A useful tool in social work (and indeed in life) is to be able to hold an assortment of different versions of reality in your head at the same time. And that is what is going on here in New Normal land at the moment.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how transplanting bacteria from a healthy person’s gut to someone suffering from irritable bowel or other digestive problems can dramatically improve their health.
Two of my patients went to see their GPs last week, one for back pain and one for digestive problems. Both were sent away with prescriptions for antidepressants.
So this is the new way to live forever, according to the latest guidelines.
It’s a thing we all worry about these days, as we get older, and it’s now overtaken heart attacks as a major cause of death in the UK.
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Though of course, people are less likely to need aphrodisiacs in spring, when the sap is rising and – as the joke goes – ‘young men’s fancy turns to what young women have been thinking of all year’.
No, it’s not about drinking two litres of water every day; I hope that myth has now been thoroughly busted.
For a lot of people, the first step into herbal medicine is when they get fed up with HRT or antidepressants or whatever, and try to find something in the herb world that will do the job without the side-effects.
Starting to feel the cold? Now is the time when the lovely warming spices come into their own: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice.
Hippocras: the clue is in the name. It’s basically mulled wine, but the quantities of spices that go into it are enough to give it real medicinal qualities.
In social work we used to do '6-month Reviews' where we cast our eyes back at where we had come from and where we seemed to have landed up. (Other definitions are available!)
Of course, it comes around every year, but the cycle of feasting followed by ‘detox’, or insane overconsumption of rich foods and then complete abstinence, just when you need some solid sustenance to get you through the winter, is neither good for man nor beast.
You could not make it up. Already I was writing the headline. 'Cancer victim in midst of chemotherapy served eviction notice two weeks before Christmas.'
0800: Wake up and realise that I am half blind. Put on specs. Now only quarter blind. Right eye is glued shut and red and puffy and dribbly. Yeugh.
Armour on, weapons primed, bullets at the ready, let battle commence, because cancer is aggressive and sometimes deadly and there is a fight to be fought.
The NHS designated 14th-20th November as National Self-Care Week.
Och, and it was all going so well! Three chemo sessions called FEC successfully under my belt, some tiredness, temporary steroid-based insomnia, but only in the few days after each treatment.
I’m looking out at Exeter Cathedral Green on a fine autumn day.
‘Coffee gives you heart attacks, but tea makes you live forever’ ‘Caffeine is addictive and leads to nervous exhaustion’ ‘I’m useless without my two cups in the morning’ …and so on and so forth.
Chemotherapy and good side effects are not usually discussed in the same sentence but one unexpected outcome of an elephantine infusion of toxic and unpronounceable drugs has been that after fifteen years without it I have regained my sense of smell!
'Grief! Why are people baking bloody Victoria Sponges and cupcakes to pay for a MacMillan nurse? Aaaargh!
If you’re making jack-o-lanterns for Hallowe’en this year, you’ll end up with a lot of pumpkin flesh and seeds.
If the seeds are the part of the plant you’re interested in, it’s best to harvest them when they are fully ripe – any time from early autumn until the first frosts.
HAIR. My hair was fuzzy black when I was born and stuck upwards like a bush-baby.
Mushrooms are springing up in every woodland in Britain right now.
There’s a gorgeous display of hawthorn berries in the hedgerows lately; a heart-lifting sight as we move towards winter.
I am waiting for my chemotherapy to start. There are five more sleeps until Friday.
Has anybody been watching ‘The Doctor who gave up Drugs’?
Everyone loves an operation. There are hospital anecdotes and scars and dressings and legitimate afternoon naps.
It’s definitely autumn all of a sudden.
Slowly, reluctantly, I battled my way out of the unnaturally deep and glorious sleep that is a general anaesthetic.
‘Oh, I’d love to grow herbs for a living!’ I hear that a lot.
Which left exactly seventeen days to live through.
I’m in southern France this week, at the end of a biscuit-dry summer.
The day for biopsy results came. It was mild and sunny in Perthshire so I carried my bike down the two flights of stairs and cycled uphill through the city to the hospital.
