Habits & Health episode 59 with Pamela Spence, who has been fascinated by herbs since growing up surrounded by the fragrant wet markets of Singapore as a teenager. After a hectic career in film and television, she left to study herbal medicine in 2002 and has been running a successful clinical practice, writing and teaching about herbs ever since.
- How she came to be a medical herbalist, and what is a medical herbalist anyway!
- Who are the people who most often come to her for help
- Why she believes herbal medicine has a key part to play in our wellbeing
- How her work as the Twinings herbal expert fits in with her clinic work
- The one piece of advice she can give people today to help them feel better
- Essential oils
- Pregnancy and fertility
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The Pamela Spence interview link:
Habits & health episode 59. Welcome to the habits and health podcast, where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy. Brought to you by an educator and coach for anyone who wants to create a healthier life. Here’s your host, Tony Winyard.
Tony Winyard 0:20
Welcome back to habits and health. My guest today is Pamela Spence. And she has been fascinated by herbes since growing up surrounded by the fragrant wet markets of Singapore as a teenager. She began she had a career in film and television, but she went on to study herbal medicine in 2002. So we’re going to hear about more about that journey and what that entailed. And some of her discoveries and how working with herbes has allowed her to help people in a different way. And it certainly for myself, I didn’t know much about herbalists and what they really did, which is why I really went out of my way to find someone really experienced in this field. So that’s coming up very soon, with Pamela Spence. And if you know anyone who could get some great benefit from a lot of the wisdom that Pamela shares, please do share the episode with them, and hope you enjoy this week’s show. habits and health. My guest today is Pamela Spence, how are you Pamela?
Pamela Spence 1:19
Good. Thank you. The sun is shining after days of storms. So we’re all good here.
Tony Winyard 1:24
It has been a bit rough recently hasn’t it?
Pamela Spence 1:25
Tony Winyard 1:27
And when you say all good here, where is here?
Pamela Spence 1:30
I’m on the west coast of Scotland. So I’m about half an hour south of Glasgow, on the west coast near to the sea hills behind me. It’s a very nice place to
Tony Winyard 1:40
live. It sounds delightful. And is that is that where you’re from? Yeah,
Pamela Spence 1:44
I’m from here. I’m the person who was never going to live where I grew up. And I’ve lived all around the world, and ended up living about five miles from where I grew up.
Tony Winyard 1:54
So and so I might remember from from your description, you’re sort of out in not in the wilderness, but you’re not in a city put it that way. So that is probably quite helpful for what you actually do. So do you want to tell us more about what you do? Yeah,
Pamela Spence 2:09
absolutely. So I’m a medical herbalist, and some people are not going to have heard of us before. A lot of people might have heard of the term herbalist but or maybe a little bit unsure. Myself and most of my herbal colleagues would love to have t shirts printed that say I am not a Homoeopath. So I have great respect for what my homoeopathic colleagues do, but it is a really different system of medicine to what we do. So the term herbalist is not a protected title. And what that means is that really anyone could call themselves a herbalist if they wanted to. I don’t think many people are actually doing that. But there’s a lot of fear around that people do that and set themselves up in business. In reality, I don’t think they do. But the herbalist is really someone who works with with plants to improve people’s health. And you can get horrible vets to but they have to have been vets first and herbalist second. And we call ourselves medical herbalist to denote the fact that anyone with that title will been through some pretty standard medical training. So we don’t do that in a hospital or a medical school. But the horrible school that I went to, for example, we do do the normal things that doctors would train him, you know, anatomy, physiology, differential diagnosis, all that kind of thing. And in fact, I was taught by some doctors and consultants in the school that I went to. So it really denotes that we have a training in the Western medical sciences, if you want to call it that. And that we are also trained to work safely alongside pharmaceutical medicine, which is very important, of course, and that we’re also trained to work with plant plants, plant medicines. In our practice, a lot of us also because we work very holistically as you would expect. We talk about supplements, some herbalist are more into giving supplements to their patients than others. I tend to be very light touch on supplements. We also work on nutrition, and we work on lifestyle advice and when you see a herbalist so you can basically go to see a herbalist but really anything you would go see your family doctor about. Some people use us as an alternative. Some people come to us because they have chronic health conditions that are not being well managed under the pharmaceutical system. For some people, it’s it’s more like a lifestyle choice. They would prefer to come to a herbalist than to use pharmaceutical medicine. And ironically, quite often I spend my time with some people kind of helping them get back to their doctors and explaining to them that actually they really do need to go and take the pharmaceutical treatment. And quite often we bridge that gap. If patients have maybe had negative experience, we’re quite often the people who are taking the time to listen to them, because we have the luxury of time that GPS in the UK at least really don’t have. But we can often be guiding them as to really where the hubs can help. But we’re actually they do need to go and take pharmaceutical medicine. So I hope that there’s that explained Do you think it does? What we do?
