Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Why Herbal Medicine?


It's the year 2022 and standard health care comprises of taking your vitamins, getting vaccinated and if you get ill, going to the doctor for pharmaceuticals.

Following on from my previous blogpost, where I questioned the authorities' attitude to the coronavirus, I also take issue with modern "health care" of which the medical establishment is so proud. Health to me is a condition where the body is well nourished (as opposed to well fed), working harmoniously within itself and in some sort of equilibrium with the environment. Health to most people seems to be the ability to function from day to day with or without medication to prop one up, as well as being well fed (which to many is filling the stomach regardless of nutritional value of the food).

So living without any regard for the body's nutritional requirements, and ignoring warnings that all might not be well, ie constipation, headaches, frequent infections, stress etc., eventually may result in chronic disease or acute disease. Here we may be looking at chronic pharmaceutical medication, or hospitalisation. 

The problem with this scenario is that although a life might have been saved, nothing else has changed. The cause of the disease has not been removed. Now a bandage has been wrapped around the cause. Patients are assured that they are receiving the best medical care. Medication may cause side effects which require more medication and patients often feel unwell on all the medicine, as ultimately they are still the same sick person because nothing has changed. 

Which brings us to the question, "Why herbal medicine?" My answer would be: because herbal medicine can result in the change. Healing comes about via nourishing and nurturing, not suppression and blocking of symptoms. Herbs have nutritional value in their phytonutrient content, and their complex chemical make up can stimulate sluggish organs, or relax tense systems. Phytotherapy is the art and science of using herbs to bring about healing, or an improved state which may result in fewer pharmaceuticals being required. 

An enormous amount of research is being carried out worldwide on herbs, resulting in the scientific validation of herbal medicine. Phytotherapy is a registered profession in South Africa and phytotherapy offers a chance at much improved wellness for many who are trapped in the chronic disease and medication situation. Improved wellbeing leads to better mental health and improved happiness levels. Unfortunately most people are not offered this alternative. They remain unaware that there are other forms of help. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Covid 19 and herbal medicine

Here we are in the midst of Lockdown 2020 because of a virus that is causing havoc in the world. I'm writing this to express my amazement that no sensible guidelines have been issued on how to improve your general health and your immunity. It's almost like the scientific community doesn't believe that a healthy person can shrug off covid 19. I'm sure that most people don't believe it either. Many people do get it and recover very nicely, but the association is not loudly made - that these people's immune systems were strong, that's why they were not severely impacted.

There is so much one can do to improve one's health and immunity. During the panic buying that took place before lockdown, I observed shopping trollies full of chips and fizzy drinks! I can just imagine people lounging about in front of the TV or computer eating snacks all day. No warnings have been issued that this might be very bad for you if you were to get the virus, and make the illness more difficult to treat. You are what you eat. A diet full of sugar, fat, salt and flour, is going to increase the chances of getting the virus, and increases the chances of getting complications. It is already known that the typical western diet causes diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension and that people who suffer from these diseases are more at risk of dying from covid 19.

Anyway, these days if the phrase"scientific evidence" does not appear in front of a statement, no matter how sensible, it is likely to be dismissed. I'm just going to suggest some broad guidelines that could improve your chances of having a very mild case of this viral infection, if you are to get it at all.

Avoid or reduce mucus forming foods: dairy; sugar; baked goods; deep fried foods.
Eat more salads and fresh greens, raw vegetables, garlic, onions and horseradish. These prevent mucus and keep mucus thin. (one of the deadly problems of covid 19, is how the lungs fill up with mucus).
Exercise to keep good blood flow. (They say sitting is the new smoking.)
Get plenty of fresh air and relaxation.
Include some herbs in your cooking like rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano. Have some garlic every day.
Take cod liver oil.