I'm now officially part of the gang. My sixtieth birthday was in the middle of August and although I stopped celebrating them years ago, I made an exception this year because it was time for me to become a Crone.
So you’ve come home with a basket full of berries, or roots, or fungi. What do you do with them? Unless you’re going to use them straight away (see ‘Making herb teas’), you’ll need to preserve them somehow.
I love Gerona Airport. It is small and perfectly formed with decent eating options, and direct flights from Glasgow, even if the last shuttle bus into the city centre sneaked away twenty minutes before the aforementioned flight from Glasgow landed.
‘At least you know you’re safe with herbs,’ patients sometimes say. But it’s not always true.
Image copyright Pukka Herbs
‘If it tastes bad it must be good for you.’ I never hear that from younger patients, but older ones remember being dosed with all sorts of unpleasant concoctions, back in the days before medicines came in capsules, or disguised with colours and flavourings.
Walking along the Thames from Hampton Court to Richmond yesterday, it was interesting to see what flourishes along the riverbank.
Foxgloves are everywhere just now, along hedgerows and field margins, on disturbed ground and wood banks.
Photo copyright Tina K Burton
A patient this week has been helping her grandson prepare for his domestic science GCSE exams. What has he got to cook on the day?
All the roses are in bloom now, from tiny tormentil to the full-blown hybrids in your garden.
BBC2’s Food Detectives - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bk7fy - investigated the claim last week that eating chilli can help you lose weight.
It’s hayfever time again. You can have allergic reactions at any time of year, but grass and other pollens are definitely one of the most common things to set us off. Anything from itchy eyes and a runny nose to a full-blown asthma attack can result.
Photo copyright Twinings
You might think that one herb tea is very much like another, but you could be missing out on their potential to improve your wellbeing.
A friend walking along a high ridge. Photo copyright Cathie Hartigan
Walking on high ground, as I did this week, takes you back in time. There were sweet violets, newly sprouting nettles in the shelter of walls, brave low-growing dandelions and wind-sculpted hawthorn trees just coming into leaf.
Photo copyright D & S Books
The cool wet spring has given us a bumper crop of goosegrass this year. You might know it as cleavers, or sticky willie, from its habit of sticking to clothes or animal fur.
February was a bad time for me health-wise. I was already suffering from a tight chest and a virus that wouldn’t surrender; giving me the lung capacity of a punctured bicycle tire.
Herbs are not much good at pain relief. That’s to say, really powerful analgesic herbs, like the Opium Poppy, are not legally available in the UK.
Magnolia, in its many forms from the low-growing stars of Magnolia stellata to the delicate goblets of Magnolia liliflora, is gracing our gardens right now.
Yes, I may have mentioned sugar once or twice before. No apologies for that; it’s taken centre stage in the last few years as the pantomime villain in the greathealth drama. Like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, it seduces you with sweetness, fattens you up and then, suddenly, you’re the one being devoured.
‘I’m a bit sceptical about this sort of stuff,’ said my new patient, leaning back in his chair. His wife had persuaded him to come, and it was obvious that winning points in the marital game was going to be far more powerful than anything the herbs could do.
Entering your fifties marks the beginning of the stage in your life when you are likely to have more free time for hobbies, travel, family and friends.
The latest in the Mature Guide series the Mature Guide to relationships, love and sex is supported by Relate, the relationship people and written with Barbara Bloomfield, who is a Relate couples counsellor with 15 years of experience in the counselling field.
I’ve had a succession of patients recently – including myself – asking for remedies for the flu/sore throat/cold that’s been going the rounds. Quite often they say, ‘But I take Echinacea regularly,’ or ‘I’ve been taking vitamin C for months,’ as though that should make them immune to infections.
Photo reproduced with permission from www.arganiaspinosa.co.uk
‘You should put Argan oil on your hair,’ the hairdresser said. When I asked what it was, he said ‘Oh, I don’t know. They take thousands of Argans and squash them all together. It’s a very good moisturiser.’
Let’s give Flatcap credit where it’s due. He doesn’t let disappointment and failure stand in his way.
Okay we are about to do a guided meditation, so find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit or lie, where you can relax without disturbance.
