An Interview with Lizzie Foulon About Life As A Medical Herbalist
by Patricia Bow
Q: Why do you do what you do? What is your inspiration, motivation and where does your passion come from?
A: I’ve always been interested in plants and making things for myself. As a very small child I had my own patch of garden where I grew vegetables, strawberries and herbs. The first medicinal herb to spark my interest was a mullien plant (Verbascum thapsus) that grew of its own accord in my patch; I loved the fluffy silvery leaf rosette that was emerging and was very surprised indeed to see a flower spike of three feet or so develop. My Father was also interested and bought me a book on herb gardening, I was about 8 then and I still have that book. Later on I found a big fat copy of Maud Grieve’s ‘A Modern Herbal,’ published in 1931 which I devoured thinking of it as history rather than something that actually still happened at the time. It wasn’t until I was in my later 20’s that a friend took me to Napier’s herbalists in Edinburgh and I found out that herbal medicine was indeed alive and well. I was always interested in anatomy and pathology as a child, dissecting anything that came my way, so medicine and my plant interests naturally came together in Herbal Medicine.
Q: Which plants are you particularly drawn to?
A: I love plantains (Plantago major and P. lanceolata), so unassuming and ubiquitous. I think they are really beautiful and am still attempting to get the perfect photograph. They work on mucous membranes, and soft tissues amongst other things. They are the perfect living first aid kit when out on a walk for bruises, bee stings and splinters.
I’ve a soft spot for plants that were used by the Eclectic Physicians in America, partly through reading their texts and partly from living in the United States and studying there. It’s really been a privilege to see them in the wilds, plants like arnica, gentian, Beth root, and I will never forget the skunk cabbage!
Q: Does working with people’s health give you a good level of job satisfaction?
A: Oh yes, absolutely. I get the best of all worlds, helping people on a deep level and having a reasonable amount of time to work with them as well as going into my dispensary to work with the plants and formulate their individual prescriptions. It’s truly an art and a science, which gives me great job satisfaction.
Q: Do you always give the same herbs for the same conditions to different people?
A: No, the prescribing is very sophisticated and as I get to know my patient I may choose something for the medicine of one patient that I wouldn’t choose for another. Herbs are complicated, and many do more than one thing well, For example I might have two patients with IBS problems, but one of them has headaches and one has eczema; I would choose herbs that work with the gut for both, but their secondary actions would be different.
Q: Have you ever had an unexpected result from prescribing herbal medicine?
A: Often people do improve faster than I would expect. Sometimes they can be slower too, but those are usually people who have the medicine sitting in the bottle rather than inside them! I find that patients who do take their prescribed medicine regularly do get the results we both want. I see people make big shifts in their lives and their attitudes, these are often people who say they are so grateful that they were listened to and not made to feel like they were crazy for describing the symptoms that they had.
Q: How long does it take your patient’s to see results from their medicines?
A: That’s very much a how long is a piece of string type of question. It depends on the condition and how long they have been suffering from it. A very rough guide we use is for each month that you have had the problem you will need a month of treatment. The special thing about this treatment is that while dealing with the reason(s) that brought them along to see me I am also dealing with the person as a whole, working to stop their problems coming back and to make them stronger and healthier in the future. This is why Herbal Medicine pays dividends in chronic conditions.
Q: How tried and tested is herbal medicine?
A: Extensively; empirically these herbs have been used for hundreds of years. There is a substantial body of scientific research in herbal medicine. Research has its place in helping us to understand how the plant’s constituents are working and is very helpful when, for example, I am looking at the pathways that some of the ‘active constituents’ take through the body so that I can work out if I want to prescribe them alongside prescription drugs. Herbs are complicated, chemically speaking, they each contain 300 or 400 constituents that all work together to make this a balanced and safe form of medicine; this is a special kind of balance that just doesn’t exist with one chemical hit types of drug.