Maggie Pope
is a Medical Herbalist

Practising in
Bridgwater, Somerset

Get in Touch Maggie Pope

Joint Pain

There are many reasons for joint pain, but whatever the cause it was stopping my husband sleeping. His fingers hurt; it was the joints in the middle of his fingers specifically. I would watch him bending and unbending them as he stood by the bed, wondering if the pain would ease so he could sleep.

I had made him tinctures for several things but as I drifted off to sleep I thought; why haven’t I made him a joint liniment? I mean, I knew how – I taught students how to do it. Yet it had never occurred to me to make one for my nearest and dearest. So…

Next day I assembled my assorted medicines and jugs and bottles in my pharmacy and set to work. I had a good base of infused oil of rosemary and nettle seed, so I started with that. I added a range of essential oils which included camphor, black pepper, wintergreen, cajaput and menthol. I made a full litre to save time, and dispensed it into one of those little pump action bottles.

My friends, it is magical. He rubs it on at night and it eases the pain. What’s more if he doesn’t use it for several days if he goes away he feels his fingers start to seize back up, so he is straight back on it when he comes home. He also applies it his hips – and again it helps him feel less stiff.

Sleep is a wonderful healing process, and we need to do our utmost for our patients to help them achieve the best quality of sleep they can. Bit by bit, even little things can make a big difference.

I always have some of my trusty Rosemary and Nettle Seed infused oil on hand….

It’s not just about the herbs…

I am a fan of Herbal Medicine [obviously] and I am of the opinion that one can treat quite serious illnesses with herbs. I’m not just talking about a cup of chamomile tea at night time, and some mint leaves with your dinner. I am talking about a proper assessment with a qualified and insured Medical Herbalist, who takes a full medical history, does physical examinations and comes to a diagnosis – and who then can create a prescription and a lifestyle plan. Now, herbal tinctures do not taste nice in the main, but taken regularly at full dose, they can really help with acute and chronic disease processes.

However.

Patients need to adhere to the lifestyle plan as well. What does it contain? In general some personalised advice concerning sleeping, exercise, emotional stress and eating. And there is the rub. The eating. So often patients find it difficult to stick to the foods I recommend and leave the foods that I advise they stop consuming. I have wondered what to do about this for many months, as to get the quickest return to health people need to eat wholesome food and stop eating refined processed food. Then something very frustrating happened…

I was on holiday in Norway and met up with an old acquaintance who had lost a lot of weight and was also looking fit and healthy. This woman was in her 60’s and when I saw her last year she was overweight and complaining of long-term digestive problems as well as other minor problems such as chronic fatigue. When I commented on her new slim look she told me that her stomach problems had gone and she had so much energy…

The frustrating part was how she had done it. She had gone to a doctor and paid about £300 for a diet plan with a daily menu written down to follow, and when she told me of all the foods she could eat and all the foods she couldn’t eat I realised that it was more or less the same foods that I say try to eat or not to eat. So how had she succeeded where my patients found it so hard?

It was the meal plan. Every day she knows what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And what to snack on. Ah. ‘Could you have followed this diet without the meal plan?’ I asked her. ‘No.’ she said.

There you go. Each time I give dietary advice I will send out a meal plan so patients don’t just have a list of foods they ‘ought’ to be eating, but they can follow a meal list without even thinking.

It’s the thinking that’s the hard part.

 

Bringing in the Harvests….

Tilia in Oxfordshire

One of the Willowherbs in my garden

Hypericum & Achillea patch

Herb Robert brought in ready to dry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time of year is definitely busy. Stuff keeps growing and needing picking… Not only do you get in the habit of carrying bags around you wherever you go, but the garden and allotment are bursting. This lovely weather is great for bringing on the herbs and picking, but I can’t keep up…

So, in the garden I collect stuff I haven’t planted but is just there; like the Willowherbs, Herb Robert and Avens. I also harvest herbs I plant deliberately – St John’s Wort, Achillea and Calendula. And I go further afield. A friend in Oxfordshire had this huge fragrant Lime Tree and I always seem to miss the flowering season, or only find Limes that are by the side of a busy road. I drove up and spent a happy few hours with my ‘lopper’ on private land, not having to worry if I am ‘allowed to pick here’, or having to explain what I am doing. I was steeped in the aromatic perfume of the flowers – the sun was shining – and there was a farm shop round the corner selling freshly baked quiches and organic salad. I love my job.

And my allotment is bursting. I not only grow herbs there, I have started growing vegetables [like you are supposed to]. Veggie-wise I have sown carrots and parsnip [organic seed from Tamar], planted out courgettes and butternut squash and Kuri [on the recommendation of Charles Dowding], plus kale, chard and sprouting broccoli and I have just started to harvest my garlic.

Herb-wise the St John’s Wort, Yarrow, Calendula, Elecampane, Marshmallow, Ladies Mantle, Verbena and Horehound are still there- and I’ve sown Roman and German Chamomile and Wood Betony. Busy days. But when the sun shines, and I remember to take a flask of tea – then sitting out watching my plants waft in the breeze as I gaze to the hills beyond – well that’s just magic…

 

Allotment life

A ‘No Dig’ day with Charles Dowding…

 

I was just about to give up with my allotment. Somebody had sprayed my nettle patch with weedkiller and the whole area had died and turned brown with some awful chemical concoction that I had never wanted on my plot. I had been careful to hide these nettles behind my shed so I didn’t offend anybody with these weeds, but they were so useful! I used to dry the leaves for teas, and dry the seeds for making adaptogens to give an extra bit of energy. When I complained to one of the site supervisors he just told me not to make a fuss because the person probably thought they were doing me a favour…

Then, my 15 yarrow plants were dug up. I can only presume this was under the same misguided assumption that they were weeds, even though I had planted them in neat rows!

And then I get a stiff letter telling me to dig up my thin willow hedge that had been there 3 years because it was ‘not permitted’ on the site.

This coincided with a crisis of confidence about my ability to grow vegetables [medicinal herbs are easy – they are more like weeds], but I kept failing at veggies. I have 2 allotments and a large garden and I still buy a Riverford box every week – this is just not right!

I said to myself, just one more year – then I will give up my allotments. One of my problems was just keeping up with the sheer amount of weed growth… I went to the library to get out some books for inspiration, and one caught my eye;

Organic

NO DIG???

This sounded like my kind of book. I was so intrigued on reading it that I went to his website and wondered if he did open days, and I wanted to know if he was in reachable driving distance.

He lived in Somerset!

I scanned though his events calendar to see if he had a course coming up soon.

He had one on for the next day!

And there was a space!

I emailed and was booked and was driving down to Homeacres the next day, where I spent a very enjoyable, inspiring informative day learning the no dig gardening way. Listen; Charles makes growing vegetables achievable, he has so much good advice and he laughs off all the ‘rules’ that we thought we should follow [like water plants in the evening, don’t plant root veg into compost, dig deep to aerate the soil, etc etc] and he showed us round his huge veg patch to prove it works.

So, I’m converted to the use of compost and mulch, and if you ever have the chance to go to one of his days, just go! And if you can’t, then buy his books.

A special mention must be made of the lunch Steph provided from their veg garden – they grew it all and it was delish! Charles even produced the bread from rye flour he grinds himself and makes into rye sourdough loaves.

Just go visit!

 


 

That went well….

L-R: Jonas Brab, Lisa Poynton, Julie Bruggemann, Susan Vassar, Tim Carter, Maggie Pope, Joe Nasr.

Easter School went well. The second residential study week at the School of Herbal Medicine was busy, informative and fun. All the students were in the same place at the same time, and we enjoyed teaching them Pharmacy, Herbal Therapeutics, Materia Medica, Anatomy & Physiology and Botany all through the week. It was capped off with a fun weekend with Joe Nasr from Avicenna who stayed with us for two days teaching us all his unique approach to Pharmacy which involved historic stories of drainpipes screwed to walls in the interest of pursuing excellence in herbal percolation.

If you are interested in studying with us to become a professional Medical Herbalist please visit our website at www.schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk

I’m calm. Really calm…

 

After the weekend I will be teaching in our school’s second residential Easter School. Four days of seminars when the different year groups are in the building at the same time and we teach back to back. Usually we keep the year groups separate and teach them on different days just because it’s easier to organise. When we start the new academic year this coming September we will have three year groups and our community will really start to grow.

I have nearly finished my lesson plans. I am adding in a lot more Clinical Medicine for the second years so they get to understand the pathophysiology of the different disease processes. As they say, if you really want to understand something well, then teach it.