Tony Winyard 5:34
It does and there’s a few things that I’d like to respond on. One, right at the start, you talked about how people often get you mixed up for homoeopaths? Yeah. So maybe I’ll dig more into that. So what is the difference? And why do you think it is that people get mixed up with them? Okay.
Pamela Spence 5:52
Yeah, good point. So, homoeopathic medicine really was born out of the 1900s. And it’s a very specific way of using not just plants, but minerals and animal parts sometimes as well, to create medicines in an infinitesimally tiny, tiny dose. The idea being that by giving your body the thing that would cause the symptoms you’ve got, there’s an information exchange, your body will respond and resolve the thing that you have. Okay? So that’s where homoeopathy is that the basic idea of it is that like cures like so, a really good example of that would be if you have a beasting and you go tell me Pat, they will give you a homoeopathic dose of beasting. Right? If they give you the same thing or something that would cause the same symptoms. Herbal Medicine comes from the same trajectory. So homoeopathy is actually quite young. Herbal Medicine comes from the same trajectory as their pharmaceutical medicine today. So we have the same lineage, and at some point, and our philosophy is that opposites heal. So if you come to me and you have a fever, and not like the Homoeopath would give you something, we make you hot, I’m going to give you something it’s going to cool you down. And then allopathic medicine. A lot of people just think allopathic is pharmaceutical, it’s not, what happened was that horrible medicine was all we used to have. And we used it in an allopathic way. And then at some point, there was a split. And one family went down the road of pursuing the five what became the pharmaceutical, and the other half of branch of the family remained working with the plants.
Tony Winyard 7:46
We hear a lot about Chinese and Oriental herbal medicine and kind of natural medicine. How are there any links? Or how closely or not? Are they related,
Pamela Spence 7:59
hugely related. So essentially, the thing I love about herbal medicine is that every place where there have been humans on the planet, there has been herbal medicine. And we know that going back through archaeological records, archaeological digs, if you remember it, see the Iceman who was found on the top of the Italian Alps, he had his little pack of herbes in his in his pouch, and he had some herbs in his tummy actually, as well. Things that taste very bitter that you wouldn’t, you absolutely wouldn’t have chosen to eat, but actually are used to treat constipation. So we think I’d say the Iceman was actually a bit constipated when he was hit over the back of the head on the top of the Italian Alps. So it really is for all people, and it is in all places. And of course, before the world was so connected, each place came up with it, theories around how medicine, or how these plants acted in the body. And one of those theories is what became herbal medicine, we call ourselves what my training is in, in traditional Western herbal medicine, okay, so we have the Western theory. And then we have the traditional Chinese medicine, which was born out of a different culture. And then we have our Vedic medicine, which was born out of the culture of India. And then we have a nanny tip, which was, came out of the culture of sort of the middle eastern part of the world. And essentially, what it is, is it’s, it’s people trying to explain what happens when you put herb in to the body, how it affects change. And each one of these has a different philosophy and a different way of doing it. And they’re all equally valid. It’s a bit like so some people say to me, for example, in Chinese medicine, they talk about the liver and how they describe the liver and now we know that it’s not really the liver It’s not really what the actual liver that we knew was there. It’s what their idea of the liver 2000 years ago did. So if you ever read a text about Chinese medicine, you’ll see livers denoted with a capital L to differentiate it. And people will say, well, that’s rubbish. That’s not what happens. And I’ll say, Yeah, but did they did the effect happen? Yes, it did. Well, it’s just that the story about how it did it isn’t quite right, isn’t it? And that’s the theoretical part is just, you know, and of course, each of these schools of thought will use the medicines that are indigenous to those countries much more. But we cross pollinate a lot nowadays, I think.
