The Importance of Space

I won't lie. It's been a bit chaotic here at The Living Herb over the last few months. The annual family holiday was swiftly followed by dealing with serious family illness and the stark realisation that I had taken on too much.

We all do it. Even the most careful planners among us have lapses where we double book, realise we've planned things for multiple weekends in a row, or seem have so much going on in our lives that we feel overwhelmed.

It's easy to get sucked in too. When we are dealing with emotional difficulties, the distraction of being busy lures us into a false sense of security.

And what's worse is that being busy is prized in our society. Starting with the old adage "the devil makes light work of idle hands." Through to something I commonly see:

"How are you?"

"Busy!"

But when we hide behind being busy, when we don't allow space into our life, we neglect ourselves. We don't allow ourselves to connect with how we really are, both physically and emotionally. We lose sight of our loved ones as we flit from one thing to another, never really connecting to them. We lose sight of our very being.

So how do we recover?

This evening I asked myself that very question as for the first night in a month I had a night off. I didn't have to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything. And it was terrifying!

I sent a message to a friend "I've got nothing I need to do and I don't know what to do." My fingers hovered over the TV remote - do I distract myself? Instead I stopped..... well I gently eased myself into stopping by reading a book. And after an hour I was able to slip into a hot bath and feel the space.

As women we tend to neglect the importance of allowing ourselves space, we neglect that need. And yet to embrace our feminine power, we need space. Because it is in that space that it grows. In nurturing our space, we connect with our innate wisdom and are able to rise to life's challenges.

There are many ways we can find that space

  • A soak in the bath
  • A walk in the park
  • Journalling
  • Doing something creative
  • Gardening

To name just a few. Anything that gives us time alone to daydream and just be.

Even if it's just 5 minutes, I invite you to connect with space.

How to choose a natural therapist

I recently had a Facebook discussion with a fellow herbalist. We were both shocked by some of the things a so called herbal medicine page had posted. The article in discussion was advocating treatment that was outright harmful if not potentially dangerous in the guise of science.

It got me thinking about how people without medical knowledge choose a therapist. These things are not specific to herbal medicine, so whatever type of therapy we are considering they are questions to bear in mind.

1. What qualifications do they have?

Recently I've seen adverts for online courses on discount sites and on worldwide distribution sites. Whilst I am all for learning a bit more about topics such as herbal medicine, these courses do not qualify someone to treat a patient safely and effectively. The gold standard in the UK is a degree level course at a university or through a recognised training provider. A BSc in herbal medicine implies a high standard of medical knowledge and the ability to diagnose illness accurately. Similar qualifications exist in other areas. What is the gold standard of education for the therapy you are considering? What qualifications does your potential practitioner have and are they recognised in the UK?

2. Where are they accredited?

In many natural therapies, accreditation is voluntary. Unfortunately, this provides less protection for consumers who are frequently unaware of what bodies are there to protect them. For herbal medicine there are two main bodies. The oldest is the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and it is perhaps most highly regarded as it requires the highest standards to become a member. Another that holds similarly high standards is the College for Practitioners of Phytotherapy. For coaching and councilling there is the National Council for Psychotherapy. And there are others. My own experience of joining NIMH was shockingly thorough - from my academic record and CV to personal references of my standing. If you are considering a particular therapy, it worth researching what bodies regulate it, what qualifications and other stipulations are required to join and if your potential practitioner is a member.

3. What insurance do they have?

It is highly unlikely if you choose a highly qualified practitioner that anything untoward will happen. Equally, any good practitioner will also have insurance in case anything does happen. Being a member of NIMH and other accrediting bodies not only require practitioners to have full medical insurance but also have a strict code of ethics and conduct that practitioners must abide with. Does your potential future therapist advertise that they have insurance and what sort of insurance do they have? Does their professional association have a clear complaints procedure that you could use if needed?

4. Do they keep up with the latest research and training?

We are all busy (yes even therapists!) so finding time to keep our knowledge up to date is hard work. Yet it is essential to be a good practitioner. And it's not just medical knowledge either. Recently the law affecting herbal medicine in the UK changed and more changes affecting how we hold clinical records are imminent too. Knowing if your future practitioner has the latest knowledge about their practice and the law governing it can be a good indicator of quality. It shows that they care about their field and understand the importance of keeping their skills up to date.

