I was very privileged a few weeks ago to attend the UK’s first ever Radical Herbalism Gathering. Put on by a collective of professional and DIY herbalists, and health activists, it was hosted at a farm outside Glastonbury that is also home to Wild Heart Permaculture, and some beautiful medicine gardens.
Radical Herbal Gatherings have been popping up all over the USA for years now, where herbalism doesn’t exist ‘professionally’ as it does over here, and so takes on a more diverse, grassroots form. A member of the collective from Rhizome Community Herbal Clinic had spent some time in the US and was inspired to start more conversations about grassroots community herbalism over here. And so the first ever Radical Herbal Gathering UK was born.
Radical Herbalism is about placing herbal medicine in its social and political context, about viewing our health and happiness in light of not just our individual make up, but where we sit in society, and how ‘healthy’ that society is. I don’t just mean a society that eats junk food and doesn’t exercise, but one which perpetuates hierarchies and inequalities. Its no secret that an individual’s health is also determined by their socio-economic status, as well as their race, class, gender, (dis)abilities, and sexuality. Studies based on the UK found that people who come from low income backgrounds in deprived communities on average die seven years younger than their wealthier counterparts, and the North-South divide in health & economic inequalities is currently at its widest for 40 years.
Beyond the social, even if we were to live in a fair and equal society, as we continue to pollute our air and water and fill our neighbouring habitats and ecosystems with concrete, all of our chances of living healthy happy and non-toxic lives are deteriorating.
A conscious, radical herbalism then takes account of all of these factors. As herbalists and health activists, we can’t just look at the individual’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing to make up the ‘holism’ of their whole picture. That individual sits in their wider picture in a community, a society, and a global context which is rife with social, political & environmental influences on their health. Radical herbalism seeks to address the root causes of health inequality, social injustice and environmental destruction. It encourages herbalists and health activists to look at the bigger picture, and take part in community struggles to create a fairer, more equal and healthier society for all.
The Radical Herbalism Gathering brought a diverse bunch of people together for the first time in the UK to start having these conversations. There were discussions about community herbalism, the privatisation of the NHS, shared thoughts over what radical herbalism is, building a network, and surviving as a conscious herbalist in a capitalist society. It was great to be there, in beautiful Somerset, having these conversations and meeting like-minded folk. It has never been more urgent than now to begin practising herbal medicine in its widest, most politically and socially aware context. I look forward to being part of the ongoing network.
Some news articles about health inequalities in the UK: