Herbal Medicine from an Evolutionary Perspective

As you may already know I am running an apprenticeship programme which begins in May. It is called Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship. To help me deliver the most amazing material on this journey I have gathered a wonderful and inspiring group of experts to join me. Over the coming weeks and months I am intending to introduce you to each of them with a guest post. The first of which appears below and was written by Kamaldeep Sidhu who will be sharing about the magical, amazing and influential world of bacteria, or more specifically gut health, during the course of the apprenticeship. She is a great friend with an immense depth of knowledge, and this is what inspires her…

kam 2

Kamaldeep Sidhu, Medical Herbalist


I’m a Medical Herbalist currently working at the Urban Fringe Dispensary in Bristol, and am developing my practice in Stroud. I met a Herbalist in Bristol 7 years ago while I was doing a Permaculture course. At the time, I was also applying to do Medicine. This Herbalist, called Max Drake, convinced me to do his herb course over the summer. I did it, and found it fascinating. I completely changed my mind about doing medicine. I wanted to help people but I didn’t want to be a slave to the pharmaceutical industry. Learning about the power of plants completely changed the way I thought about health and disease. So I did a BSc in Herbal Medicine at the University of East London.


After a six year slog, I finally graduated and realised I knew nothing! I had a foundation upon which to build my knowledge of human and plant physiology, and since then, I have become passionate about the role of nutrition in health, and how we can use plants to enhance our performance and recovery.

100_1492I am interested in the role of the gut microbiome and how we can manipulate it through the foods we eat. This is a relatively new area of research, but its impact will be huge. We are understanding more and more about the importance of having a healthy gut – it affects our physical and mental wellbeing. I have been treating patients in the clinic with many different health conditions, and a lot of them seem to respond favourably to a change in diet. I use herbal medicine to enhance health or to complement a treatment strategy. Ultimately, the most powerful tool we have to look after our bodies is our diet. Yet, it’s the hardest thing to change. Our diet here in the West, which is based on the laughable food pyramid, is directly contributing to the diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions – hypertension, diabetes, obesity, infertility, cardiovascular disease to name but a few.

What’s going on? We have been given prescriptive nutritional guidelines that do not reflect the individual. We have been taught that when you get sick, you go and see your doctor and they will give you some medicine to make you feel better. We are disempowered when it comes to our health. Every day there are more and more conflicting ideas about what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, what gives you cancer and how much alcohol you should drink.

The fact is that nobody really knows. We are all acting on the information we receive. Think about major nutritional advisory boards being funded by sugar manufacturing companies. Think about the truth about statins and their relative inefficacy. Think about the diet-heart hypothesis and how saturated fat might not be so bad for you. Think about pharmaceutical companies pushing through drug trials without any evidence for long term effects.

The world of medicine in the West is a marketplace and disease is the currency. By keeping us sick, pharmaceutical companies make money.

100_1212So why not take control of your health? My priority is to work hard to research clinical evidence and continuously learn so that I can give my patients the best information to help them make informed decisions about their health. I practice Herbal Medicine from an evolutionary perspective. We function best when we eat foods that we are adapted to eat. Plants have evolved beautifully alongside us and provide powerful healing properties but also highly potent toxins. By understanding adaptation and genetic variation, we can prevent disease by nourishing our bodies with the appropriate food and medicine that is right for us as individuals. That is my vision

I am so looking forward to what Kamaldeep will bring to the apprenticeship, my tummy is rumbling at the thought!

If you would like to book a consultation with Kamaldeep she is available in both Stroud and Bristol. To see her in Stroud please contact her directly kamaldeepsidhu@outlook.com. If you are more Bristol based you can make an appointment to see her at the Urban Fringe Dispensary 01179 276527.

Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship

former student communicating with plants

former student communicating with plants

The teaching year for me is almost at an end after a flurry of workshops that has been ongoing since the beginning of September. Next Tuesday evening is the final installment of a four part series and then I am done for 2015. For that reason the workshop page on my website is looking a little empty for the moment; until I get some ideas and dates fixed for next year.

The only event currently listed for 2016 is Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship.

So what is it? Well firstly I guess I should explain what I mean by apprenticeship, as here in the UK it has a kind of industrial feel. According to the Merriam-Webster online entry the definition of apprentice is: 1b :  one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling

So my apprenticeship is all about learning by practical experience the art of living more wildly. It is a calling. It is about unlearning the ways of domestication and rewilding. It is about learning to live more in line with natures ways.

It won’t just be me; I have also invited Kamaldeep Sidhu and Poh Eng San to share their wisdom and knowledge in the ways of the wild. read more about them and their areas of expertise.