Tony Winyard 10:39
Well, and in that cross pollination you’re talking about, so we’re, it’s been often, many doctors, and I’ve read in many books about how it’s advisable to eat local food when possible, because that has more benefits for us. I’m wondering is, Does the same apply to herbs? Is it? Does it make much of a difference if you’re using using local herbs, as opposed to herbs from Australia or somewhere?
Pamela Spence 11:01
That’s a really good question. I think that traditionally, there actually is a lovely story in herbal medicine, in western herbal medicine, where we say that the plants that you need will turn up in your garden. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually witnessed that happen. It’s just it’s a lovely thought, isn’t it, that nature’s kind of coming to you and saying, This is what you need. So I think that there is a similar thing there, that when you are using the herbes that grew around where you live, there is a, there is a there is a special connection there. It’s a bit like, you know, I was getting used to the water where we live, gonna be very different if we moved to another part of the world, isn’t it? It’s like when you’re trying to treat hay fever symptoms with honey, it’s got to be the local honey, because it’s the same pollen that the bees are working with. So, yes, I think that there is something in that. However, not only do we have access to almost all of the Arabs now, but we don’t tend to stay in one place anymore. So what do you say to someone who’s just come to the UK, for example? Just for example, my husband is from Southern Germany, the plants there? Yes, there are similarities, but there’s, there are great differences as well. And the traditions are different. So what does he do? Does he import Western, you know, southern German hubs into Scotland? Or does he? So I think what I do see happening a lot in the world now is that we are constantly looking for the next big thing, the next big superfoods, the next super herb, the next adaptogen, or, you know, no tropic or whatever. And they all seem to they never are the ones in your backyard or they nobody wants them. Nettles, per nettles, nobody’s interested in them. Everybody wants something that come from, you know, I don’t know, I prefer the Peru or the African desert or something. And there are inherent issues in that not only thinking about the travelling, you know that you’ve got food miles, Herb miles, let’s call them, but also thinking about what were the conditions for the people there? Did we take that in a sensitive manner? Were the people properly recompense did they have you know, there’s there’s all sorts of issues there. So I’m, more and more I’ve been in practice now since 2006. And I used to, oh, this new herb and oh, this new one, and actually, in the last few years, particularly with the pandemic and Brexit, hitting supply chains. But that really galvanised me to be much more interested in what’s right outside my door, and what actually can I do this with my own plants, because they would be seen as exotic to someone on the other side of the world, perhaps. And to get a bit more into growing my own, and wildcrafting much more than I did before, which was born out of necessity, I have to say, at the beginning of the pandemic when a lot of stuff just was not available.
Tony Winyard 14:07
But I’m getting the impression from what you’ve just said, there are some herbes that may have to come from various other countries, not whether it’s the other side of the world or not, that are very useful for us. And maybe, they don’t grow locally. But what is the what is the shelf life like and how important is the packaging and so on was
Pamela Spence 14:27
really important. And yeah, that’s a huge question because there’s no… There’s a lot about herbal medicine that I teach in Herbal school. And I say to my second year students like herbal medicine is going to drive you mad because there are so many grey areas, really, and that’s where to me herbal medicine is both a science and an art. You know, we need to be trained to be extremely safe, and at the same time, there’s a lot of artistry in how we bring herbes together we know that they work well together. So we reckon that for example if I get dried herb into my dispensary because that’s another thing I should say about medical herbalist is we all have our own dispensaries, we have the right to make our own medicines for our patients. We can’t sell to the public, but we can make medicines for patients and each medicine is made specifically for them. So really six people can come to me with eczema and every one of them is going to go with a different herbal mix because it’s so bespoke to their situation. But if if, for example, dried herb comes into my dispensary. First of all, I’m going to do checks on it, I’m going to make sure if it’s a herb, I expect to be aromatic that it is and they tend to go off more quickly. And I’m going to keep that for a maximum of six months. Whereas herbal tinctures. So that’s where you take a herb and you extract it and alcohol extract. They’re so stable, it’s a bit like looking at a bottle of whiskey and thinking well, When’s that going to go off, it’s never going to go off. Somehow herbs were certain constituents, you’ll see them start to filter out over time. But all that would happen really is that they would slowly very slowly lose efficacy and and actually, you know, so now we see our suppliers putting us by dates on the horrible bottles previously, we were thinking, you know, as a ballpark figure, it’s probably good for five years, but you know, there’s nothing going off about it. Essentially the best herbal medicine you can get. I think there was something you’ve picked yourself and it’s fresh, if there’s a few plants you can’t do that with but to have that interaction as well. And that interaction with nature is also part of the healing. You know, it’s part of it.
