I’m so excited to share this interview with the lovely Lucinda Warner, founder and editor of the beautiful and informative site Whispering Earth. Lucinda talks with Herb Geek about her journey into herbalism, her thoughts on the regulation of herbalism in the UK, and the ways in which Buddhism, herbalism, and the natural world intersect in her practice. It’s been such a treat to spend some time chatting with Lucinda. All of the beautiful photos in this article have been provided courtesy of Lucinda Warner.
Melanie: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! Your blog Whispering Earth is absolutely lovely and informative. Can you share a bit about your background and how you got started with herbal medicine?
Lucinda: Well, I have always had a love for plants and nature, something that runs in my family, as my father is a gardener and forester and we grew up in the countryside. As a teenager I used to enjoy making up remedies and concoctions and I became interested in natural health and making my own flower remedies in the garden.
In my early 20’s I worked at a herb shop in Bristol and my interest grew from there as I went on to spend five years studying naturopathy and herbal medicine in London. Prior to this most of my jobs involved care work of some kind so that also gave me important lessons in working with people in need of healing.
I have also learnt a lot from spending time with local herbalists who make their own medicines and allowed me to sit in on their clinics, firstly Sarah Furey and then Stephen and Carol Church from The Herbarium. Stephen and Carol and another local herbalist, Therri Lahood, have had a great influence on me through their very practical approach to herbal medicine, growing their plants and making and sharing their medicines very generously. This really resonated with my own view of what herbal medicine can and should be.
Melanie: I love that you have a link on tree hugging on your site, and I’m especially compelled by the statement you mention: “When I began my herbal studies I heard it said that there was ‘no place for tree huggers’ in modern herbal medicine, which strives for scientific validation and ‘white coat’ professionalism.” Can you elaborate on this, and share your own personal thoughts and experiences?
Lucinda: This was really a light-hearted addition to the blog, thought the sentiments behind it are in all earnest. Here in the UK we have seen a shift in the way herbal medicine is taught, now being mainly through university degrees, in the hope of making it a more respected form of treatment by the medical community. Like many things this is a double-edged sword as it relies on teaching about well researched herbs only, something that automatically excludes many valuable plant medicines. It also necessitates that much of the ‘art’ be stripped from teaching and practice as it is too indefinable to be appropriate for a science degree.
We are also seeing a division between those who are in favour of statutory regulation for all practising herbalists and those who are against. I personally fall into the latter camp as I think preserving herbal medicine as ‘the people’s medicine’ is beyond value.
So the tree hugging page is something of a reaction against being told that I have to wear a white coat and used standardised herbal preparations to be taken seriously! It’s also a little celebration of the fact that our interaction with plants is about much more than utilising their chemical constituents. Initially I just had a few pictures of friends and family but then I started receiving beautiful photos from other people to add to the page. I love it so much when people I don’t know email me a picture of themselves hugging a tree to add to the site.
Melanie: You also mention on your site that you’re a long time student of Buddhism. Can you talk a little bit about the place where Buddhism and herbalism intersect for you? Does Buddhism play a significant role in your approach to herbalism?
Lucinda: Yes absolutely. To me both Buddhism and Herbalism are frameworks which have allowed me to understand my connection to the natural world, and life itself, in a more profound manner. Herbal medicine is, for me, very much about my relationship to the plants, my inter-connection with them, and Buddhism just expands that to the rest of life.
The thing that really attracts me to Buddhism is the core philosophy that all things co-exist and arise dependently with each other. Essentially we are all connected and our notions of a separate self, our own identity, even notions of ‘Buddhism’ itself are only ideas that we solidify around things that are actually fluid. I really enjoyed discovering more about Goethe’s way of looking at plants as it also deals with the flow underpinning all life. If this is so then it allows for a very dynamic relationship between ourselves, the plants and also any diseases we may suffer from which is very much in line with my approach to herbalism.
Melanie: Your site has a beautiful mix of articles ranging from apothecary creations, to materia medica, to explorations of the natural world. You seem to be very much in harmony with the natural plant life around you. Is your relationship with plants and the natural world an important part of your evolution as an herbalist? How would you describe yourself as a herbalist?
Lucinda: Thank you. It’s funny because I can’t separate my relationship with plants and nature from my idea of myself as a herbalist. I respect that some people are wonderful clinicians and effective practitioners without having a personal relationship to the herbs they use but it is a very different approach to my own.
One of the things I wanted for my website was that it be very accessible in terms of the recipes I make and plants that I use. In many ways it’s more about being someone who appreciates the natural world than it is about being a herbalist, at least in the clinical sense. I feel very lucky that herbalism embraces many of my interests; from gardening to caring for the wellbeing of others and from teaching to medicine-making.
I am also very connected to my local environment, the South Downs, and the plants that grow there. It is a very beautiful area of chalk grassland and clay plains which forms a unique habitat and I love celebrating it in my photographs.
Melanie: What would you say to an herb student who is trying to navigate their way through the herb world and establish a career in herbal medicine? What do you feel are the most important factors in achieving longevity as a practicing herbalist?
Lucinda: I think you’ll have to ask me this one again in 20 years time! Seriously, I think that having a good community of support from other practitioners or herbal friends is really key to keeping you grounded in your practice and giving you the support you need for difficult cases. Also just coming back to the plants and remembering that it all comes from them in the end.
You can learn more about Lucinda Warner and her herbal practice by subscribing to her blog at Whispering Earth.