ELAINE Cole from Walton loves to take a walk beside the river. She enjoys watching the boats go by, looking at the wildlife and she also takes the opportunity to re-stock her medicine cabinet.
Elaine, you see, is a medical herbalist – a traditional form of complementary medicine that has been used for hundreds of years to treat a wide range of ailments.
She contacted me to see whether I would be interested in doing a piece about the herbal remedies that are freely available down by the Thames so I agreed to take a stroll with her along the towpath.
Elaine, 47, has always been interested in herbal medicine but what prompted her to take it up as a profession was the sad news that her son suffered from cystic fibrosis.
She told me: “I wanted to try to help him in any way that I could so I decided to learn everything there was to know about herbal medicine and to try to find herbal remedies that would help ease his condition.”
She took a BSc degree course at Westminster University and is now a fully-qualified member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists.
As we walk, she points to many of the plants growing wild on the towpath.
“Here we’ve got elderflower,” she says enthusiastically. “That’s good in a tea for helping to prevent hay fever or to treat the symptoms of a cold. And there’s plantain – that’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. The leaves of the willow and the silver birch both contain salicylic acid – you can infuse them in oils and they can be very effective in helping to reduce the pain of arthritis.”
It’s clear as we walk and talk that Elaine, whose previous job was in pharmaceutical marketing, has an extensive knowledge of the art of herbal medicine. She runs a practice from her home, charging £40 for a first consultation and £25 for a follow up.
She lists a wide range of conditions that she believes can be successfully treated with herbs including allergies, skin complaints, digestive system problems, stress, anxiety and sleep problems, heart, high blood pressure and circulation issues and even the effects of the menopause.
Had she found anything to help her 12-year-old son’s condition, I wondered?
“Yes, we’ve found that herbal chest rubs and steam help to keep his chest clear,” she said. “We obviously use those in conjunction with the orthodox medicines he is given but I’m sure they help to improve his quality of life.”
Elaine points out that during the Second World War most orthdox medicines were being used to treat casualties from the fighting so the Government of the day encouraged people to grow herbs and to use traditional herbal remedies – so this is certainly not an untried form of treatment.
It certainly opened my eyes. Never again will I walk along the towpath thinking the plants growing on the river bank are just weeds!
If you’d like to know more, contact Elaine at elainecole [at] googlemail.com.