Taking Control of your Health

Herbs as Democratic Medicine
Date: February 28, 2015 Posted by: Dafydd Monks
Originally Published in 'Network News', Oct 2014.

“…Nature never did betray the heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead From joy to joy:
For she can so inform the mind that is within us,
So impress with quietness and beauty…?

Modern medicine is widely regarded to be in a state of crisis. Daily we here about how GPs are overburdened with cases, how drugs are becoming less effective, how the population is ageing, and how chronic diseases are widespread and often incurable, taking huge amounts of NHS resources to support. There are also fears that the NHS will either crumple under this burden, or be privatised and lose its status as a universally available service.

Big pharmaceutical companies are a concern for many: acting out of a desire to make money, rather than in the best interests of patients. Their influence on mainstream medicine is huge and competition almost non-existent. Indeed, most global research and development is done by 6 companies. With trade agreements like the much discussed TTIP standing to open NHS procurement to litigation if seen by the Pharmaceutical companies as unfair, medicine has never been so tightly controlled.

But it was not always the case: Once upon a time, many families would make their own medicines for the family ‘medicine chest’ to be used when needed. Usually they were herbal medicines, and since the 11th Century, books of remedies were written as reference for the lady of the family to use in maintaining her medicine chest.

With the sale of many over the counter herbal preparations controlled by recent EU Legislation, perhaps now is a good time to reconsider the family medicine chest as a valuable resource… Interest in making herbal medicines at home is rocketing; Even the BBC had a series on how to make home remedies. And, with the nation’s health needing a tonic, perhaps now is a time when herbal medicine can really make an impact in helping people return to a balanced, self-empowered state of health?

The use of herbs medicinally has a good safety record – the incidence of side effects with pharmaceutical medicine is high, and iatrogenic disease (diseases created by medical interventions) is widespread. While no-one is saying that herbs are completely safe, the safety record is very good, and is only going to get better with improved training of practitioners, and better public awareness of when herbal medicine is appropriate and where to find trustworthy information.

But far more importantly herbal medicine is democratic medicine. You can’t patent it. You can’t stop people doing it, and you can’t take away the tools to make it. If you can grow plants and cook, you can grow and make your own herbal medicines. It is the ultimate expression of medical freedom – that you can make medicines in your own kitchen that can positively change your life, and pay almost nothing for it is an encouraging thought.

Herbal medicine is not dead. It is in rude health. However to keep it alive requires one thing and one thing only. It doesn’t need legislation, petitions, products, or big businesses. It requires awareness. Its lifeblood is the dissemination of information. It needs people in their kitchens making medicines and sharing their work. The need to disseminate information and inspire people has been the real battleground of herbal medicine for almost 500 years. The internet has helped this process hugely, and will continue to do so, but can only go so far: People need to be shown the way, and they need a non-judgemental and open minded practitioner available to support them when they need to go beyond the home medicine chest. My function as a district herbalist is to help people with their health; to treat illness and to help people transform their health for the better; to advise and to be a listening ear when they need listening to. But it is also to inspire, promote, spread information and ideas, and to engage with people to allow them to take back control: Control of their medicines, their decisions and the way in which they manage their health.

The question that needs answering is: As a society can we afford not to democratise medicine, in all forms, and take control of our health?
It’s all about you!