Sweet smell of growing success

Common plants and weeds can be used to make herbal remedies when you know how

Common plants and weeds can be used to make herbal remedies when you know how

SCOTTISH MEDICAL herbalist Vivienne Campbell has become a well known champion of the medicinal value of wild plants and herbs in Ireland. Over the past eight years, she has worked as a medical herbalist in Co Clare. During that time, she has also developed herb walks for groups in the summer months and year-round workshops in herbal remedies and natural cosmetics in venues around the country.

Next weekend, she will show people how to make their own herbal teas, dandelion coffee and simple herbal creams and ointments at the Rude Health show in the RDS. Last weekend, she was a keynote speaker at Botanica 2012, the international conference on clinical aromatherapy in Dublin.

So where has this rise of interest in natural herbs and plants come from? “People have become more resourceful because of the recession. They want to be able to make remedies for themselves that are less expensive,” says Campbell.


“During the boom, it was much more about ‘sell me something expensive so that I can get better and can carry on [at this pace]’.”

At her demonstrations and workshops, Campbell teaches people how to recognise all the common wild plants and herbs that are growing wild in the Irish landscape.

“I pick most of my stuff in the wild but I also buy dried cooking herbs from the supermarket. I show people what they can buy or grow easily in their gardens,” she says.

Speaking about her popular herb walks in Co Clare, Campbell says: “People are amazed that what they considered to be the most humble weeds have a history of usage for their medicinal properties. They find out that they have overlooked common plants and not distinguished between grasses and plants.”

She mentions daisies as an example of edible flowers that contain as much vitamin C as lemons.

At Botanica 2012, Campbell spoke enthusiastically about what she considers to be a strong appreciation of natural medicines in this country.

“It’s wonderful to be in a country where the wisdom of nature is still respected, honoured, nurtured and utilised,” she told the audience.

Nonetheless, she is cogently aware that natural medicines are – yet again – under threat from EU legislation that often demands pharmaceutical standard research evidence to prove their medicinal properties.

“People who use plants as medicines have been attacked and persecuted for centuries and there is still a lot of suspicion about natural medicine,” she says. “The problem is that research costs a lot of money and the only people that can afford it are in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Many herbal remedies are no longer available because of EU regulations. So, many people realise that if they want a remedy, they have to make it themselves. Once you show someone how to make a remedy that works for them, you can’t take that away from them,” she says.

However, she is also aware that people need to be knowledgeable about using herbs safely. “While herbs are very safe, you shouldn’t try to treat a serious medical condition yourself and, if you are on a prescription drug, you must see a herbal practitioner first before taking herbs,” she says.

Campbell also advises people to be extremely cautious about information on the internet about herbal remedies.

“I’m always telling people not to look up herbs on the internet because there is a lot of rubbish out there. I give them a list of reliable sources and tell them not to type herbs into Google or Wikipedia.”


HAWTHORN:The hawthorn or whitethorn tree is a small tree that grows widely in the Irish countryside. The leaves, flowers and berries of hawthorn are edible and herbalists commonly use extracts of the flowers and berries as a medicine to strengthen the heart muscle and lower blood pressure.

NETTLES:Nettles are rich in iron and other minerals and herbalists use them to build up the blood and prevent anaemia. Nettles are also used as a detoxifying tonic to strengthen the kidneys. Nettles were widely eaten in Ireland until cabbage was introduced in the 1800s. Nettle soup (made from freshly picked spring nettles) is a common nourishing healing food that is re-gaining popularity.

CARRAGEEN MOSS:Often called Irish moss because it was so widely used in the past, this delicate seaweed is used to treat colds, coughs and to clear phlegm from the chest. It can be used to thicken and set jellies, blancmanges and ice-creams. For colds, dried carrageen is boiled in milk to which lemon, honey and ginger are added. Current research has found that carrageen has anti-viral properties, thus confirming its traditional use.

MEADOWSWEET:This creamy/white flowering plant grows abundantly in the Irish countryside. It is a traditional remedy for heartburn and indigestion. Years ago, older people took meadowsweet to ease aches and pains. Scientists later found it contained salicylic acid which was patented as aspirin, after the plant's old Latin name, Aspirea.

PRIMROSES and COWSLIPS:These yellow flowering wild plants were once common in the Irish countryside. Now more scarce, they are used by herbalists as muscle relaxants, to ease insomnia, tension headaches and nervousness. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, soups and jams.

The information in this panel has been adapted from Vivienne Campbell’s keynote speech at Botanica 2012, the international conference on clinical aromatherapy in Trinity College Dublin last weekend.

Vivienne Campbell will give demonstrations on how to make herbal remedies and natural cosmetics at the Rude Health Show on September 15th and 16th in the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. See rudehealth.ieand theherbalhub.comfor more details.