5. Do they inspire you with confidence?

Assuming you are confident that your future practitioner meets the previous criteria the last, and perhaps most important, is how you feel seeing them and talking with them. A therapeutic relationship is a very personal thing and your therapist ought to inspire with hope for better health, leave you feeling optimistic and supported and above all make you feel respected and empowered to manage your health. After all, you are the most important person in this relationship.

Raw chocolate truffles

I'm a chocoholic. I love chocolate so much, it's an addiction . It's the one thing I really miss on a low carb diet. 

So undeterred, I have explored many options for getting a chocolate hit without the high carb sugar badness. This recipe is one I've invented based on other recipes out there. They are quick and easy to make and as the amounts aren't exact you can play around with them. I hope you enjoy.

Warning though - you will want more than one at a time! 

Ingredients

150g ground almonds

8 - 10 dates (stoned and chopped)

3 tablespoons raw cacao powder

2 - 3 tablespoons coconut oil or cocoa butter 

What to do

Put all of the ingredient in a foodmixer or blender. I have a nutribullet so just use that. 

Blend until the mixture is consistent.

Roll the mixture into small balls. I scoop out a heaped teaspoonful and that much per ball. 

Place in a frost proof container and freeze for 20 - 30 minutes.

Keep in the fridge and enjoy! 
If you want a sweeter taste you could add up to 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar or slightly increase the number of dates. 

They will keep for about a week..... if they last that long! 

Rosemary for remembrance

Rosemary is a beautiful herb that has a lot more uses than flavouring lamb..... which it does pretty well.

Traditionally it was used to strengthen the memory - hence the old adage. The nice thing about rosemary is that just the smell is enough to have an effect - ask any invigilator in a herbal medicine exam and they will tell you the room smells fragrantly of rosemary.  

Recent research is providing the evidence supporting this traditional use (I always like it when science catches up!). In a study of students, they found that those who smelled rosemary when studying performed 10% better in exams than those who didn't. In another study, this time of patients with dementia, it was found that smeling rosemary for 15 minutes was enough to improve cognitive function. Two great reasons to pop a couple of drops of rosemary essential oil into an oil burner..... but don't forget to blow out the candle when you're finished! 

But that's not all....

Rosemary is also great for improving circulation which can be helpful for a range of health concerns including low energy. 

One of my favourite uses, though, is as a hair tonic to strengthen hair and stimulate hair growth. This makes it a must have for any sort of hormonal or stress related hair loss. Try making a strong infusion to use as a natural conditioner for beautiful hair. 

Transformation

It's Easter weekend and me and Mr LivingHerb have just returned from visiting my uncle. My uncle is a priest and for many years has worked as a chaplain in various hospitals. This weekend he was planning a funeral so inevitably our conversation turned to not only death but life. After all, spring is the time when natural comes back to life after its long winter sleep.

It got me thinking about how our lives ebb and flow. 

When we are young our minds are filled with great dreams and plans, like the buds on the trees ready to burst into life. But as we get older, we forget the promises we've made ourselves. We become so bogged down in making a living that we forget to make for ourselves the life that we dreamed off. 
Watching as my uncle ages and adjusts to retirement, hearing him talk of the pastoral care he gives those who are now too sick to leave their homes, I wonder how are we living today that will help our lives in the future.

What gifts are we giving our older selves?


We have a choice now. We can look after our bodies and minds now and give ourselves the gift of healthy ageing. Living in the moment does not mean neglecting our future health but instead means appreciating the gifts we can give ourselves. 

I don't know about you but I have certainly over-indulged in chocolate this weekend - was that a gift? Well, although it was definitely pleasurable I'm not sure my future self would thank me if I lived like that everyday. So instead I will return to my usual low-carb diet that's filled with veggies. 

What gift will you give your future self that will transform your later life?

Diary of a Detox

A lot of my herbalist colleagues recommend detoxing to patients. The form of these vary from hardcore juice fasting to a more gentle approach.