Tony Winyard 16:39
Yeah. So you just talked about the you customise the whatever you use for each and a patient you’re working with. And six different patients might have six different formulas depending on what their issue is. So if someone does come to you with something like asthma or eczema or whatever, how do you establish what is the right way to use for them?
Pamela Spence 17:00
Okay, this is a really is a huge box that we’ve opened. So let me keep it as simple as possible. In herbal medicine, in all the traditional herbal schools of thought, we work on the basis of what’s called a constitutional type. So that means that although all bodies are different, and we see everyone is an individual, so we don’t do standardised things, you know, there is a branch of herbal medicine which is more termed phytotherapy. And those are the people who are more likely to use standardised extracts. So, curcumin instead of turmeric, you know taking out that one chemical and standardising it to make sure you have an exact dose medical herbicides knee are much more likely to use the whole plant or whole part of a plant instead of changing the chemical makeup of it. So constitutional types, at their most basic level is if you think of yourself on a hot, cold, damp, dry axis, you will sit somewhere on the Hot Cold scale, you might be fairly near to the middle. If you’re an extremely hot person, you’re likely to not be able to sit out in the heat get lots of hot Raschi you know skin rashes and it would be itchy and you know, you would tend to get heating things like acid indigestion maybe or things like that. So they’ll be hot. We’re looking for patterns here. Hot patterns in your body. If you’re colder, you’re likely to love being out in the sunshine, be very cold in the winter, winter be a challenging time for you and not be able to digest cold foods very well like to eat hot things. And the same with the moist and the dry. So the moist people tend to get you know if they get a cold it goes into their chest and has to be bit Flemmi. You know, they get there’s wet patterns there. And the dry people would tend to sort of dry horse sore throats, dry skin, that kind of thing. So if you think of yourself in that, you’re going to land up in one of those four quadrants. And if you are a person with eczema, and you come to my clinic and you’re a hot, damp person, your eczema is likely to have those qualities about it. So we all know somebody who’s had awful x months read, it’s itchy, it’s fiery, they’re clawing at it. It’s likely to break the skin and be weepy. And you think of the cold, dry constitutional type with eczema. We probably all have come across someone who’s Eczema is really not that much of a bother for them. It’s kind of scaly, it looks sort of purpley blue, it’s probably not very itchy, and it probably is a bit flaky and that’s probably it. So that cold dry parison My strategy is going to be to smother that in treatment and heat their body up. And you can see that if I do that for Mr. Hot damn person, my reputations in shreds, they’re never coming back. And they probably won’t ever go to see a herbalist again. And so it’s by looking at the qualities of the symptoms and the qualities of the body in front of us that we make the decision on Well, which of these herbes actually are going to be beneficial for those people and what treatment strategy is going to work.
Tony Winyard 20:28
And one of the things that went through my mind as you’re explaining that, and this I mean, I am I am a bit peculiar, so I should warn you that in the first place, but when he talks about the hot and the cold, for example, I’ve got some of my friends think I’m very strange because I lived in the equator for seven years. And I also lived in the Arctic Circle for 18 months. And heat doesn’t bother me, I could withstand much hotter days than even the locals could. But on the other hand, I’m known My nickname is esky because code doesn’t really bother me. So it’s like, Where do I sit on those?
