Healing herbs sink roots
A medical herbalist in Galway believes there’s a significant move in people’s approach to healthcare, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON
DR DILIS Clare is glowing with good news as I walk into her Health Herbs shop on Galway’s Sea Road. She has just been informed that she has been awarded €25,000 from Enterprise Ireland to carry out a feasibility study on developing the herbal medicine industry in this country.
“It’s a very auspicious time that you come to speak to me,” she says, offering me coffee and beetroot brownies before we retreat to her consulting room upstairs for the interview.
“I want to start this herbal medicine industry in a fully regulated way. I have backing from academics at Athlone Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology. I have three farmers ready to grow herbs and I can distribute through Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Cam) Practitioners. Now I need to learn from international experience before I can start,” she explains.
Clare – a qualified medical herbalist and GP – already makes and sells her own blends of herbals teas, tonics and balms. Her integrated medicine practice in Galway operates a herbal dispensary ( healthandherbs.ie) and other medical herbalists who run clinics there also make up their own blends for their clients. Several other Cam practitioners also use the consulting rooms.
A native of south Dublin, Clare moved to Galway from London in 1999. “I had always wanted to come back to Ireland. I landed in Shannon and drove through Co Clare looking at the hedgerows full of St John’s Wort and Meadowsweet which treat melancholy and arthritis – and I knew I was home. A number of people told me Galway would be the most receptive to herbal medicine so I came here. Many Irish people are only one generation away from a farm and natural medicine is still part of our race memory,” she says.
One of 11 children, Clare says she grew up in an unconventional family. “My father gave up a senior executive post in the civil service to become an entrepreneur. He became a property developer. He was a maverick yet he sent us all to college in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Clare credits her decision to study medicine to the encouraging environment in the Dominican College in Co Wicklow where she did her Leaving Certificate. She studied medicine at University College Dublin and did her internships in Ballymena, Co Antrim and then in London.
“I struggled through every bit of medical school – not academically, but I didn’t see why medicine had to be so tough on people and psychologically judgmental. It was always us and them in the paternalistic, patriarchal system of doctors and patients.”
As a student, she was involved in the Irish Women’s United with women such as journalist Nell McCafferty and writer Mary Dorcey. “I was a rebel with a cause,” she says.
For about 20 years, Clare worked as a GP in London but she also studied herbal medicine and became one of the first graduates of the herbal medicine degree at Middlesex University. Slowly, she began practising more herbal medicine than conventional medicine but still works with a combination of both.