Herbs have long been known for their healing properties.
Remedies dating back centuries make use of aromatic plants to cure ailments from coughs and colds to rheumatism and gout.
Their popularity as natural medicines has not waned, and today they continue to give people relief from a range of conditions.
For Marcos Patchett, herbs and their applications in healing are a lifelong passion. As an expert in herbal medicine, he puts these natural harvests to use to help people suffering from skin, digestive, nerve, musculoskeletal and other problems.
The Bradford-born herbalist, who works in London and Yorkshire, does not only apply herbs in his practice, he also grows them to use in his remedies.
“I grow a variety including my favourites – lemon balm, rosemary, sage, and wood betony,” he says.
In Medieval times, wood betony was highly thought of as a panacea and is traditionally used for to cure conditions include heartburn, gastric reflux, tension headaches and neuralgia. It is also used for high blood pressure and wound-healing.
“I tend to grow herbs that are not stocked by herb suppliers,” adds Marcos. “In summer I get about 30 litres of tincture. I’ve got to make sure I keep on top of the harvesting.”
He favours English traditional herbs such as the large, oblong leaves of costmary and the perennial flowering hellebore. “Hellebore was used traditionally as treatment for extreme forms of melancholy,” he says.
He is trying to grow sea holly, the roots of which were the Elizabethan equivalent of Viagra, and were used by men to boost their virility. Also known as eryngo, the plant is said to have a beneficial effect upon the urinary tract.
“Historically, eryngo was used to increase the libido of old men, there’s a line in Shakespeare about it. It’s similar to feverfew, a good anti-inflammatory, and good for coughs and loosening phlegm. It was often used as an ingredient in throat pastilles.”
Marcos is growing nymphaea alba, commonly known as waterlily, with a view to making a syrup with the flowers. “This acts as a sedative. And I’m growing sweet violets which I’ll use to make a syrup to act on the lymphatic system, and stimulate the immune system.”
He does not supply his clients, who include children, with all their herbal requirements, but will advise them as to how to get hold of what they need.
“They do not cost very much and people should invest a little in themselves,” he says.
While his main practice is in London – he holds clinics in Highgate and Covent Garden – Marcos is building up a strong client list in Yorkshire, where he practises part-time and aims to establish himself permanently in the future.
His passion for herbal medicine was sparked by his grandfather. “He was a chemist who made herbal wines. As a child I would often help him.”
Later, while studying art in London, he got a part-time job in a health food shop, which further stirred his interest. “When I completed my degree, I decided that a career in art was too unstructured and not sufficiently useful. Friends pointed out that as I talked so much about herbal medicine, I should go ahead and do it.”
So, after careful thought, Marcos followed his instinct and embarked on five years of further studies, including a science degree. “Friends said I was mad,” he recalls.
It was while he was studying that the opportunity arose to work in a clinic in central London. He also got the chance to join the team at the multi-award-winning Neal’s Yard Remedies in Covent Garden, a groundbreaking centre in which herbal home remedies are dispensed along with alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage.
Alongside herbal treatments, he also applies techniques based around astrology, after studying the subject and its uses in therapy.
Marcos, whose contribution to his profession won him the prestigious Elsevier prize for herbal pharmacy, is also becoming well-known for his work in complementary Western herbal medicine for people with HIV – a subject he explored for his degree dissertation.
Three years ago, Marcos and his colleague Lynne Hulka set up the first British clinic in Archway, north London, to provide complementary Western herbal medicine for people living with HIV.
At the same time, Marcos transported his skills as a herbalist from London to Bingley. “I want to move back to Yorkshire eventually, and am working to establish myself in the north of England.” he says. “There are so many herbs growing wild up here.”
Marcos is adding another string to his bow, as he carries out research into the medicinal uses of a product that most of us would definitely not associate with treating ailments – chocolate. He is writing a book on the medicinal uses of what most of us dub a guilty pleasure.
“When chocolate was first brought to Europe it was used as an aphrodisiac to improve libido, and also as an anti-depressive to expel melancholy,” he says. “It was also used if people were underweight and consumptive. Usually it was not used alone, but to accompany something else and people’s opinions were spilt as to its effectiveness.”
Summer schools for herbalists are also planned. “I am working in a number of areas, but above all I enjoy the pharmacy side of my work. I love making remedies, researching and interacting with clients.”
For details, contact marcos firstname.lastname@example.org, also visit assocationofmaster herbalists.co.uk/practitioners.