Thursday, 14 April 2011

4 Doctors in a Day

12 April 2011
We had four-days-in-one in Herbology on Tuesday: Ethonomedica morning, Ethnobotany before lunch,  Neutraceutical mid-afternoon and Tibetan Medicine for tea.

North Berwick trains are known to run come snow, fog, rain and Scotch mist, but have difficulty getting there and back on glorious sunny days. So, I was late in arriving for the early morning lecture and felt the hush entering the classroom by then under direction of the redoubtable Anne Barker.

Anne Barker
 Anne is a practising Medical Herbalist and the Regional Co-ordinator for Scotland for the Ethnomedica Project run by the RBGE and Kew Gardens. The project aims to create an archive of ‘Remembered Remedies’ culled from the minds of our oldest (and most knowledgeable?) residents. Anne regularly travels to the northern isles in search of memories (visions of Dumbledore’s wand looming over his Pensive) and carefully captures every word in database-able format.  Fortunately, she is also writing a book which will help to preserve the bright lively narratives that accompany the archivable facts of old ways of treating cuts, boils, ulcers and eye infections.
Bogbean  (Lus-na-Loach)

Critical to her research is discerning what plant a person is talking about in the first place. Many Gaelic plant names are similar, and as every island has its own form of Gaelic, so the written word and English translation are susceptible to mix-up.  Thus Lus-na-Loach (Bogbean) has often been confused with Lus-na-loagh (Golden Saxifrage) which also pretends to be Lus-nan-Loach (Roseroot) in written works. 
Golden Saxifrage (Lus-na-Loagh)

Maybe picture books weren’t such a bad idea… In any case, we learned new applications for Primrose leaves (remarkably good for relieving boils: Apply veiny sides of leaves as a poultice (changed each day) until all pus drained away; then apply soft side of the leaves as a poultice to complete the skin’s healing process.

Roseroot (Lus-nan-laoch)
One of Anne’s rules is to use indigenous species in her berbal remedies, as long as they are not endangered in any way. One of her favourites is Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea or Rhodiola sedum rosea), a Scottish native that also grows across the circumpolar regions (Iceland, Norway, Russia) of the world. A fantastic ‘adaptogen’ it has been known since Viking times as the "herb of champions".  Roseroot works on the mid central nervous system, is neuro-protective, cardiac-protective, improves memory, prevents immune depletion, increases stamina and strengthens resolve – a sort of natural Russian steroid. Australian researchers have gone mad for it too, researched every last element and it is now used by many Herbalsits throughout the world.

Anne Barkler’s recommended reading list:
Memory, Wisdon & Healing, by Gabriel Hatfield, Stroud Publsihin
Adaptogens by David Winston & Stephen Mains
Greenfiles (a subscription based newsletter) by Anne Larvin in Alnwick

Greg Kenicer in the field of the RBGE
Greg Kenicer talked us through the genetic code of Economic Botany and Ethnoflora. Great store is taken in the professional botanists' world of developing databases of information and keeping them safe from predatory hands and minds. The aim is to combat mis-use by mighty pharmaceutical companies (aka Bio-Pirates) who might strip an area of newly discovered plants, hoping that one might possibly contain a  miracle cure for cancer or some other highly lucrative disease. The practice has had a devastating effect on delicate and singular ecologies and has brough little or no reward to the local people. Some countries (like Peru) try to contain ‘plant theft’ and to preserve both the intellectual property and 'genetic reserves' of their land. Others (like Korea) are actively promoting plant piracy as they race to develop new drugs, setting up labs worldwide and razing vulnerable landscapes.

 Intellectual property rights, (whose origins must be with geeky lawyers), has entered the plant kingdom with the emergence of food giants (and even arms dealers) genetically modifying plants to suit their purposes.  Did you know thatTaco Bell (aka Taco Hell) holds a patent for it’s own ‘Starlink’ maize – used, we guess, to make mucho tortillas?, or that M&S holds a trademark for ‘Oakham’ chickens, based on breed and rearing. If you can deal with altering genetic code (easy, says Greg) then all you need to do is register it on GenBank and hope the plant doesn’t mutate en route to the bank.

