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Devons herbalist Jayne Palmer is passionate about plants

PUBLISHED: 11:36 25 February 2015

Jayne Palmer

Jayne Palmer

Archant

Through the centuries, herbalism has often been ascribed to the practice of witchcraft. SUE CADE talks to one East Devon practitioner determined to bring the lore back into the mainstream

Jayne PalmerJayne Palmer

I have always had an open mind about alternative treatments – using acupuncture for asthma, reflexology for backache and hypnotherapy, which helped me to stop smoking. So I’m intrigued when I learn of a herbalist setting up shop in my home town of Honiton.

Jayne Palmer is passionate about plants, something she inherited from her mother: “Mum was a real countrywoman; she grew up with my grandad who was head gardener at Arundel Castle during World War Two. He taught her about the healing properties of plants and she passed this down to me. I remember once driving past a huge field of cowslips, and Mum telling me the plant could help coughs and chest infections. We picked some and made cowslip tea.”

After Jayne started her own family, she became even more interested in natural medicine. “I wanted to give my children the best start and this included healthcare. If you think about it, mothers already use herbs – gripe water is made from fennel, and some teething granules from camomile.”

Jayne’s reputation grew when she began working for respected East Devon health food business Ganesha, and soon people were seeking her out for advice. “I made suggestions based on what I’d learnt from my mother – but eventually I realised I needed to train.”

Jayne PalmerJayne Palmer

She signed up for a degree in Phytotherapy, combining 30 study hours a week with shift-work. Jayne was taught by Hein H Zeylstra, one of the most respected herbalists in Europe. “Zeylstra was extremely strict, but very wise. The first thing he said was that people are frightened of herbalism because some plants are classed as poisonous. Then he explained the secret – giving the correct therapeutic dose so that there is no danger.”

I ask what plants in my garden can be used as medicine. Jayne laughs. “You’d be surprised what weeds can do! Dandelion is one of the mainstays of herbalism. The leaf contains a natural diuretic used to reduce body fluids and help control blood pressure. Dandelion is rich in potassium. Conventional blood pressure treatments actually remove potassium from the body and the root is great for detox. Then there’s couch grass - most gardeners loathe it but the rhizomes can help urinary tract infections and contain a mild natural antibiotic.”

I mention that I am fighting off a seasonal bug. Jayne takes me to her apothecary and prepares a tincture for me while we talk about the provenance of the herbs she uses. “I only buy high quality, organically-grown herbs from specialist growers. One of them, Rutland Herbs, grows the herbs biodynamically in tune with seasons and celestial cycles and rhythms.”

As a qualified herbalist, Jayne can order banned, Schedule 3 herbs. “These are the ones that people are wary of – belladonna, mandrake and aconite.” Terrible deaths occurring in Poirot and Miss Marple spring to mind. Then Jayne mentions arnica – another ‘poison’ that I have used many times in homeopathic form to treat bruising, and I feel slightly less alarmed.

“I use up to five herbs depending on the condition. Each herb has a therapeutic dose – the trick is to get enough of the dose from each herb to give the right treatment.” Jayne explains how a ‘prescription’ is a work in progress; the ingredients can change during treatment. “And it’s good to have a break every six weeks, as the body can get resistant.”

Now lead healthcare assistant at Honiton Surgery, Jayne decided 2015 was the year to launch a modern herbal practice. With business partner John Lister she has recently opened two ‘Roots to Health’ clinics: one in Honiton each Saturday and the other in Axminster on Mondays.

While we’ve talked I have been watching Jayne measure out liquids from a variety of containers, and, just as I’m about to leave, she hands me a bottle containing a dark brown liquid. “Take it three times a day in a little water. It won’t taste nice,” she says.

And she’s right. I wince every time I take my tincture, but after a few days I realise that I’m feeling rather good the bug has come to nothing. I have to say I’m impressed and something of a convert to modern herbal medicine.

To contact Jayne visit rootstohealth.co.uk or call 07984 227035

Jayne’s ‘desert island’ herbs

“If there was one herb that I would want to have with me on a desert island, it would be lavender. It’s a really amazing herb, a strong antiseptic in case I hurt myself, good in case of burns when I light my campfire, a wonderful sedative to help me sleep and really good for the skin. Plus, lavender is such a beautiful plant, with such a distinctive and evocative smell. In fact, it grows right outside Honiton Surgery and I often see patients pausing to enjoy the scent.”

Plant extracts in conventional medicine

You may already inadvertently be taking plant extracts, or synthesized versions, in what we term ‘conventional’ medicines.

The powerful painkiller, morphine is derived from the poppy

Peruvian Bark (Cinchona pubescens) is used in quinine to prevent malaria

Extract from willow is found in everyday aspirin

Foxglove gave rise to digitalis, a drug used to control heart function

Cancer drug Taxol comes from the plant Taxus brevifolia (pacific or western yew).

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