Sustainability

Sustainability is a hot topic nowadays.  It’s a big word and seems to mean different things to different people. It’s something that has always been on my radar and in the early 90’s when I lived in a communal house in London I used to get everyone to separate recyclables from waste and used to lug it down to my nearest recycling centre by foot with one other recycling minded soul! In 2007 after qualifying as a herbalist I presented a talk on sustainability and herbal medicine. My focus on taking small sustainable actions has continued to define the way I live and practise.  The refinement process is never ending…

In terms of my practice, these are the standards I work to: 

Medicine sourcing 

Where possible I like to use plants that can be grown in the UK.  I do my best to avoid using endangered herbs and am careful about the sourcing of the endangered herbs I do use.  I buy organic dried herbs and tinctures where I can and love biodynamically grown herbs – this means no pesticides, natural fertilisers and where possible more of a closed system of less stuff being transported around to make the same stuff! 

Medicine making 

I am passionate about making as many of my own herbal medicines as I can – by providing you with medicines that may consist of 50% tinctures I have made myself you are supporting this aspect of sustainability.  About 70 medicinal plants grow onsite where I live, we don’t use any chemicals on our land and we produce approximately 2 cubic tons of our own compost, which gets worked directly back into the soil.  We have chickens and their waste and bedding goes in the compost too!  Occasionally I get horse or other manure in as an additional top up. 

I produce approximately 100 litres of my own herbal tinctures per annum using organic grain alcohol. This means a saving of 100 plastic bottles, transport miles and the packaging that would have gone with that! The quality of these medicines surpasses anything that I can buy commercially.

Wild harvesting 

Medicines made from everyday common plants in our local fields and hedgerows mean minimal transport miles, come from a sustainable source and are stored in glassware that is reused. I am very careful about where I wild harvest from to help ensure low pesticide and pollutant contamination . Medicine making is a labour of love. It is my balancer from working intensely with individuals, it gets me outdoors engaging with nature closely and observing my local patch and the seasons. It is in itself medicine for the soul.

Home grown 

A number of the medicinal herbs I use regularly in my practice I grow myself.  Their growth styles and habitats vary and their progress is lovingly and carefully monitored by me.  Harvesting occurs when they are at their prime and a proportion of the ‘crop’ is always left for the bees!  Wildlife and diversity thrive and I grow using a mix of permaculture and organic gardening techniques. 

Medicine bottles 

Glass is used in most cases and patients are encouraged to return their glassware so that it can be thoroughly cleaned and reused.  Natural cleaning products are used wherever possible. 

Plastic is only used upon patient request or for posting out medicines or those travelling abroad.  I do have plans to reduce plastic use even further and therefore it is likely that the stock I have will still last a considerable amount of time as it’s use become less frequent. 

Packaging

Buying in herbal medicines means that in addition to the herbs I receive packaging! Posting out medicines means I send out packaging! I reuse as much packaging as I can from my suppliers, compost what I can and recycle what I can. This is all done through a multitude of ways:

Cardboard boxes are spread out in my herb garden and vegetable beds – they act as week suppressants and help retain the moisture in the soil.  I usually add a layer of grass clippings on top, which makes them look more attractive and means I have the perfect ‘green to brown’ ratio for the two to compost down together and nourish the soil directly in-situ. 

Corn starch chips, bubble wrap and brown paper is reused when I send out medicines in the post. If I have surplus to requirement then the corn starch chips go in our green waste bin for composting (to attractive to rats to put in our own compost bins!) Bubble wrap always gets reused for posting medicines on to patients, small boxes and jiffy bags get reused for posting out medicines too. Brown paper – which is thankfully being more commonly used for packaging now, is shredded and added to our own compost.

Plastic bottles are reused were possible and the surplus are recycled. I am now requesting a to receive a number of herbs in 1/2 litre plastic bottles as I can reuse these when I post out medicines. I have spoken to my suppliers about using glass, however, between an increase in breakages and weight it isn’t feasible. Plus a surplus of glass would need recycling too and this is an energy intensive process in itself.  One of them used to send out medicines in brown glass bottles, which was great, but this needs to be offset by the increased weight and therefore travel cost implications.   

Plant matter 

Pressed out plant matter from tincture making is an asset to the compost bin too.  On the rare occasion tinctures go past their best date they are used as compost activator! I compost as much as I can and if I have any concerns about vermin it goes in our green recycling bin, which takes food waste to be composted in a mega-heap. 

Pressed out plant matter from tincture making is an asset to the compost bin too.  

On the rare occasion tinctures go past their best date they are used as compost activator! I compost as much as I can and if I have any concerns about vermin it goes in our green recycling bin, which takes food waste to be composted in a mega-heap. 

Summary 

Reducing my personal footprint, along with that of my business is an ongoing refinement process.  I am by no means perfect, but I do make a conscious effort to do what I can, where I can, and it’s a practice I have been doing for since moving to the UK over 20 years ago before household recycling existed, when I used to walk just under a mile with heavy bags of paper and glass to drop into the nearest recycling collection units!  That and using fabric shopping bags for approximately 25 years.  It’s about conscious living, rather than faddish living, and as the saying goes ‘every little helps’!