Pamela Spence 21:02
Okay, so there will be other things that go on. And there are others. So that’s it, it’s very simple form. But there will be other patterns in there that say, so you may be really close to the middle. And that would be unusual on the Hot Cold scale. And on the other scale, you might be slightly too sad. You might be the dead centre person, you know, that’s absolutely possible. Maybe you are, maybe you’ve got that. Maybe you’ve got it all sorted. And you’ve got that all in balance, but by seeing what does come up for you, what patterns do come up for you. And also, you know, obviously, this is a this is a podcast, so we’re not doing visuals here. But also I can I can see you right now. And I can see automatically there are several things that are like are right, okay, you would probably fit into that category. So, so as was so that’s it in its basic state. And what happens when you go to either Vedic medicine or TCM or Unani tibb, which I don’t know so much about, I must say, or the Western tradition is that they will build around a picture of a constitutional type based on that type. And then the advice in terms of dietary advice herbes we would use ways we’d suggest you exercise and relax things we’d expect to be challenging for you come with that model. And I think, you know, we’re all born a certain constitutional type. And over time, you know, life happens, doesn’t it and it Chuck’s things on tougher, so quite often, what you find is someone’s battling with something, that’s not actually how their body wants to be at the moment. So they might be very cold and damp. Well, a good example would be a cold, damp, constitutional type woman going through menopause suddenly raging hot and dry skin. So her current situation is that’s leading attention is the hot dryness. But underneath that, you know, so essentially, the idea is that we all have all of these qualities in us. Some situations in life, and some choices that we make, will give us too much of those qualities. And the easy thing to remember is to just to bring yourself back into balance, give yourself some of the opposite. So if you do get really cold, cold digestion, you’re not digesting well. Try some warming spices. If spicy food gives you heartburn, avoid it have cooling things, you know, it’s really very simple. But that’s the basis on which we would build prescriptions.
Tony Winyard 23:35
You took them about, you mentioned about if someone I think someone was very dry, you might use treatments and so on. One of the things I’ve noticed in the last couple years is that there seems to be a lot of people who are selling oils, and they don’t necessarily seem to be what impression I get is I wonder how much training I really had in this just from the way they talk about do you what would you say about those do
Pamela Spence 23:55
you mean essential oils? Yeah. Yeah, I’m really worried about that situation. I’m glad you brought that up. And I’m just thinking what can I say without something coming back to bite me? What I think I would say is that essential oils are largely all produced in the same way. And there are some people talking about medical grade, as far as I am aware, that does not exist. And to give you an idea, so as part of my training and the school that I went to, we also had to train to be to do deep tissue massage, which was a great idea because as students was my second career but as a students in year two by you two, you were qualified massage therapist, you could start a business that would see you through the rest of your four year held herbal training. It also got us used to moving bodies around. And so when we do physical examinations, we were more competent because we were used to what lots of bodies physically felt like and then you can pick up When something’s not right, and in year three, we studied aromatherapy and it was a clinical aromatherapy was the name of the of the the training that we did, there is a tradition of using essential oils internally, on the continent in France, they do it quite often, but their, their traditions are very different from ours. Most terriblest Most medical herbalists never use essential oils internally, because they are so strong, they can be very toxic. They can wipe out your microbiome, because you know, they are they’re such, they’re unbelievably concentrated plant essences. And for myself, I would not unless I have very specialist training in it, this is on top of my four years of medical training, be comfortable giving anyone essential oils to take internally. And so when I see products being sold, by people who do not have the the extent of training, and suggesting that’s taken internally, I get very worried about that.
Tony Winyard 26:14
It doesn’t concern and I mean, as I said, I’ve spoken to a few people. Well, people have been trying to sell me, oh, and also people trying to get me to sell it. And then they’ve I went through this this presentation once. And it was this hour presentation. And it was like what I needed to learn in order to sell these products. He seemed like it was going to be a few hours or something essentially.