I am a great believer in empowerment and spend a lot of time helping people understand their bodies and how to help themselves:

I just found out about this cool, woman-owned startup that I think you'll like - especially if you've been wanting to learn more about herbal healing. They're called Apothecary At Home. It's a box-subscription that introduces you to the world of herbalism, one hand-curated package at a time. Each month they send you 1-3 new herbs to get familiar with, medicine-making projects to do at home, and handy study resources to help you learn the concepts we herbalists use every day.

The world needs more healers - especially in these crazy times. I love that they're making this knowledge accessible to folks who might face obstacles trying to attend traditional herbal schools.

Apothecary At Home is launching soon, and to celebrate, they're giving away a lifetime subscription. Learn more and enter the giveaway here: https://apothecary-at-home.cratejoy.com/

Take care and stay safe!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bird Life

It is so sad to read about the silence that has descended on many parts of the world. People say that they no longer hear birdsong. It's not rocket science to work out why many millions of birds have died since 1950 or so. The 2nd world war heralded the onset of commercial farming with chemicals: crime number one against the soil.No longer did farmers plough nice smelly manure into their fields, but happily sprinkled chemicals to provide the chemical elements, calculated to provide the basic requirements for healthy plant growth. Never mind about the soil microbiome and earthworms! Manure provides fibre and microorganisms for the soil, something that chemicals can't do. A healthy soil is teeming with insects, grubs and worms - brilliant for birds. But then on top of crime number one against the soil, came crime number 2 : Poison.
All over the world on farms, in parks and gardens poison has been sprayed to protect crops, flowers and vegetables from the creatures that might eat them. Unfortunately birds have eaten the poisoned grubs and have died as a result. Seed eaters also get poisoned when crops are sprayed.
Crime number 3 against the soil is the GMO story, and it will possibly take a long time to evaluate the true cost to the planet of genetic modification and glyphosate, which seems to adversely affect the soil microbiome. Are we going to see the results of birds and animals eating GM corn and other grains?

So to my garden and this spring, which has seen an explosion of nest building and bird breeding. There is never a quiet moment, even on the hottest day, some bird will be filling the air with a happy song. Quite a few visitors are rather pesky, but I put up with them and use nets to protect berries and grapes. The mousebird will happily chomp away at my spinach, bean leaves, granadilla leaves as well as fruits. It's such a pretty bird, I can't get too upset. One of my favourite visitors is the pied barbet, and I deliberately allow Solanum spp to grow as they love the berries. Recently the bokmakierie (Bush shrike) made a return to our area after a long absence and I was delighted when an Olive thrush made a nest in the wild olive tree, and hatched out a very sweet chick. Bulbuls, sunbirds, white eyes and Cape robin are at home here, but a newcomer is the greater honeyguide, no doubt attracted to the beehives. There are two in the garden, flitting about near the hives and pecking on any empty frames I leave out for the bees to clean.

Unlike in many parts of the UK and Europe that I have visited, my garden has a wonderful dawn chorus as well as sporadic daytime songs to gladden the heart. Our gardens make up suburban forests and we all need to be mindful of this and keep the environment poison free. This includes rat poison which affects owls and caracals (which still roam the hills and mountains surrounding built up areas.)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The humming garden - pollinators’ paradise.

Just the other day I read a Facebook post from an organic gardener, who said that although spring had arrived, the garden was deathly quiet. No humming, no buzzing. He described it as worrying. At the same time, research is showing that globally millions of insects are under threat, while thousands of species have gone extinct.

This is hardly a surprise is it? Most households have a can of insecticide and most gardeners go to the pesticide aisle if there’s an invasion of lice on their roses. In fact there is a whole timetable for when to spray different chemicals on roses.

Insects are an important part of the food chain. They are eaten by birds, bats, reptiles, aquatic creatures, other insects and even humans. Poisoned insects are poisoned food for insect eaters.insects are also very important for having essential roles in the systems of life such as pollinating, cleaning up, and preying on other insects. Consistently spraying insects, whether done by gardeners or farmers, has created huge imbalances in the insect world. It has become extremely difficult to grow fruit without spraying something to prevent some or other infestation, and commercial fruit and vegetable farmers are almost trapped in the system of spraying in order to get a decent crop.

We have seen a decline in the numbers of birds, lizards, frogs, chameleons and many insects such as bees, bumblebees and other important pollinators in our gardens. It is a deeply worrying trend which affects many aspects of life.

So it is with delight that I observe the life in my garden. Even more delightful are the sounds of life - the chirping, cheeping, tweeting, humming, buzzing and droning of life! The air is filled with hundreds of insects, some dancing up and down, others hovering, darting, or swooping as they get on with their business.

No a drop of poison goes into the house or garden. Sometimes I have no crops(my crop is very small) because of fruit fly, or pumpkin fly. But my garden is an insect paradise and a source of joy to me. To see the air so busy and alive like an aquarium is fantastic. I urge you to create a safe place for all living creatures in your garden. See your garden as an important part of the urban forest, to be nurtured and cherished. Let’s all do our bit to restore balance as far as possible.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Post drought analysis

Here in the Western Cape we are slowly recovering from the worst drought in, for many of us, living memory. We have had some rain and water tanks are refilling. Dams are slowly gaining water and reaching more acceptable levels.
Usually for me water saving is not too much of an issue - I've had water tanks for many years and have relied on them for much of the watering of the garden. But this drought, together with strong winds and scorching temperatures, really was a supreme challenge.

What was an issue was the heartbreak I was experiencing when walking around the garden, and seeing the "lifelessness" of everything - like starving children with dead eyes, all just hanging on. Despite using plenty of mulch, I also noticed a change in the soil as the "life" had to drive deeper down, and the topsoil became dirt. This worried me the most - the damage to the soil microbiome from lack of water. But then as the water restrictions were relaxed a bit, and we have been allowed to put a sprinkler on for an hour per week, combined with some rain, things sprang into life with joyful blooms and greenery. It was almost as if the plants and the soil were shouting, "thank you!"

Somebody wrote that they considered it to be a crime to use municipal water for the garden. I feel that our environment is vitally important. Studies have shown that trees are vital for rain production. We should all make an effort to use some water, even if it's grey water, to keep our surroundings, including our soils, healthy.
Suburban gardens form mini forests which are home to many birds and the few reptiles that have survived human and pet attacks. We need to nurture all the life that surrounds us. Our ecosystems are under so much threat, let's try and do our bit at home, on our balconies and in our gardens to keep things alive and healthy. We will be rewarded with the soothing colours of nature and plenty of birdsong.

So to keep water in the dams for future use, continue your water saving measures but remember to give some water to your garden. Collect rain water, cold shower water and vegetable washing water and give that to the plants. Even water that you've cooked veggies in, is really good for your garden. It's not just about human life, but all life.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Food forest gardening

Slowly over the years trees get bigger and the garden becomes transformed. I find photos of when I had a lush lawn, when I first planted the olive trees and when the back garden was a herb garden. Now because the trees got so big, the lawn wouldn't grow and because I had more shade, the choices of what I could grow became restricted. At the same time I find that with the increased intensity of the sun these days, many plants seem happier in dappled shade.

I recently heard about food forest planting and realised my garden is now naturally ready for that - it has evolved. So with some judicious pruning I am hoping to have more plants under my trees that enjoy dappled shade and give me something to eat. I planted an almond in the veggie patch to give me dappled shade for lettuce. Although lettuce grows in the hot sun on vegetable farms, I feel the wind and sufficient water help them survive there better than in the more enclosed area I have, where due to the wall around it, the heat is intensified. We also have severe water restrictions so growing food becomes very challenging.

Part of my plan involves leaving plants in the ground even when they have died. My maize plants are dry and dead but I am hoping they will provide support for broad beans. I planted brinjals around dead bean plants and they are thriving. Leaving the roots in the ground keeps the ground healthy as the microrrhiza are not disturbed. I noticed after years of planting how the soil became powdery and am trying to get it vibrant and healthy again.
My Jerusalem artichokes can be left standing to provide support for peas. Also my Golden rod will support peas - in this way the summer plants will support the winter plants. The fruit trees, being deciduous will allow for winter planting of veg that needs full sun so potatoes will go in there. Also blue berries should do well.