As a scientist, I am quite skeptical about this sort of thing but having recently listened to a herbalist that I respect immensely talk about how we used to feast and famine and how our bodies have evolved to live this way, I thought I would try it out. After all, if I want my patients to do this sort of this I should try it myself..... and of course drag my husband into doing it too!

I share what I've learned about detoxing in this month's email newsletter but here is my diary....

Day 0

I realised quite late that some of the food needed preparing in advance (note to self, read the instructions). This was things like sprouting beans which can take 3  - 5 days. Rather than postpone it as I had already postponed it to take the collaborative oncology course, I decided to alter slightly what I was going to it and make some of the recipes twice.

I feel quite relieved about this as frankly I am not liking the look of quite a lot of these recipes.

Anyway, day 0 involved some last minute shopping to get through day 1 and preparing day 1's breakfast and lunch. I can honestly say that now it's here I am not looking forward to doing this.

Day 1 

Breakfast had been mostly prepared the night before and stored in the fridge to make getting work easier. All there was to do was whizz up the smoothie and eat. And eating took a long time! There was a huge amount of food and I felt exceptionally full at the end of it. It's not a breakfast you can rush either. And although it looked more like space food than an appetising start to a 5 day detox, it did actually taste really good. I'm feeling slightly more hopeful about the rest.

Today I also did the rest of the shopping. Wow! It's really expensive. I've spent twice as much on 5 days of food than I would normally spend on my weekly shop. Some of it are cupboard staples but they expensive staples that include maca powder, coconut sugar and gogi berries. All well and good but I'm not convinced my Saxon ancestors would have been eating gogi berries! Still I said I would give it a go so onwards....

I have to say that lunch and dinner were amazing. Two beautiful salads which I would never normally have made (one including aforementioned gogi berries). The recipes call twice as much vinegerette than I would use normally but that's easily solved by making less.

I would definitely eat everything I have tried today. It's been delicious and very filling. I've not been left wanting at all..... even after eating essentially a whole bag of spinach for dinner.

Day 2 

I decided to prepare day 2's breakfast and lunch the night before. Unfortunately it was our meditation night which, as cooking dinner had taken up all available time earlier on, meant a late night cooking session. It look nearly an hour! Detoxing is not for the time constrained!!

Day 2 feels very much like elimination day. Things have definitely started shifting. I've noticed a change in bowel movements, I've broken out in spots. None of this is necessarily a bad thing but it is noticeable.

And once again the food has pleasantly surprised me. Tonight was marinated salmon and it was so delicious. Admittedly it came with more cucumber than a woman knows what to do with but it was great nonetheless. I will definitely be making this again.

Day 3 

Today has been the first of two liquid days and after just one I am craving solid food..... followed by a glass of wine and dessert! 

I had not really been looking forward to the juice and soup days but they have all been really pleasant to drink. And even though I'm feeling slightly hungry as I go to bed,I feel like I've had a lot of food.

It has felt slightly constraining however. With juices for breakfast and a midmorning snack, soup for lunch and then more juice in the afternoon, I feel like all I've done all day is prepare food, eat, then wash up. I'm feeling very thankful.for our dishwasher!

Day 4 

I want solid food!!! It's only been two days but I am really missing it. I am really appreciating the bite and crunch of just about anything.

All but one of the juices and soups have been really delicious and as they are freshly made, filled with nutrients. I can't say that I don't feel full but neither can I say I feel satisfied. 

It's also been a lot of hard work. All I have done all day is prepare food, eat food (well drink), then wash up afterwards. My sink is permanently covered in dishes and the dishwasher is constantly on.

And do I feel better for it? I'm not I can answer that definitively but I have certainly emptied my bowels!

Day 5 - the final day 

I started the day with some homemade granola (made yesterday) which was delicious and ended it with a delicious chicken thai curry (also prepared yesterday). It feels good to eat solid food again! While I was skeptical about many things about this detox, I never really appreciated that it would be solid food I'd miss.

Has it been worth? Well it's certainly been a great experiment and I've enjoyed trying new recipes and eating lots more veggies.

