Lincoln conference of Herbal Medicine

We have now confirmed details for an exciting programme of talks and workshops at the Lincoln conference of Herbal Medicine at Riseholme campus from 9th to 10th July.

This two day conference will explore the complexities of herbal medicine therapeutics. To what extent is the remedy, the patient or the practitioner active in the therapeutic process and what is the nature these interactions? This question is highly pertinent to our effectiveness as practitioners and our understanding of the philosophies and doctrines which underpin our practice.

Herbal medicine has always been revisionist and iconoclastic in its service to the needs of the people. In contemporary society people are ill in complex ways and holistic treatment of the modern condition requires a sophisticated and complex understanding of the dynamics and interactions within the body and that the mind and body cannot be separated. Psycho-physiological processes are recognised as the key to both the cause and resolution of disease and this conference will investigate some of these through a series of lectures and workshops.

Book online.

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Statutory regulation of medical herbalists

The government has now announced the Statutory Regulation of herbalists with the Health Professions Council (HPC). The statement made was:
“The Health Secretary also announced to Parliament today that herbal medicine practitioners will be regulated from April 2012. The four UK health departments have agreed that the Health Professions Council (HPC) should hold a statutory register of practitioners who supply unlicensed herbal medicines to people to enable the supply of herbal medicines to continue after 30 April 2011. This will ensure that practitioners have met specified registration standards. Practitioner regulation will be underpinned by medicines legislation which will provide further safeguards to protect public health.”

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Meeting with Karl McCartney MP, to discuss SR of Medical Herbalists at University of Lincoln


Andrew Stableford (head of Herbal Medicine) , Karl McCartney, Yang Xiang

The meeting took place at the University of Lincoln’s Herbal Dispensary in the Complementary Medicine Clinic at 0930am on Friday 4th Feb.
Karl McCartney M.P. met the course leader: Andrew Stableford, the clinic manager: Anne Parkin, 2010 graduate Martin Schoenbeck and other graduates and current students.
The matter of SR with the HPC was discussed and Karl showed a keen interest in the matter. He offered to help press the cause, made lots of notes and indicated he would try to ask further questions in the house to push for progress on this important matter. He was fully aware of the urgency of this matter given the forthcoming E.U. deadline.
Everyone who attended the meeting felt it had been very productive and worthwhile, and it was great to see Lincoln’s M.P. supporting Herbal Medicine at the University of Lincoln.

John Swift (3rd year herbal student), Katie Tildesley,(3rd year herbal student), Hannah Sylvester (herbal graduate 2010), Karl McCartney, Martin Schoenbeck (herbal graduate 2010), Salil Pande (3rd year acupuncture student), Yang Xiang (acupuncture supervisor), seated - Jo North (herbal graduate 2009).

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Lincoln conference of Herbal Medicine

We are just putting the finishing touches to our programme for a herbal conference this summer, with the theme ‘Medics or Magicians?’ at the beautiful Riseholme campus in Lincoln. Keep the weekend of 9th-10th July free!

The conference is open to all. We expect ticket prices to be very reasonable, with discounts for students, and there will be a dance on the saturday evening.

More details to follow soon…

Riseholme Park. Image by Ron Strutt available under Creative Commons licence at

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Galenic Constitutions

Galenus of Pergamum

In History and Philosophy of Herbal Medicine over the last couple of weeks, we have been looking at the Galenic concepts of constitutions: the choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic temperaments. These constitutions are based on the classical idea that you can group people according to their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual characteristics, and that such groupings can be used to give you information about the patterns of health and disease likely to be seen in people from each group. We have been trying to guess how Galen might have classified each member of the class. (“I’m not fat, I just have a phlegm imbalance”)

These ideas obviously have problems when you try to apply them in the modern day. For example, the old descriptions of each temperament carry some rather sweeping value judgments – who would have wanted to be one of Culpeper’s melancholics with their tendency to be “lumpish…envious, fretful, obstinate in opinions…mistrustful, suspicious…”(Tobyn, 1997)

However, as a practising medical herbalist, I do frequently find myself thinking about whether such archaic concepts could be useful when trying to understand the problems of the patients that I see in my practice. Perhaps this is entirely anachronistic- am I taking concepts that can only be understood when embedded in their historical context and trying to stretch them to the modern day where they don’t belong?

But there are other ways of looking at this. John Tosh (2006) describes one use of history as being ‘an inventory of alternatives….History reminds us that there is usually more than one way of interpreting a predicament or responding to a situation, and that the choices open to us are often more varied than we might have supposed.’

In the current paradigm of conventional medicine, questions about how to group and classify people in broad terms of their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual characters, and then to link these classifications to patterns of ill-health are rarely considered, except perhaps in psychiatry. Perhaps this is because such questions are not really amenable to scientific method and so it is easier to just ignore their existence. Kuhn (1996) suggests that one way of defining each historical phase of a science is by the set of questions that are considered worthy of study. In which case, it would seem that these questions are amongst the ones that are currently excluded from medical science. What would happen if we started trying to answer them again?