And the content? We will take time to develop sensory acuity and visceral wakefulness. To work with our bodies through eating cleansing foods and self-massage. We will forage for wild foods and medicines making ferments and remedies from our quarry. We will learn about the livingness of the world and how it feels to inhabit a place where everything is alive! We will talk to plants; and they will talk to us. We will learn from the trees and the rivers. We will shapeshift into wilder, more robust, more aware and awake, versions of ourselves.

lake where we stay in Wales

lake where we stay in Wales

When and where? Our journey into Sacred Ecology, into the rewilding of ourselves will be spread over five months; from early May until mid September. During that period we will meet four times in all. Three of them in Somerset, the other in South Wales.

view from compost loo,somerset

view from compost loo, Somerset

At all stages of this Sacred Ecology journey so far I have been drawn to pray and to celebrate the magic and the sacredness. I was delighted a couple of weeks ago to receive the first deposit payment. I have my first apprentice 🙂 ❤

The question is would you like to join us? To co-create with us? To share and explore with us?

I can promise it will be a deeply magical and life-affirming process.

For more background on my style and the content of the apprenticeship read a copy of my latest book Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature, upon which the apprenticeship is loosely based.

Join me!

Wild Food Wild Medicine

Yes, one of my favourite subjects wild food, wild medicine, which could also be food as medicine, or medicinal foods even. You see everything we put in our mouths either helps build, feed, and fuel our bodies with vitamins, minerals and medicinal properties. Or damages our health, striping us of nutrients and energy. There is little that sits between these two extremes as benign, although I have always told myself a Bloody Mary is, purely because all the yummy tomato juice and celery balance out the liver heavy actions of the vodka, I’m sure you’ll agree 😉

hedge garlic alleyAnyway, my wild food of the moment has to be Jack-in-the-hedge, also known as hedge garlic (Alliaria petiolata), not to be confused with wild garlic which is another tasty leaf out and about at the moment. Jack, as I will call him for short, is in abundance right now. Running alongside my house is a long steep alley way literally lined with this spring beauty.

Whenever I pass I eat a leaf or two (clearly ones that are out of range for a doggy cocked leg), there seems to be a great variation in flavour with some leaves being almost sweet while others are bitter, all leaves have a garlicy undertone. I think the leaves that are in deeper shade are sweeter, that has been my experience so far. I recommend gathering a few leaves when you see them and add them to salads, sandwiches and as a garnish topping to any meal (finely chopped of course).

jack in the hedge

jack in the hedge

And their medicine? Well eaten raw they act as a toning and strengthening digestive tonic. You can infuse them in hot water and drink as a tea to help treat respiratory tract infections, bronchitis and asthma. You can also make an infused oil with the leaves to rub on the chest for relief from respiratory tract infections.

What a fabulous and amazing edible medicine, free and available in hedgerows near you for a limited time only!!!

For instructions on how to make an infused oil, or similar information on 150 other plants download my ebook 🙂 Happy foraging.

Wild Medicine Walks

On Monday I got home after spending the weekend at the fabulous Wilderness Festival.  It was the fourth festival I have presented at this summer and was also the last I am scheduled to appear at this year.

I love having the opportunity to work at festivals, to get a chance to share my enthusiasm for what I know with a new audience, to get some great feedback, and of course to sell lots of copies of both of my books.

daisy flower & leafWhat blew me away at Wilderness was the huge number of people that chose to join me for a walk and learn about our heritage, the plants.  On Saturday there were more than 50 people and on Sunday my husband gave up counting when he reached 70!  The reason this is amazing is that there were so many other activities like wild swimming, horse riding, roller disco, even a lakeside spa, alongside the regular festival talks and bands.  It has made me feel warm, happy, and confident about what I do, what I have dedicated myself to.

So many years ago I made an agreement with a plant that I would fly the flag for the green people, that I would help remind my human companions of their green leafy relations.  The wild food revolution is well underway with TV coverage of food foraging, and plenty of high profile chefs using wild foraged ingredients.  Wild medicine foraging is lagging behind.  In part I’m sure that is fear related; could that plant be poisonous?  Could it aggravate my condition?  Yet it was the only option our ancestors had (before the advent of the modern pharmacy), and many plants contain the active ingredients and inspiration for many of our modern medicines.

On my wild medicine walks I am not trying to replace the modern narrow leaf plantainpharmacy but compliment it with natures bounty.  Many minor ailments and little scuffs can easily and effectively be treated by plants growing all around us, in the hedgerows, even amongst the grass on your lawn.