As for conclusions.... you can find them in them in this month's newsletter!

The Lion’s Teeth 

If your garden is anything like mine at this time of year, out of your lawn, the flower beds, cracks in the patio, in fact out of any available nook and cranny will be growing beautifully bright yellow flowers. 

To most, the humble dandelion is a weed, a pest and certainly something to be dug up. But to a hebablist, the plant rises from the winter, roaring with all the majesty that this king of medicinal plants can muster. 

Not only is it one the first foods for bees but Taraxacum officinale is also a nutritious food for humans too. Filled with vitamins A, B, C and D as well as potassium and iron, its leaves can be part of a bitter salad or the flowers can be lightly battered and fried.

But beware, it doesn't get its childhood, wee the bed, for nothing! 

Medicinally, dandelion leaves are an effective diuretic which can be used for water retention, cellulite and urinary infections.

The root activates liver and pancreatic function, supporting the body to produce digestive juices, enhance appetite and ease digestion. 

Not such a weed now eh!?!

Three things you can do today to prevent cancer

Last weekend I attended a 2 and a half day course on collaborative oncology. It was both inspiring and hard going as we learned about how herbal medicine can be used in support of the treatment of cancer. From improving vitality of cancer patients so they are strong enough to undergo the trauma of treatment, to reducing the side effects of chemo and radiotherapy and post treatment management. There is so much to learn because there is so much that herbal medicine can help with.

However that wasn't the most important thing that I learned last weekend.

The most important thing I learned was that there are things we can do to prevent cancer and we can start doing them now.

Let me explain why….

Cancer cells develop when our DNA mutates. This happens all the time, particularly as we get older. Our immune and our cell control systems have many strategies for killing off potentially mutated cells and mopping up the debris. Occasionally though, the mutated cell is allowed to replicate, then these cells replicate and gradually over time a cancerous tumour grows.

The time it takes from a DNA strand mutating to a tumour being large enough to be noticed can be many years. This is not necessarily something to worry about as our bodies have the most amazing ability to heal themselves and frequently mutated cells are killed off. We just need to provide the right conditions for that to happen.
Here are three ways you can starting doing that today.

1. Ditch sugar

ditch sugar; anti-cancer; herbal medicine;

Healthy cells are fuelled by something called the Krebs cycle. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are not very good at getting energy via this route. And cancer cells need lots of energy! So where do they get it from?

The answer is sugar. Cancer cells love it. It helps them grow and become strong. It creates the right environment in our bodies to allows cancer cells to avoid our immune system and multiply.

And this is true for many types of cancers. In fact it is estimated that more that 35% of cancers are due to our diet. Avoiding sugar is one small change you can make that can allow your body to protect itself from mutated, potentially cancerous cells.

2. Move more

exercise; get fit; herbal medicine; anti-cancer

Research shows that 30% of cancers are due to our sedentary lifestyle. From breast cancer to colon cancer, we lower our risk of getting cancer dramatically by just moving more.

You don't have to be a gym bunny to lower your cancer risk. Try setting an alarm every 55 mins and go for a 5 minute wander, or go for a lunchtime or after dinner walk.

It doesn't matter what you do, it's never too late to get a bit fitter and lower your cancer risk.

3. Chill out

relaxation; stress; anti-cancer; herbal medicine

Chronic stress may not be a cause of cancer however it will affect how your body reacts to cancerous and mutated cells. It is long known that long term stresses reduces our immune function making us more susceptible to disease..... and this means cancer too!

Short term or acute stress isn't necessarily a problem but if you find it lingering, it's time to take action. The best way to act is to remove the cause of your stress but if that's not possible then why not try some relaxation techniques or some herbal medicine to help.


Our health is in our control. Leading a more healthier lifestyle, be that through improving our diet and fitness or our mental well-being, can reduce the risk of serious health issues such as cancer. What's stopping you?

Loving yourself – is it hokey? 

Earlier this week I went to see an independent showing of the film Embrace. It was wonderful to have a tiny part of its organisation (I sold raffle tickets!) and it was an inspiring mix of talks from amazing women together with a brilliant film. 