We have got a treat in store for our student when they finish the four days of seminars. A very special guest is coming to give them some professional and intensive training. I just hope we remember to take photos to mark the occasion as he is a very busy man, travelling the globe, and we were lucky to get him…

If you would be interested in studying to become a professional Medical Herbalist, then email info@schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk  for information.

Herbworks as a special…

From time to time I run a series of linked 4-6 hands-on days called Herbworks. You spend these days with me picking, making, learning stuff about herbs and how herbal medicine works.

Very occasionally I do a one-off Herbworks session if it is requested, especially if it is for a birthday treat. Yes, some people would indeed love to learn about making herbal medicine on their birthday. The last time I did one of these was with a young lad who knew more about herbs than I did before I started to train professionally. It was a pleasure to have him here and teach him more of what he is interested in.

It was especially nice to see a young man who is free enough of peer pressure to do what HE wants to do; and he did it well.

He and his father gave me permission to use his pictures. He is welcome back any time…

 

Talking to the WI about Weeds

I went to a village on the edge of the Quantock Hills last night to give a talk on all the weeds in their garden that they could just use for medicine, if they were so inclined. I was given the option of not coming as half of their members phoned in to say they wouldn’t venture out on such a ferociously windy night. But, my friends, it takes a lot more than bad weather to keep a Herbalist down. Especially when they’ve been given a chance to talk to a captive audience.

So, what weeds do you think you have that could be turned into medicine?

I asked them to make a list of all the weeds they could ever think of….

And actually, the buttercup is the only one that we don’t use for medicine at the moment, and has never been used as far as I can tell. The bindweed and Japanese Knotweed can be used in medicine – but you have to be careful and I wouldn’t do it… and even the ragwort and groundsel used to be used as remedies but now have fallen out of favour due to fears of toxicity. The ground elder could still be used, people even used to eat it as a vegetable. But all the rest are plants that I make into medicine or buy in regularly.

I’m going to pick them off one by one to tell you how and when you can pick them and easy ways you can process them into remedies that you can take safely. If there are any healthy contraindications I will mention that too – so don’t start weeding as soon as the weather gets better as you may dig up something you regret…

So, next week I will start with Stinging Nettle – your vitamin and mineral store house, right there in your back yard.

Back to work at The School of Herbal Medicine

pharmacy-06-01-17-roots

 

After the Christmas break we have started the new year with seminars in Materia Medica and Pharmacy. I teach the Pharmacy and Herbal Therapeutics modules. Our herbal monographs in the Materia Medica module are not cut and pasted from other people’s work, but each herb is thoroughly researched from several sources, from practical experience and observation and written up an original piece with reference to action, phytochemistry, therapeutic range, dosage and historical context – giving an extremely high standard of work expected from an ex-Oxford scholar.

In Pharmacy we discussed the therapeutic differences between hot infusions with a short steep time [10 mins], cold nourishing infusions with very long steep time [4 hours or overnight] and decoctions [simmer 10 mins], and what herbs and parts of herbs we would use in each instance. Then we got to work trying them all out and making notes along the way as to taste and texture and feel and properties etc etc.

You can find our website at http://www.schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk/

and Twitter @TSHM

 

Trundlings…

In the midst of writing the modules for our professional diploma, and actually teaching on it, and seeing patients, and making up prescriptions, I do like a spot of trundling around in the countryside picking stuff and seeing what is growing where. Today, roaming along the canal with two little grandsons collecting willow for me to plant a willow hedge I saw a row of trees edging the tow path. Bird Cherry, Alder, Sycamore and Cramp Bark. THERE  it is!

Every time I walk to this spot to harvest some twigs from the Viburnum opulus in early Spring  I can’t remember which group of dead looking branches it is. They all look the same before the leaves uncurl. But today, faced with the green and yellow of the Cherry and Sycamore, the Cramp Bark leaves stood out a stunning red.

vib-op-2

 

This photo doesn’t do the bright red of the leaves justice, but hey take my word for it. So, I had a cunning plan to help me to go straight back to this tree when, after winter, its bare branches look like all the others.

I tied a piece of string round a small branch, leaving it nice and baggy so as not to restrict growth.

vib-op-string

The only problem was that green string was all I had and not very noticeable. But if I look hard enough at the end of February I think I will be able to spot it.

Wish me luck…

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