  • Tobyn, G. (1997) Culpeper’s Medicine: a Practice of Western Holistic Medicine. Shaftesbury: Element Books
  • Tosh, J. and Lang, S. (2006) The Pursuit of History, 4th Edition. Harlow : Pearson Education Ltd
  • Kuhn, T.S. (1996) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
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Herbal remedies for anxiety

You may have seen some of the publicity last week about a new study published in the peer-reviewed Nutrition Journal suggesting that herbal and nutritional remedies could be effective in the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-linked disorders.

The study concerned was a type of meta-analysis, based on 24 studies in total. It found that strong evidence exists for the use of herbal supplements containing extracts of passionflower or kava and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine as treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders.

Photo by H3ini available under Creative Commons licence

An abstract of the study is available online.

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The Emperor’s New Drugs

Are conventional antidepressants simply placebos?

On Wednesday 6th October the Lincoln Academy hosted a talk by Irving Kirsch, professor of psychology at the University of Hull, in which he suggested exactly that. His meta-analyses of the published and unpublished trials of antidepressant drugs show only a small, clinically insignificant, difference between drug and placebo. And then even this small difference can be explained by patients ‘breaking blind’: the side-effects of the drugs are a giveaway that the patient is taking the ‘real drug’ and not placebo, causing an enhanced placebo response as compared to people who suspect they are only taking sugar pills.

For more information, see the Huffington post for an article by Professor Kirsch.

These findings have implications for our concept of what depression actually is. If depression is linked to imbalance of brain neurotransmitters, as is the conventional view, then manipulation of levels of these neurotransmitters should result in varying responses. But in fact, all the different classes of antidepressants studied by Professor Kirsch shared a similar response rate, i.e. equal to placebo.

However, depression is essentially a subjective state, characterised by feelings such as sadness and loss of hope. The attempt to convert these personal, subjective emotions into an objective pathophysiological state is symptomatic of a science that thinks something is only a real problem if you can find a ‘real’ defect. But why not look at what the patients are actually experiencing – sadness, loss of hope – and try to treat that directly? We call it placebo, but that’s just another name for hope. And surely that’s the most direct and logical treatment possible?

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Japanese garden trip

As is Lincoln tradition, we took the new students on a trip to the beautiful Japanese garden in North Clifton on the Friday of Freshers week. The weather was rather cool, but as it had been tipping down the previous day, we were just relieved that it stayed dry.

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NSS scores success

Just bragging this week – the Complementary Medicine (Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture) team were very proud of our excellent results in the National Student Survey. Our graduates gave us an average score of 4.42 out of 5 over the 22 questions , with a 100% satisfaction rate, which placed us top of all of the Complementary Medicine courses in the country! Our thanks go to all of you that filled out the questionnaire.

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Elderberry Rob

It’s not really a good year for Elderberries in Sheffield. Nevertheless, I was determined to make some Elderberry Rob this weekend because I haven’t had any the last couple of years and it’s such a lovely recipe. And I’ve already got more Blackberries than we can eat in a year – it IS  a bumper season for them!

Elderberry Rob is an old traditional recipe, used as a warming treatment for coughs and colds. It is quite likely that it has antiviral and immune-enhancing properties, as these have been regularly demonstrated for other Elderberry extracts (e.g. Barak et al). There are many different versions, but basically you make a syrup and add spices – cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, whatever you happen to have in the cupboard. It’s extremely tasty (especially with brandy or rum and a little hot water – like mulled wine but better). My version goes as follows:

Collect as many elderberries as I can find without stripping the trees bare (and whilst being respectful to the spirit of Elder who is always considered in herb folklore to be one of the more ferocious of the tree spirits).

Elderberries, Elderberry

A basket of Elderberries

Strip the berries from the twigs, using a fork and chuck them in a big pan.

Strip with a fork

Simmer with a little bit of water (just enough to prevent burning) for about half an hour or so (or in my case, until Match of the Day finishes.)

Simmer Elderberries gently with a little water

Meanwhile set some bottles sterilising – easiest method is just to wash them out then stick them in a cold oven, heat it up to about 160, then turn it off and leave the bottles to sit there until you are ready. Boil the lids for a few minutes to sterilise them too.

Then strain it out, preferably through a bit of muslin, but a sieve will do if the muslin all got used up on Blackberries. Measure how much you’ve got, then decide how much sugar to add.

Now, this is a bit of a difficult issue with Elderberries. The usual rule for other herbal syrups is that you add up to twice as much sugar as you have of the liquid. But Elderberries are full of sugar already. Some sources add no sugar at all: others add up to equal amounts of sugar to liquid. It depends on how concentrated your extract is – if you have left it simmering for ages during MOTD, you will need less sugar – if impatient to get on with it, you may use more. To do without sugar entirely, you need to simmer it for a couple of hours or more. This time, I used about 8oz for each pint and then it tasted and looked syrupy.

After adding the sugar, chuck in however much spices you like or happen to have in the cupboard and simmer for half an hour or so to dissolve the sugar and concentrate it a bit more. Then pour it into your sterilised bottles and put the lids on whilst still hot. Use some brandy to swill out your pan. Drink the brandy.


Barak, V., Halperin, T., ,Kalickman, I. (2001) ‘The Effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry -based natural product, on the production of human cytokines.’ European Cytokine Network. 12 (2): 290-6

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