Greg’s recommended databases:
Economic Botany Data Standards -

Talking to an English Walnut
 Ursula Fearn, Nutritional Therapist met us back in the classroom after lunch with a wonderful array of ‘power foods’ that we could safely eat.  With a BSc in Botany & Zoology, a Masters in Human Ecology, and a 2nd degree in Nutritional Therapy, she has an in-depth knowledge of what’s good for you and took us on a walk through the gardens to see and touch some famous Walnuts.

Back in the classroom (aka kitchen) we talked this way and that (no notes taken, sadly) around the tables about the real cause of heart disease (inflammation, not cholesterol), humoral medicines, her top 10 foods, ancient Orcadian barley and the short /long carbon chains that make up Omega 3,6 an 9, etc... At the same time we chopped, mashed and then whizzed into a hummus like paste the following super-foods:
Walnut & Pomegranate Paste

A Georgian Recipe for Walnut & Pomegranate Paste 
¾ cup walnuts (only nut that is the source of Omega 3)
5 cloves garlic (good for cleansing your blood
¼ tsp tumeric (anti-inflammatory)
2 tsps coriander seeds (carmitive and digestive aid)
¼ cup fresh coriander leaves (vitamin C & anti-oxidant)
¼ cup pomegranate juice (excellent anti-oxidant)
2 tsps red wine vinegar (lowers blood pressure)

Good on toast, particularly Ursulas’ home baked Walnut and Brown Ale bread. 

Ursula's recommended reading is the following (click on title for external link):
Cardiovascular Disease: Diet, Nutrition & Emerging Risk Factors 
Cancer Active Centre:
Dr Paul Clay's Books

Dr Dhonden of the Tara Trust
 Refreshed and reinvigorated, we greeted Dr Dhonden, a Tibetan Doctor based at the Tara Trust in Edinburgh.  Dr Dhonden brought with him 6 of the most common herbs used in traditional Tibetan medicine for us to learn about:
Green Cardamon pods and seeds

Elettaria Cardamomum - Green Cardamon
Crocus Sativus  & Crocus Tintnctorius – Crocus and Safflower
Pegacophyton scapifloum – Himalayan Scape Flower
Rhodiola Crenulata - a variety of Roseroot
Rheum spiciform royle – Himalyan Spikend Rhubarb
Vladmiria souleri - not sure

Most were dried and powdered, and we tasted each in turn.  Typically, traditional Tibetan medicine is taken by applying a single or mixture of powder to thettongue and then drinking a glass of water, although the herb can be mixed with water first. In fact though traditional Tibetan medicine, when practised here in the UK it is not ‘traditional’ at all as no animal elements can be used (normally 5%).  In his beautiful book - pictures of all the Tibetan medicine ingredients – was an exotic array of flowers, roots, leaves, rocks, minerals, birds, monkeys, spiders, beetles, flies and dung….
Dr Dhonden's Book of Tibetan Medicinal things
 It’s very hard to explain, but seemed clear to understand at the time, that a Tibetan doctor's diagnosis relies equally on one’s humours (wind, fire, earth, water, and space), the patient's astrological chart, the time of year and patient's pulse.  A good doctor can feel the state of your internal organs by pressing three fingers along various places of your pulse.
Himalayan fields
Herbs (making up the other 95%) are gathered in the wild – cultivation virtually unknown – as the belief is that only when a plant is collected from a natural environment, where it lives in harmonious balance with the altitude, soil, temperature, water level and other plants, will it give  its full potency.  Even then it must be harvested only at a certain time of year and only for a specified number of days, according to its purpose and efficacy.  Plants taken from Tibet and planted here at the RBGE astound Dr Dhondon – they are generally too big, overly fleshy (surprised?) and have ‘lost their power’. But more sadly, native wild plants in Tibet are being stripped to extinction by unscrupulous traders who do not follow the law - a moral crime in more ways than one.

Ready for Easter!
So with our heads full of new knowledge, our bags full of soap and Ursula's parting gifts of Lovage plants,  we set sail for a long Easter break.

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