When you're settled, take three slow deep breaths. In through your nose and out through your mouth...
Liniments and embrocations, salves and ointments…all different kinds of vehicles for herbs that ease rheumatic aches and pains.
Following on from the post on pregnancy two weeks ago, this one looks at what you can do to ensure a good labour when the time comes. Again, do consult a professional herbalist if there are any complicating factors to consider.
Some can diet, but I’ve found most can’t, and worse than that, WHEN they can’t, they fail spectacularly. Why? Because of the psychology of dieting. And Freedom Eating helps to sort that out.
Sunday was National Bug Busting Day, apparently. The aim is to make a concerted effort to eradicate headlice, which have been endemic among schoolchildren since schools were invented, and in the general population for a lot longer than that.
Well, January is finished – hurray we survived – it's time to seriously consider how to get healthy again after the Christmas indulgences, isn't it?
While you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid drugs altogether if you can. Even painkillers like paracetamol could pose some risks, so there’s plenty of scope for the gentler, more food-like herbs to get to work. While some herbs are not recommended, there is still a wealth of choice.
We’re feeling the cold in Britain now, as the frost arrives at last. So what can you do to keep warm in wintry weather?
It’s not going to happen. Without any formal announcement, the issue was quietly dropped by the government just before Christmas. It’s a bitter disappointment to herbalists who have spent years campaigning and planning for it, but in some ways it’s not a surprise.
It’s a hot topic nowadays. How can you grow old gracefully, keep your marbles and your mobility, and enjoy those many years to which – statistically speaking – we can all look forward?
When my sons lived at home, they used to make smoothies. I have to confess I have never made one. I have bought smoothies, but they are all so sweet that I stopped buying them.
Crumbs! In 2016 I’ll be three score years and ten. I hope the bible’s wrong about all that! Nevertheless, I’d better get my affairs in order. What have I got to achieve in 2016 to ensure, pearly-gateswise, that I leave no unfinished business?
On the eve of the shortest day in the year, facing a long winter ahead, we need to bring light and warmth into our lives. That’s why Christmas comes now, overlying the older solstice celebrations.
Lots of persistent coughs and colds around in the last few weeks. The mild weather and the looming threat of Christmas is a tough combination, it seems.
Hearing loss can affect every aspect of your life, especially the things that are most important to you such as relationships with family, friends or work colleagues. Emotionally, physically and mentally, untreated hearing loss places stress on you that can impact negatively on all these areas of your life. Here are five things you may not know about hearing...*
You’ve read about St John’s Wort for depression, or Turmeric for inflammation. If you’ve looked a little deeper, you’ll find a lot of supplements that are standardised for a particular ingredient: hypericin in St John’s Wort, or curcumin in Turmeric, and so on.
Now is the time to gather rose hips, before the first hard frost – if it ever comes – turns them into mush. Garden rosehips won’t do; it’s the wild dog rose, Rosa canina, that makes the best syrup. You can make a tincture of them, too, but syrups and jellies are the traditional ways to use them.
It was Antibiotics Awareness Week from 16th – 22nd November. The World Health Organisation has set this up because of the urgent need to limit their use, so that we still have effective antibiotics when we really need them.
It’s beginning to be the time for warming, comforting, substantial food: casseroles and stews, hearty soups and roasts. Although we don’t hibernate, we still respond to shortening days and colder weather, feeling the need to store some fat to tide us over the leaner months to come.
When I first started learning about complementary medicine, I was working as a masseuse in a naturopathic clinic. Naturopathy places a lot of emphasis on the benefits of getting back to nature: fresh air, exercise, drinking water and eating raw food are seen as basic to good health.
Last week I talked about the cautions around supplements, so this blog is about redressing the balance. When is it useful to take them?
Even with hectic lives and miles between us, 3rings can bring the family together to let them know our ageing parents and loved ones are safe and well.
When someone comes to see me, I always ask what supplements they are taking. The world of ‘nutraceuticals’ is huge, and growing all the time, fed by people’s vulnerability and the sense that, whatever we do to look after ourselves, it’s never quite good enough.
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