What is Radical Herbalism?

The word ‘Radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’ meaning root. A radical approach is one which asks questions about the root causes of problems in our society, and works to fundamentally challenge and address those.

Radical Herbalism & radical approaches to health then, call us to question the root causes of ill health, and think deeply and critically about what makes a happy and healthy society.

A radical and holistic approach to healthcare is one which looks not just at a person’s individual physicality and lifestyle, but beyond, to their wider community & society, and a global context which is rife with social, political and environmental influences on all of our health.

Some examples of this in Scotland are

  •  the combination of terrible quality housing stock & poverty in areas like Easterhouse, Glasgow which led to damp houses filled with fungi and caused widespread respiratory disease. (Easterhouse residents were blamed for this themselves and told to open their windows, heat their houses more and stop boiling  the kettle too much…)
  • pollution and particulate matter from extractive industries like open cast coal mining which affected the health of people living in traditional mining areas like the Douglas Valley in South Lanarkshire
  • current government policies like austerity and the bedroom tax which have taken away people’s dignity and are challenging their access to basic human rights like food  & shelter
  • and a xenophobic and sometimes openly racist media which spreads an anti-immigration message and fear of difference leading to increases in hate crime, deportation and suicide and self harm in detention

Our physical and psycho-emotional health is widely determined by our class, race, gender expression, disabilities and support needs, and sexuality. Research consistently shows that the single biggest determinant of health is not an individual’s diet, genes or lifestyle, but their social and economic position within society.

In turn, social and economic position are determined by: access to and quality of housing, the physical built environment in which we live, income inequality and poverty, education, access to employment, race and gender.

Recent studies in the UK found an average seven year gap in life expectancy between rich and poor neighbourhoods. The statistics in Scotland are worse though –  Currently in areas like Muirhouse, North Edinburgh and Wester Hailes in South West Edinburgh, there is a ten year gap in life expectancy compared to nearby wealthier neighbourhoods. Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy in the UK with men living an average of 73 years.  In January 2017 210,000 children were living in poverty, and this figure is only worsening as of January 2018. This is one of the worst rates of child poverty in Europe.  The North/South divide in health and economic inequality is currently at its widest in over 40 years.

Even if we to live in a fair and equal society,  as industrialised capitalism and the fossil fuel industries continue to pollute our air and water and fill our neighbouring ecosystems with concrete, plastic and noxious waste, all of our chances of living healthy, happy and non-toxic lives are deteriorating.

Radical herbalism then encourages herbalists and health activists to look critically at the bigger picture, and invites us all to take part in community struggles and grass roots organising to create a fairer, more equal and healthier society for all.

The Scottish Radical Herbal Network is a community of activists who are passionate about plants, but we also see herbal medicine as only one of the necessary tools in the struggle for a fair, equal and health-full society. As well as herbalists, we are made up of community organisers, farmers and food growers, counsellors and therapists, nurses, paramedics and doctors, and people working for social change and environmental justice.

Our aim is to build a movement which supports a healthcare system that recognises diversity and seeks to empower people, giving them choice and control over what happens to their bodies at all times.