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" Seek the truth and run from

those who claim to have found it "

after André Gide

Your Right to Herbal Medicines is Under Threat

December 14th, 2010

Here is a guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving. Like Maria, and thousands of other people, I have experienced the enormous benefits that herbal medicine can bring. But now  it seems that the EU is buddying up with the pharmaceutical companies to restrict our access to natural healing:

Crone berries

My interest in Druidry has meant that herbs hold a fascination for me.  However, I have never been biased in the direction of either alternative or conventional therapies when it comes to choosing treatments. Use whatever works seems a sensible motto to me. Sadly, this freedom to choose one’s own preferred health care is now being put in jeopardy by a particularly short-sighted EU Directive. This piece of worrying legislation – coming into being next April – is called The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive and will restrict the range of herbal medicines that can be prescribed. It will impact negatively on many folks like me who are currently finding benefit through being treated by a Herbal Practitioner.
Motherwort, shatavari, gelsemium, peony, myrrh and tree of life are just a few of the wonderfully named and magical substances that I have been ingesting over these last five months. After a couple of years of seeking conventional medical help for a worsening condition, the first half of this year saw me struggling with horrendous side-effects from the treatments I had been prescribed by my G.P. Not only did these particular treatments make my original symptoms drastically worse, they gave me some debilitating new ones too. After six exhausting months – and with the only options left to me being invasive surgery – I made the decision to buy myself some time and explore some alternative therapies.
I am happy to say that my Medical Herbalist – the appropriately named Wendy Budd – has been successfully helping me to reclaim my health. Rather than treating me as a set of isolated symptoms – which had been my recent experience of the conventional approach – she has engaged with the whole me, trying to put together a clearer picture of my life, from diet and exercise to emotional and mental states that might be impacting on my health. With Wendy I felt truly listened to; in an age when ever tightening budgets dominate health care, this empathetic exchange between patient and healer often gets lost. It is a tragedy because, as we all instinctively know, it is such a crucial part of the healing process. After almost all my doctor and hospital appointments, I left feeling very low; after Wendy, I was practically doing cartwheels! I am delighted that my symptoms have significantly improved and my overall well-being and energy level has started to return. Considering the hopelessness that I felt back in the early summer, I could never have envisaged getting to this point.
Having come this far, I feel angry that my progress will be undermined by an ill-thought out Directive that I cannot

Hawthorn Blossom

stop. The Directive aims to protect us from untested substances. Of course, this ends up favouring the major pharmaceuticals because they are wealthy enough to pay for drug tests and trials. It is not possible for independent practitioners or small herbal producers to come by the kind of cash that would be needed to pass a particular herb as ‘safe’. It is very convenient for the major companies to have the competition from independent alternatives wiped out in one go by this legislation. It leaves me feeling more than a little cynical about the reasoning behind this unfair law.
It also begs the question ‘what is safe’? I spent six months taking drugs that had been legally approved but which made me ill. Every drug company will tell you that no matter how much testing is done, no one really knows how that drug will react with the individual. It is all rather ‘hit and miss’.
I am taking very small doses of belladonna and gelsemium; these herbs can be deadly in the wrong doses but are amazing pain killers in the right amounts. Under the new directive, Wendy could no longer prescribe these for me. My past intake of conventional painkillers was at the maximum allowed and these were starting to impact painfully on my digestive system. Thanks to these two incredible plants, I have cut my use of painkillers practically down to nothing. The Directive will force me back onto large doses of painkiller with all the accompanying side-effects, or onto the black market to find someone who will give me these herbs. Considering the very real risk to my health this would threaten, it shows how ridiculously skewed the thinking of this Directive is.
Practically everything we do in life involves some kind of risk but I agree that medical practitioners or suppliers should be accountable. However, this Directive throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water and will put out of work many excellent herbalists and herbal producers – skilful people who have trained for years and are helping and healing others. It also pushes aside a collective herbal wisdom that has been gathered over time by many dedicated healers; information and treatment which could be of enormous use to many people in need.
The Directive cannot be overturned at this stage but in the UK herbalists are fighting to become statutorily regulated by the Health Professions Council before April 2011. This will confer upon them a legal status that will preserve their right to prescribe a full range of herbal medicines.
If you feel as strongly as I do, please write to your MP, also to Mark Prist MP (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) and Anne Milton MP (Under Secretary of State, Public Health), or to the appropriate people in your own countries, expressing your concern about safeguarding our rights to receive herbal medicines. There is also a Europe-wide petition, with more information on the issue, here:

Visit Maria’s blog A Druid Thurible here.