I've always been fascinated by Herbalism. Once upon a time, I had fantasies of having a cupboard that I could go to and be able to cure any ills that beset my family. It fitted in with the idealistic image I had of a Traditional Cunningwoman. Herbs hanging from the rafters, jars filled with remedies, cures and charms and the ability to fix everything. I pictured myself as an infallible healer of all things physical and spiritual.
Then I spent a year training at the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine. I have a Certificate of Natural Health. In that time, I learned that it's really not that simple and is usually a lot of work, trial and error. There is so much more to it than reaching for the right herb or even the right part of the herb.
My certificate was a taster in a variety of modalities. There were more in depth and advanced courses that could be taken to specialise in any of the areas that we studied. While I did learn a lot of useful things that have made a difference to most minor ailments in my family, I recognise that it does not qualify me to treat anything more serious and I wouldn't try.
With this background in place, I am frequently horrified by herbal recommendations that I see online. Many groups now have rules against giving medicinal herbal advice and with good reason. Many apparently safe herbs have nasty contraindications and bad interactions with medication. You can't know for sure when reading someone's question what the source of the problem is. You can't know that they're telling you the whole truth, learn about family history and you can't know anything about their physicality - all of which are important.
Now there comes people wanting to be special and create their own websites. I wrote about Mr V and his appalling website just a couple of days ago. I am not going to provide a link to his website, because he takes page views and shares as validation - even though I know many of those views and shares are people reading it in horror and sharing it to other places as a warning about bad and dangerous information.
Instead, let me do a screenshot (he gave permission for this) of his latest offering, under the heading Angel's Turnip: A Monograph:
I guess we got lucky in that he's now citing sources. But I also read up on one of those sources, the Plant Biographies by Sue Eland and found that he missed out some really important information. To be specific:
Warning – bitter root is poisonous and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified
practitioner. It can cause nausea, purging, lowered heart rate, vomiting, appetite loss and
death. The milky juice can cause blistering on the skin. Livestock have been killed by
eating the leaves.
I'm quite sure that any of you reading can see why this is problematic. On his website, he recommends chewing on a root as a cure for "some weird western medication" while one of his sources says it's poisonous and should only be used under qualified supervision.
This was raised, and well, I'll give you a snippet of how the conversation went:
This is a fairly standard response from this chap. I pointed out that I have a herbal that recommends white lead and mercury in salves and ointments but so far that appears to have been ignored.
What really, really scares me about this is that people share his view that warning about the dangers of untrained, unqualified advice like this is just fear-mongering and that it's all perfectly safe. He has no formal training - he has freely admitted this, he is picking and choosing what information to share from useful websites (leaving out the safety warnings) and using other questionable websites.
If a few leaves can kill livestock - animals with a digestive system designed to process many things that will kill people and weighing at least three times the average person and usually more like five or six times the weight of the average person - imagine what it will do to you.
Sadly, he just doesn't seem to take any of it seriously and beyond giving out warnings, I don't know what else I can do.
Will it take a death and a lawsuit before it stops?