I encourage you to google Food forest planting to be inspired for your own garden. So many people still have lawn and a couple of shrubs, where they could have a thriving food producing garden.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The universe within us - a story of microbial life inside each one of us.

The universe within us  – a look at the gut microbiome and our health


Similar to a swarm of bees, where different bees have a specific job and are ineffective on their own, and where the swarm is the organism, the microbiome in the gut is a giant organism – the universe inside us. This microbiome has ancient roots and is part of the wonder of our evolution. We are in fact a combination of human and microbial cells having evolved together since humans started their time on Earth.

Over the past 50 years or so we have seen dramatic increases in many diseases, notably autoimmune diseases, allergies, behaviour and learning problems, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Much of the decline in human health can be attributed to changes in the microbiome, which has served humans well for as long as we have existed, but is now under great threat for a variety of reasons.

Up to 90% of one's stool consists of micro organisms.

Diversity of the microbiome is important, similar to biodiversity in nature. The microbiota work together by communication and depend upon one another to maintain a healthy system. If one or more are removed from the system, it has a domino effect on the others as a link is missing in communication and cooperation.

The microbiome helps develop the gastrointestinal system after birth. The mucosal layer of the gut is densely inhabited by microbiota, which serve to protect and thicken the lining of the gut and help to make it impermeable (preventing ‘leaky gut’).

Gut microbiota can cause or prevent disease, depending on diet, medication and other influences. Microbiota thrive on certain foods, and a poor diet can negatively affect them, making them less diverse and predisposing their human host to disease. The microbiome of the average westernised child is not as diverse as that of the average non-westernised child.

The microbiome is important for the homeostasis of other tissues, even bone. Fibre is a vitally important food for the microbiota. The microbiota detoxify many environmental toxins and digest many foods that human enzymes cannot digest. A healthy microbiome promotes gastrointestinal tract mobility, keeps pathogens in check and plays an important role in creating a strong immune system.

The microbiome has many important metabolic roles in the human body and can protect against allergies, obesity and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. A diverse and healthy microbiome may increase the bioavailability of phytonutrients in the diet. The microbiota also synthesise various vitamins for us.

We are only as healthy as our microbiome.


It is the birth process that inoculates the gut of the newborn, although some experts say that the foetus and the placenta have some microbial life. A normal vaginal birth ensures the newborn’s exposure to a wide variety of bacteria that seed the gut and start the process of establishing the microbiome. Babies born via caesarean section don’t have this benefit and only have exposure to bacteria via the skin, subsequently taking longer to develop their immune system. These days mothers of caesarean babies are advised to "seed" their baby's microbiome by breastfeeding, not sterilising any baby utensils and by not washing hands or nipples. One can also get vaginal swabs to "seed" the baby.

Generations of changes to the gut microbiome are transmitted from mother to infant, (generation after generation) resulting in gradual genetic changes and poor colonisation of the gut microbiome caused by:

  • an increase in the number of caesarean sections

  • a reduction in breastfeeding
  • the sterilisation of baby utensils and the overuse of antibacterials
  • changes in diet
  • antibiotics in farmed animals
  • medication, especially antibiotics.

Although the gut microbiome is similar in most people, it is also specific to each person in that it develops according to the family history of that person and various inputs that can affect it. Each indiviual's microbiome is a bit like a "fingerprint" or "poo print".

People from other cultures, who have not had access to the western diet, have a far richer diversity of microorganisms in their gut than people who are eating a typical western diet. They also have microorganisms that are specific to their diet, such as the Japanese who have microorganisms thought to originate from the seaweed they consume.

In a healthy and balanced microbiome, the microbiota live in perfect harmony with the human host and with each other. The relationship is symbiotic in every way. The different species depend on and interact with one another. The loss of one species can have a cascade effect on the others and disrupt important processes, while leaving the system vulnerable to damage from adverse events.

