Ivy Leaved Toadflax

Building Local Herb Groups

Words by Neil Allies

As a student medical herbalist, on a long (long!) road towards qualification, my sense of imposter syndrome grows with every essay I write or book I read. However, I always feel grounded by my love of plants, knowing how much joy and therapy they can bring. I love talking about it and, whilst I really look forward to the various official herbal meet ups and seminars that are held throughout the year, I have long wanted to create something more local and regular to help share my passion.

First steps

A few months ago, I decided to launch a local herb walk. I know that many practicing herbalists lead professional herb walks but, since I’m still very much learning, it was instead a voluntarily-led one around the fields in the town where I live. Even if I don’t really feel like I know what I’m talking about yet, I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet like-minded folk. I advertised the walk on a neighbourhood app, and I was thrilled when five people turned up! On the first walk, we spent a couple of hours scouring the fields and hedgerows for plants, and talking about how they could be used. Those attending ranged from interested novices to a professional horticulturist with a lifelong experience of making and using herbal medicine. Since then, we have met three times, in different local locations, and a few others have also joined the group. We have formed a WhatsApp group and are planning to meet regularly throughout the year, to explore what the different seasons can offer. Each time we meet, we also taste different things that we have made at home, ranging from tinctures, herbal drinks and even herbal snuff!
As we set off on our last walk, we met a local villager who asked us what we were doing. He was very interested in (and amazed at!) the idea that there were plants available that could help medicinally, and he immediately started talking about medical issues in his family and asked if there were plants that could be of use. I always find people want to stop and ask about what I’m doing. Although the sight of a middle-aged man in a field crawling on the ground with a magnifying glass and basket is perhaps what first catches their interest, people have always been interested to chat further about herbal medicine once we start talking.
I took a notepad on the last walk and made a note of the plants we found as we walked around a small village and its fields. After a couple of hours, I came back with a list of 41 different plants with medicinal properties, and I know that we were only scratching the surface. I said that I would write up a brief paragraph for each plant to share out amongst the group, not only because it would be great for my own exam revision, but also to keep a record throughout the year of what we find. It has been particularly lovely to find new plants that I had never heard of, and I have found that exploring my local hedgerows and paths and trying to get to know every plant I find has been enormously beneficial for my own learning.

Herbal connections

Setting up and leading the walks has reaffirmed both my passion for herbal medicine and the need for it. There is a palpable energy in people I talk to about it, who light up and are eager to know more about connecting with herbal medicine. After all, it is a heritage that belongs to all of us.  It has been lovely to learn from others, practise my plant ID skills and find plants in the wild, getting to know them as individuals, rather than Latin names in a textbook. Once I’m qualified, it would be lovely to create more formal plant walks but, as a student, it has been great to help others discover something that has become so important in my own life. Most importantly (and not that I ever doubted it!), it’s reaffirmed that the appetite is there to bring herbal medicine back into the mainstream of our society.
Ivy Leaved Toadflax
Ivy Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), a new herbal friend discovered thanks to a recent herb walk. According to Julian Barker (The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe, 2001, p. 407) “this attractive little plant can become too much of a good thing […] It is antiscorbutic on account of its vitamin C content and has a reputation as a wound herb”.