It is my hope that by demystifying the use of wild plants as medicines people will reach out and try some of them, forming a relationship with the plants that grow around us, with nature.  In so doing, in touching, tasting, relating, to wild plants we all become a little wilder, and that little spark inside grows as we remember that yes, we too, are a part of nature…

Wild Food Fest!

Jack-in-the-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata)

Jack-in-the-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata)

It is that time of year when I cannot walk more than two paces without coming across another wild edible.  Nature is providing a bonanza of deep green leaves to feed and cleanse our digestive systems with their bitter medicine.

I met with Faye Hatcher to make a recording for BBC Radio Gloucestershire earlier this week.  We met at a car park in Cranham Woods to talk about all the wonderful wild foods and medicines we saw.  There was such an abundance, especially on the edge between car park and woods, that we only actually walked about ten paces!

If you are interested in hearing what we found then tune in to her lunch time show on BBC Radio Gloucestershire tomorrow (Saturday 11/5) between 9am- midday.  It will also be repeated next week on Anna King’s Wednesday lunch time show (1200- 1430).

If you prefer to see the plants in the flesh rather than just hearing about them and you live in the Stroud area, then you may want to join me next Wednesday (15/5) evening @ 1830 for a medicine walk through Stroud Cemetery on Bisley Road.  Fore more details follow this link http://www.gatewaystoeden.com/Medicine-Walk(2874086).htm

A Potentially Pesky Peppery Plant!

Hairy BittercressHairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a member of the mustard family.  Why does it deserve a post on my blog?  Well to me it is an incredible edible.  The little leaves are quite peppery, just the right amount of bite to add some taste to the salad bowl or a garnish with an edge.  Best of all it is freely available now!

When I used to work in a herb nursery hairy bittercress was the bane of my bosses life as they have spring loaded seed, which when ripe and brushed against trigger; dispersing the seed very efficiently across the full 360 degrees.  I, as a keen gardener, really don’t mind them.  They provide an edible, self seeding ground cover.  Growing as a rosette with one central cluster of very fine roots they are particularly easy to clear when you need the land for something else.

Hairy bittercress is also medicinal, like the majority of wild greens, because although they don’t taste so they are termed as hairy bittercressa bitter herb.  Bitters when added regularly to the diet improve the digestion.  They, in a sense, act as a kind of preventative medicine by activating your bodys natural detoxification mechanisms.  In essence bitters stimulate the release of digestive juices, aid in liver detoxification, and help regulate blood sugars.

So little hairy bittercress is a friend, not a remedy as such, yet it remains medicinal, and quite deliciously edible.

Through eating “weeds”, which hairy bittercress is considered to be by most; you will find the green fingers of natures wilder edges, like tendrils, silently reaching through your insides reminding your body that you are part of the Earth.

If you are intersted in letting those wilder edges in deeper, you may be interested in my workshops

Essential Foragers Etiquette

After posting last week about the importance of wild greens I think it would be timely to discuss the essential foragers etiquette. bowl of stinging nettlesThere are some strict rules that must be adhered to when collecting plants from the wild, other points are more recommendations gained from years of foraging experience and connection with plants:

  • Never gather an endangered or threatened species.
  • Make sure you have the landowners permission before you collect plants from the wild.
  • Take time to identify the plant, use a good field guide.  If you are not sure, do not harvest.
  • Be aware of pollution, there are many kinds: car exhaust, dog pee, fertiliser & pestcide around the edges of conventionally farmed fields, etc.
  • Never take all there is, leave plenty for the birds, animals, other foragers, and of course so the plant can complete its life cycle and produce seed for the next generation.
  • Leave the “grandfather” plant and any that stand at the top of the hill as their seed will repopulate the slope, (but do take a healthy looking specimen).
  • Procede with caution in fragile environments such as rocky slopes and stream banks where treading and collecting irresponsibly may cause great damage to the local ecosystem.
  • Take care to replace the earth carefully where you have harvested roots, again to avoid damaging the environment or causing erosion.
  • Always take a moment of pause before collecting, just to acknowledge the plant.  Ask if you may collect, if it feels like a no move on to another plant.
  • Always thank as you collect and when you have enough, gratitude goes a long way.

basket of wild garlicWith this wet, cold, and windy weather my foraging basket has remained pretty bare this last week but my body feels the need for the nourishment it gets from deep dark wild greens.  Each bitter little leaf is stuffed with minerals and vitamins and consumed in small amounts alongside each meal can assist digestion and help the body achieve a slightly alkaline state of balance, its optimum for efficient function.  So with that in mind and the warmer, drier, weather forecast for this coming weekend I expect to have another green favourite to profile next week.

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