Adverse events can include inflammatory western diets (high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, fats and proteins), chronic stress, over sanitation (using mouthwash and antibacterial soap), change of pH (the use of antacids, changing to a low carbohydrate diet), infections and prescription drugs (especially antibiotics).


We need to pay more attention to the health of our microbiome. Our microbiome eats what we eat, and the waste products (metabolites) can enter our blood stream. A junk food diet not only creates nutrient deficiencies, but also causes metabolite ‘junk’ to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain, which can result in depression, anxiety and behavioural changes.

The quality of the stool and degree of flatulence are good indicators of microbiome health. The stool consistancy should be well-formed with minimal odour and minimal‘winds’. A persistent vile smell indicates an imbalance in the microbiome and may be an early warning of developing disease.

The microbes in our gut love vegetables, wholegrains and fruits – especially apples and other fruits rich in pectin such as quince, citrus fruits, pears, and apricots. Organically grown foods have a greater nutrient density than commercially grown foods and provide the microbiome and us with a greater diversity of phytonutrients.

Herbal medicine can contribute to a healthy gut by providing many phytonutrients and phytochemicals that create a favourable environment.

Herbs rich in tannins (such as hawthorn, raspberry leaf, Lady’s mantle), mucilaginous herbs (such as marshmallow root, aloe ferox gel, linseed), and bitter herbs (such as artichoke leaf, dandelion leaf and Artemisia species), are the most important for microbiome integrity, prebiotic support and pH balance. A phytotherapist will be able to help restore a damaged microbiome by using the appropriate herbs required for the case at hand.

It has been shown that people who have a diverse and healthy microbiome have fewer allergies, less chronic disease and better cognitive function. Babies with a healthy microbiome have fewer neonatal infections and also seem to tolerate vaccinations better.


  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, grains and fruits – preferably organically grown.
  • Avoid antibiotics and check that the meats you eat are not reared using antibiotics (this includes farmed fish and seafoods). Antibiotics not only cause loss of gut microbial diversity but also genetic changes. The effects of one course of antibiotics can be felt for up to 2 years.
  • Herbal medicine provides good alternatives to many pharmaceuticals and can treat many infections effectively without disrupting the microbiome.
  • Avoid sanitising your home and your body. Simple hygiene with soap and water is enough.
  • Avoid routine deworming. We have natural immunity against worms and helminths are part of the microbiome.
  • Eat more fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, naturally fermented cider vinegar and kefir.
  • Include plenty of foods with prebiotics in your diet: apples, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potato, oats, barley, bananas and all fibrous vegetables. Berries and red wine, with their high polyphenol content, also have beneficial effects on gut microbiota.
  • Avoid processed, refined foods and food with chemical additives.
  • Watch out for people who diagnose ‘parasites’ and candida overgrowth without clinical confirmation. Often the harsh treatment can be bad for your microbiota.


Scientists are discovering more and more about the microbiome every day.

Speakers at the first International Conference of the Microbiome in Autism were unanimous that children with autism had reduced gut microbial diversity, in some cases remarkably different from the guts of healthy children. From only 1 child in 2 500 having autism in 1985, the figure has risen to 1 in 68 in 2015. This coincides with the massive shift observed since the 1950s in the way our food is grown and the way we medicate ourselves.

It’s time to stop and think about what we are doing, as modern medicine and modern diets are affecting the future health of our children and their children.

Further reading

1.       Sommer F, Bäckhed F. The gut microbiota – masters of host development and physiology. Nat Rev Microbiol 2013;11(4):227-238

2.       Microbiome in ASD conference. www.microbiome-autism.com (accessed 2015)

3.       David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature 2014;505(7484):559-563

  1. Queipo-Ortuño MI, Boto-Ordóñez M, Murri M, et al. Influence of red wine polyphenols and ethanol on the gut microbiota ecology and biochemical biomarkers. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;95(6):1323-1334
  2. Blaser MJ. Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. New York: Henry Holt; 2014