Set alongside a mill lake in the beautiful and biodiverse Horsely valley, the School of Intuitive Herbalism has been offering courses in Herbalism for over ten years. It has grown organically, from initially offering short evening courses to our current program which is now focused on a year long ‘Foundation in Intuitive Herbalism‘ class, immersive short retreats (3 day and 6 day) and a seven year long professional apprenticeship.
The aim of all courses is to help you enrich and develop your own relationship with the herbal world. Though the skillful development of our innate intuitive awareness, we can learn from the herbs and in turn pass these teachings on in a practical, useful and healing ways.
As the legal and financial aspects of herbalism get increasingly tightened up, I believe there is even more need for people to develop their own, first hand experience of real, living plants as medicine. It is those who have this passion who keep the tradition of herbal medicine vibrant, learning from our ancestors and developing the craft after our own experiences. You’ll find that it is an incredible gift to be able to share skills in healing with those around you, and a relationship with the herbs that grow nearby is key to this.
Previous students range from those just starting out on a path of healing to experienced practitioners wanting to widen their skills. It has also been great having people whose interest is for their own personal development or to develop these skills for growing, artistic work or teaching.
The focus in all our teaching is to help you develop your intuition around herbs and healing by means of direct experience. Teaching is highly experiential; this approach is a great way of learning about herbs – books are great but information is quickly forgotten – learning by experience means that once learned never forgotten!
I started my exploration of plants whilst studying a Chemistry degree with a particular interest in pharmacology. I still remember clearly the atmosphere in the lecture theatre as a large brick of opium was passed around! I went on to study a second postgraduate degree in Medical Herbalism which involved four years of full time study.
Herbalism is a complex field of study, and the tendency within the herbal profession today in Britain has been to somewhat medicalise the approach to herbs. By this I mean that the diagnostic framework and approach to therapeutic strategy has been increasingly adapted to be easily congruent with Western orthodox medicine. Whilst this approach has definite positives, there is an entirely different side to Herbalism which is more congruent with traditional approaches to healthcare, worldwide traditions and our shamanic roots. This is the side we primarily explore in the classes I teach.
Since I came from a highly rational and academic background, the medical version held little of new interest to me. I had been immersed in medical pharmacology for years, so though the topic is fascinating, it felt too limited in its scope when wishing to explore the qualities of herbs. However, the approach to herbalism where the plant is truly honoured as a spiritual as well as a physical being increasingly fascinated me.
Since finishing my training I have spent over ten years exploring the spiritual and shamanic aspects of healing, and now know without doubt that all illness has powerful emotional and spiritual elements that are of equal importance (or sometimes more so) than the physical manifestation of illness. Over time, my healing work and my herbal practice have met, and I now have a robust way of working with herbs that has its foundations in the spiritual, not in the biomolecular. This is in no way to dismiss the biomolecular effects of herbs, but rather to seat them in a broader, spiritual context.
I feel this is a unique perspective I can share, since my passion is creating bridges between experience, the spiritual and the physical.
The class was brilliant because Nathan involved us from the start and made us experience for ourselves instead of telling us what we ‘should’ experience or know.’
One of my greatest pleasures is in facilitating opening ‘the doors of perception’ for people to experience herbs directly themselves, meaning that they can draw their own conclusions!
Biochemistry and pharmacology are both very rich ways of modelling the world. However, in clinical practice, these models can be very limited and fail to draw on the full potential of the plants or the richness of our traditional herbal heritage.
Through years exploring the worlds of healing and shamanism I started to see that the art and craft of herbalism were just as important (and often more important) in practice than the science. I started to understand that my personal relationship with the plants, alongside the depth of my empathetic dynamic with a client were key to catalysing the process of healing.
At the School of Intuitive Herbalism, we honour all aspects of herbalism, but put personal relationship with the plants at the core.
With a great degree of over-simplification we could subdivide the areas of practice within Herbalism as:
• Structural approaches
• Evidence based approaches
• Intuitive approaches
There are many conceptual frameworks for making rational prescribing decisions in herbal medicine. You may choose a biomolecular model (orthodox medicine), traditional chinese model (TCM), ayurvedic model, unani tibb model, a humoral model (tracing back to Hippocrates), or one of a multitude of psychotherapeutic models.
They don’t all always agree with each other.
My experience, as seems to be the experience of many of my professional colleagues is that we have to a great extent lost our traditional framework for prescribing, and the adoption of a purely biomolecular framework fails to ask or answer many important