BA(Hons) FNIMH Medical Herbalist
- Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists
- Associate of The Royal Society of Medicine
- Trustee of The Herbal Medicine Trust
- Heartwood Education -Senior clinical supervisor on the Heartwood Professional Course in Herbal Medicine
- Guest Lecturer on the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh Diploma in Herbology course
- Practicing Medical Herbalist at Napiers the Herbalist, Edinburgh
Growing up amid the Flowers
My journey in the world of plant medicines started when I was a child living in rural Wales on a small organic farm. My parents had made the bold step of moving to 12 acres of land set on the side of a hill, half a mile up a farm track and with a well for water and no bath room. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the daily rhythm of life, the picking of berries, the hand milking the cow and the slap of cream in the butter churn would shape my whole life.
If I had to trace back to one event that pushed herbal medicine onto my life path, it would be the visits my father made to the local Herbalist David Hoffman. For years my father had struggled with a duodenal ulcer, in the days before antibiotic therapy was available. I watched as combinations of herbal tinctures, teas and powders were dispensed and, over time, the ulcers were healed. At the time I was unaware that David was writing a book about herbal medicine that would literally change our families life. My father took a keen interest in the plants that he was prescribed, and his consultations would often end up around the kitchen table talking about the traditional Welsh healers and how this interlinked with current herbal practice. My father was an experienced journalist and he did everything he could to encourage David to write and record his extensive herbal knowledge and experience. Our whole family became part of the story, gathering herbs for my fathers Meadowsweet tea, picking elderberries to make winter syrups, and even to use pig fat to make ointments (the traditional way!)
Finding my Path
As a young person I took a while to find my place in the world. There was a big push to go to University, but I couldn't find a course that I was interested in. Eventually I was persuaded to do a degree in Social Science. This failed to satisfy me in any way, so after a spell of doing two jobs (one in an office and one as a cleaner) I picked up a back pack and decided to travel.
It was while I was travelling in India that I found myself in Dharamsala, the then home of Tibetan medicine. It felt like a homecoming. The herbs in the market, the medicine makers and sellers, and the queues of people wanting help. I volunteered and I finally found myself back working with plants and people. I often look back on these months as one of my life’s big pivotal moments. The moment my passion for plants was re-ignited.
Back in the UK, I embarked on a 3 year course at The School of Herbal Medicine in Tunbridge Wells, and finally the world started to make sense again.
The course covered all the medical sciences, with classes in anatomy, physiology and pathology. Interspersed with this was botany and days spent in the classification beds in Kew or crawling through the Kent hedgerows looking for medicinal weeds. In my final year clinical time was in London, with real patients and real diseases.
These years of training, under the watchful care of the amazing Hein Zeylstra who had set up the School of Herbal Medicine formed a solid ground of herbal tradition and knowledge of eclectic and physio medical formulas. Hein was unique with his background in chemistry and his ability to teach the functional medicine making skills that would otherwise have been lost.
The Next Steps
With my herbal training complete, I joined The National Institute of Medical Herbalists and started to look for practice opportunities. I was exceptionally lucky to be introduced to Jan de Vries, a Naturopath who was practicing in Scotland. Jan offered me an opportunity to take over his practice within Napiers Herbalists in Edinburgh.
Napiers was to be my herbal home for the next 30 plus years. The history of the oldest herbal house in the UK, the legacy of formula, patients, and history blended into the best learning experience. The story of Napiers is now well known, the traditional formula that were rescued, many of which are still available in the shop today, the rebuilding of the dispensary and manufacturing, and the training of herbalists. I rebuilt the business and set up integrated health clinics, bringing together students of herbal medicine, doctors and qualified herbalists. I continued to run my own clinical practice throughout the running of the business, consulting with patients, prescribing and researching cases on an on-going basis.
I complemented my time in clinic and developing the business with attending conferences both in the UK and abroad, presenting and connecting with like-minded traditional herbalists throughout the world. Many of these connections developed into professional relationships as well as friendships, working on exciting research projects with other professionals in the industry around the world, while also spending time & working with my sister and fellow herbalist Chanchal Cabrera, who's based over in Canada.
In more recent years, I set up the Napiers Long Covid Clinic to facilitate an integrated approach between doctors, herbalists and nutritionist to this new disease. I then decided to hand over the Napiers business to concentrate on my clinical practice, (which is still based at Napiers, where I practice 2 days per week), continue my tutoring work, and delve into more exciting new projects (see my work section to find out more!)
My life long motto has been to increase public awareness of and access to professional herbal medicine. In order to do this, at various points over the next years I was a council member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy, I represented them on the Department of Health consultation into regulation of herbalists. I was also a Council Member with National Institute of Medical Herbalists, and was involved in the then Princes of Wales Foundation of Integrated Health.
My personal commitment to the education of herbal practitioners and the promotion and increased access to professional herbal medicine to those who need it is still my driving force, demonstrated within the work I continue to do with The Herbal Medicine Trust