Pamela Spence 26:41
And they are very strong. Don’t get me wrong. So you’re taking the plant matter and we’re we’re using it in its whole form. You know, when I say hole, I might not mean like the whole plant root leaves. But you know, whatever. I might mean like dandelion root, for example, but we wouldn’t mess around with a root. On peppermint or lavender, we would take the above ground parts. What you find often in in nature is that you people have this misconception that natural medicine is all safe. It’s not. I have Bella Donna in my dispensary is certainly not safe, is kept under lock and key and given, you know, in tiny doses. In in a lot of Herbes, you will find that there, especially ones that we use in small doses, you’ll find there are active constituents in there. That can cause problems for the body. What you will often bracket but not always exclamation mark. close bracket find is the antidote to that is within the whole herb because when you look at a herb, when you look at a pharmaceutical, you look at a single chemical, it’s laser sharp focus, it goes in it takes over function in the body, and it does its job, right. Very often that will mean that some people will find that they have side effects, or as I like to call them effects because they’re not side, they are also effects. I am not anti pharmaceutical. So a lot of people expect medical herbals to be I am absolutely not. Because I’ve worked out in areas in for example, in East Africa, where people didn’t have an option. And I am very, I feel very lucky to have the choice between both types of medicines. So we’ll never find me knocking pharmaceutical medicine, but sometimes it really problematic. And that’s where herbes can sometimes come along and help with those side effects. That’s the thing that can be done. But what you find with the herb is that instead of one chemical, you’ve got two 300. We don’t even have names for some of them. We roughly know what they do others, we really don’t have a clue. What we’re basing our evidence on is empirical evidence over hundreds and sometimes 1000s of years where people meticulously noted down what these hubs did, because that’s all that they had. So they knew them to incredible depths. But you’ll find in some hubs that well A good example would be Kava Kava, which is now banned in the UK, we used to be able to get it was a very useful herb for anxiety and sleep disturbance. So what happened with Kava Kava was Kava Kava has a very active part called a kava lactone and it also has a lot of glutathione which is basically protects the liver from the kava lactone and the damage that kavalactones can do. And I’m going to get these figures wrong but this is an example I’m not very good at remembering exact figures but for example, it’s something like one kava lactone, always to 10 glutathione is the would be the ratio but there’s a lot more glutathione and kavalactones company in the States decided to make an over the counter herbal product, decided to standardise the X strapped, make it very strong, messed up the relationship between the kavalactones and the glutathione. So they made it it was like one kavalactones to 0.0001 glutathione. Guess what happened, people had liver issues, I think one person even died. Result is bad. So when we start messing around with it, then we can find that that, you know, there can be negative consequences like that, for example. So it’s really important we don’t think that herbal medicine is is, is safe, just because it’s natural, because that’s absolutely not true. When you work with essential oils, you’ve essentially extracted a tiny part of that you really messed about with that plant chemistry, and you’re giving an ultra concentrated dose to people and that’s where that for me is not not a safe thing to do.
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Tony Winyard 31:41
Would I be right in saying that essential oils can be efficacious, but who would you go and see in order to use them correctly?
Pamela Spence 31:49
you would go and see an aromatherapist if you wanted to have them. So for me essential oils, I would there is some specialist training that you can do I know one herbalist in the UK has done it to take them internally, but it really is specialist training and it tends to come out of France tend to be a French thing I would be seeing so for me there are things either to inhale or put on your skin in a medium like oil to stop them from burning your skin. Because most of them a lot or a lot of them will cause irritation skin, some will actually burn. You don’t want that in your intestinal tract, do you really, if it’s going to give you a skirt, you know, make your skin really sore and red. We just don’t want to be doing that. So aroma therapist or most medical herbalists will be trained to use aromatherapy oils, I put them in creams, I might suggest them as inhalations. But for me, that’s as far as it would go.
Tony Winyard 32:51
When you were first introducing yourself and talking about what a herbalist is, and so on. And you touched upon supplements. So I’m just wondering about what type of supplements is it you’re using? And are you also able to prescribe, you know, medical supplements? What is could you tell me more about supplement?
