grow, buy locally or collect themselves. The prescription depends on the season nearly as much as on the condition the patient and I are addressing together.

This is where the biodynamic aspect comes in. Over the past couple of years, I have been studying biodynamic principles and practices at Emerson College in East Sussex. At first, I noticed the amazing biodiversity in the college garden, and at the neighbouring Tablehurst Farm. Hundreds of acres that have been grown biodynamically for over half a century: No sprays or artificial fertilizers, just “muck and magic”. And at Emerson, even the muck is plant-based!

 

Biodynamic Herbs for Health

 

Trude runs the vegetable garden with a joyful team of volunteers and apprentices. Chris, Nick and Annemarie look after the horticultural garden, the orchard and the rest of the 22-acre estate, apart from my one-acre corner where the formal apothecary garden is based. Alice, our botanist, and I grow medicinal plants with help from a steady stream of volunteers and herbal students. And together with the rest of the Emerson garden team, we look after the biodynamic botanic garden and learn from each other many new and old tricks of the natural garden trade. Chris is a leaf mould expert, Trude is keen on compost, Nick knows every corner of the estate, Alice the name of every plant that grows on it, and Annemarie has looked after the garden for well over 40 years. She says that the garden really looks after itself, we just need to remove any obstacles and give everything space. Knowing how to do that comes from feeling connected in the same way as healing occurs when lost connections are nurtured and restored. Feeling connected also brings peace.

What is it that makes it so easy to feel peaceful and connected with the earth and the universe in this garden? Is it the birds? Is it the view of the plain? The amazing biodiversity?

I believe that it is a supernatural connection that appears when all life is respected, and when natural forces are considered and taken into account. Hard to explain in scientific terms and with words, perhaps, but so real and so present that the atmosphere itself has a healing presence. Life itself becomes simple when all affectations and fears are dispersed, when all needs are met because a natural rhythm is in place and everyone (from the smallest bacteria to the greatest planetary force) is supporting each other because they are in tune. Einstein called that natural state love.

And so it is when herbs are used simply and as close to their natural state and environment as possible. I have seen even severe acute and chronic health problems sort themselves out when given time and space and the right plant-based and spiritual nourishment. Simple so-called weeds all have powerful active ingredients, known since the beginning of time and, in many cases, now also proved by modern science.

 

Flowers of chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Flowers of chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

 

Chamomile tea is so well known for its soothing, calming effect that people think it can’t be true. But it works! Recent scientific studies have shown that the flowers of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) contain powerful polyphenol compounds, such as apigenin, a versatile biologically anti-inflammatory, the effect of which has been proven on rats and eloquently explained in chemical language. I still don’t understand why it is necessary, or even advisable, to test actions and reaction on animals, when we know the answer already if we look around us, or care to research what others have learnt from direct experience.

Chamomile also contains aromatic compounds, including chamazulene, and tannins among many chemicals, the combined effect of which makes this delicate wild flower a powerful natural medicine for a wide variety of common conditions as a sedative and natural antibiotic, promoting calm healing and digestion. If it hadn’t been sprayed away from fields, gardens and hedgerows, it would populate the hard crusted soil where other plants struggle, and it would be an easily available natural medicine for many common ailments, preventing them from doing lasting damage.

Is it only the chemicals that makes the chamomile so powerful? Can you describe a rose with a ruler? Modern science is doing its best to create man-made replicas of natural substances. Vanilla is a good example. This exotic orchid must be hand-pollinated within 12 hours of flowering to produce the popular vanilla pod, making it near impossible to grow enough to satisfy the human taste for vanilla. So chemists worked out that the flavour could be near-enough copied from a wood pulp by-product and (wait for it) extracted from the anal glands of mature beavers! Consider that the next time you tuck into a vanilla ice cream with “natural flavouring”. Whatever your opinion is of consuming wood pulp by-products or beaver exudate, you should know that an estimated 95% of vanilla products are flavoured with this kind of “natural” vanilla flavour.

The point I am trying to make is that knowing where your food and your medicine comes from and being connected to the environment you live in and the food and medicine that surrounds you, is a fundamental part of biodynamic philosophy. It is also a fundamental part of health and healing. Loss of connection is what makes us consume things out of context without noticing what they are - and this in turn erodes our self-awareness and control.

The question remains: why would anyone put beaver anal gland exudate in chocolate, pretending it came from an orchid?!

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About Kirsten Hartvig

Kirsten Hartvig  ND MNIMH MRN DipPhyt is a registered Naturopath, Medical Herbalist, Nutritionist, vegan, and the author of 14 books on natural health. Her main interest lies in plant-based education and conservation, and in helping people to take charge of their own health by showing ways to connect with nature and natural forces, food and medicine. She runs the Heartwood Herbal Medicine Study Centre at Emerson College in Sussex (comprising an ever-expanding herb garden and library), teaches materia medica on the Heartwood Herbal Education  professional course, and runs the YouTube Channel 'Herb Hunters'. She is also director of the Biodynamic Botanic Garden at Emerson College, a collaboration between the Emerson College Trust and the NIMH Education Fund with support from Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and ArbNet. Kirsten is a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), the General Council and Register of Naturopaths (GCRN) in the UK, EuroCam in Brussels, and SRAB, the Danish government CAM-council in Copenhagen.

She was born in Denmark but came to the UK in 1986 to study herbal medicine and naturopathy at the School of Herbal Medicine and the British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy. She has taught nutrition and dietetics at the European School of Osteopathy in Maidstone, and wrote a nutrition course for the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine. In 1996 she set up a naturopathic retreat in the French Pyrenees together with her husband, Dr Nic Rowley. Together they wrote several books about their experiences, notably You Are What You Eat, Ten Days to Better Health, Energy Juices, Energy Foods, and The Detox Box. Kirsten has also written or co-written The Healthy Diet Calorie Counter, The Big Book of Quick and Healthy Recipes, The Complete Guide to Nutritional Health, Eat for Immunity, Healing Berries, and Healing Spices (all available from amazon.co.uk.  Kirsten may be contacted via Mob: 07477 220707; kirstenhartvig@mac.com    www.kirstenhartvig.com  Listen to the Herbal Medicine Show on UK Health Radio.

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