The point of the night was to forget about the social convention that women need to look young, skinny and beautiful and instead focus on loving ourselves for who we are, no matter what size we are.

This raises some issues for me personally - I don't want to be overweight. To be honest I don't to be super-skinny either. I've been underweight and I didn't like being able to see my bones poking through my skin. These days I carry a few more extra pounds than I'm comfortable with and frankly I want to be able to fit into my trousers! 

And yet, although I go through this debate in my head, I would still say I have a pretty healthy body image. So how can I combine these two, what look like, opposing views into a healthy me? 

To me loving myself isn't necessarily earing what I want, when I want and lazing around watching TV all day. Occasionally it is - after all we all need duvet days eating ice cream and binge watching the latest box-set. 

For me, truly loving myself is giving myself what I NEED. This means eating well and to me that is a relatively low-carb diet full of fresh vegetables and homecooking. It is limiting how much alcohol I drink and how much sugar I eat. When I was a child, my mum was very strict on sugary treats because she loves me.... so I am strict on sugary (and these days alcoholic) treats because I love me and I want to nurture my body.

Loving myself is also ensuring I get enough exercise. If you listen to any of my health talks you will hear me talking about the dangers of sitting (spoiler alert: it's really bad for you). Our lifestyles are so sedentary these days so loving myself includes giving myself a kick up the butt to get off the sofa and out for a walk, or dancing or the gym.... but not lazing around on the sofa.

Growing up in today's society it is highly likely we'll develop some sort of slightly skewed body image view and we do need to find a way of shaking that. My way is thinking that loving myself me giving my body (and mind) what it needs and while sometimes that's chocolate and corrie, more often it's meditation, a healthy diet and exercise.

How are you going to love yourself today? 

What is a herbalist anyway?

When I meet people and tell them I am a medical herbalist I frequently get blank, confused looks back before a comment that implies I am some sort of quack. There are many different types of therapist available today, with varying levels of medical knowledge and skill and it is easy to put herbalists into the "complementary therapy" box without even blinking. However that is an injustice to the training and knowledge it takes be a herbalist. I like to think that a herbalist sits in the space between GPs and complementary therapy and I will explain why. But first let's talk about our tools, the plants....

Plants as medicine

herbal medicine; natural medicine; herbs;

The use of plants as medicine dates back millennia so many people have some sort of knowledge of using herbal medicine. From telling a child to use a dock leaf on a nettle sting through to taking Echinacea in the winter to help you beat those winter bugs, it is somehow embedded in our psyche.

But more than that, plants are studied for their medicinal properties and their active constituents are synthesized to make more than 80% of conventional medicines. If it wasn't backed by science, you could say plants have healing properties!!

What makes a herbalist?

These days if you go into a health food shop or have a look online, you can find a lot of advice on what herbs you can take to help your ailments. Even GP's are recommending herbs such as St John's Wort for depression. And if you read my blog or watch my videos, you will find lots of advice from me too. So why bother going to see a herbalist? What can we add to the knowledge you can get over the counter?

To get a Bachelor of Science degree in Herbal Medicine, we train in a range of subjects: anatomy and physiology; the same sort of clinical diagnosis techniques as a GP; biochemistry and pharmacology - including conventional pharmacology; and finally herbal therapeutics.

When you see a herbalist, you are not given one herb to ease a symptom. Instead your entire medical history is taken into account and we combine herbs into a personally tailored medicine aimed at meeting your needs. Because we have trained in conventional pharmacology, we can ensure that any medicine we prescribe works safely and effectively along side any medications your GP or consultant may have prescribed. We work with you to understand how your body is responding to medicine and may even alter herbal medicines as your physiological responses change as your body starts to heal. We can even work with your GP or consultant to ensure you are getting the best care from them.

Seeing a herbalist does not just give you one herb to try at home, it gives you the support to help you manage difficult chronic health concerns. It can empower you to understand how your medical conditions are affecting you and make informed choices about the best possible health care for you. And occasionally it can give some herbs too!

If you want to learn more about herbal medicine, you can find more here on my blog, sign up to my monthly (no-spam) newsletter or arrange a free call with me to discuss how I can help you.

With love

Victoria