Pamela Spence 33:14
Okay, yes, sure. So a supplement to me would be vitamin, mineral, you know, antioxidants, and you know, all these kinds of things, quercetin and cookie 10 and digestive enzymes and all that kind of stuff. So none of them will be in the medical realm. They would all be designated as food supplements. So I can’t prescribe anything that’s in the medical or pharmaceutical world. I can’t prescribe food supplements. I prefer this is just a personal thing, really, to keep supplementation to a minimum. And I know that there’s loads of amazing evidence to show that if you take this it does this. And if you take that it does that. And sometimes it’s warranted. Absolutely. But I was taught to look at the vitamins, minerals and enzymes in your body like a web, a very finely woven web. And what happens when you dose and one is that you have an effect on several other things. And often we’re not aware of that. So for me, if somebody was very supplements focused, I would tend to send them to a naturopath or two because we do have a lot of overlap with naturopaths. But they tend to be more super focused or I would send them maybe to a functional medicine doctor so that they could do those sort of running tests and checking all the other things. I could do that it’s just not an area I’m that interested in. So we tend to keep it very basic. So if I’m for example, someone comes to me around, I don’t know might be a menopausal woman thinking about bone health, rather than prescribed I’ve been hurt calcium and vitamin D or magnesium or whatever, I would probably look for really good bones supplement, or have bone health supplement that had been thought through by one of the companies that I really trust, to make sure that I’m not loading up on one thing and and causing an issue with something else.
Tony Winyard 35:20
Okay, you know, when we were communicating to each other before, you told me about a couple of habits that you found helpful in your life.
Pamela Spence 35:30
Yeah, so, um, one of the things that I think so I came to herbal medicine because I was working in film production. In the 90s. And I, I pretty much reached burnout. And I thought it was great when I was told I was getting my own runner to go and get my, you know, get my sandwich and make my coffee and all the rest of it. And I thought I made it and then I realised it was an absolute trap, because it just kept me at my desk for longer because I was in the production team. And so coming out of that very high paced environment, I tend as a person to run at things very quickly, I have to work really hard. I do a lot of online training, particularly with women who find it very hard to stop. The reason I do that is because I find it really hard to stop. So I feel these kind of mechanisms in place. So one of the things that I found really helpful on that journey to finding a bit more balance in health is just to check in with what nature is doing. You know, everyone can access nature, even if you’re just looking at your window at the cloud, you know, you don’t need to live in you know, you could be in the city centre, London, one of my teachers lived in his to her box on Muswell Hill, in the centre of centre of London and then he his practice was there and he was most connected to nature person I’ve ever met, he sadly no longer with us. But everybody can check in with what nature is doing. And if you are aware of then the challenges that certain seasons bring you. So we all know the season we like the best, right? And we all know the bits of the seasons that we find difficult. So you know, January, February, really difficult months, for some people, they find the light levels low, they find, oh, they’ve got through Christmas, it’s a while to go, you know, the weather is awful, they’re not getting out, we know are struggling points in the year. So see it coming towards you. And think about what are you going to do to head that off a little bit? You know, just in terms of you know, if you get heat rashes and things in the summertime, how are you going to head that off for the past. So you’re going to notice or someone’s coming maybe I’ll you know, or you know, hay fever time is coming for you, right? Let me do something about that this year, instead of always being on the backfoot with it. So that would be one thing is just stop and check in it is I swear that linking into nature, even if it’s just again, the window is the quickest, easiest, most profound is even the cheapest way to recalibrate yourself and improve your well being. You know, we know now that walking, going for a walk and doing it in nature has multiple benefits. There’s so many research studies on that. So that’s number one, number two would be stop reaching for that same old copper. But you just you know when someone says you want a copper, and you have a thing that is your version of our copper, and the relevant people in your life will know what that means. Well, I’d really encourage people to just mix that up once in a while. Because if you are I mean essentially, if you’re if you’re living a modern day life, you are going to be stressed or chronically stressed at some level, right? We may not feel it, but it’s not how our bodies were built. Our bodies were built for living in caves, right? Fight the tiger or flee the tiger rest. We don’t do that anymore. So chronic stress could be your inbox. Or it could be your boss or it could be I don’t know your debt situation or something, it doesn’t go away. So we’ve got chronic stress going on. And we keep feeding it caffeine all the time. And we just keep reaching for the same thing. If you could hack your hot drinks, and make them herbal tonics for your body, you would have I don’t know four or five, six opportunities a day to give your body something that it really needs them really nourish it. And so I’m not telling people they have to give up coffee and tea because I like coffee and tea but what I’m saying is you’re probably not even enjoying it by cut number four is just another thing, spice it up a bit. Luckily, and companies have made that really easy for people because now there are so many herbal teas available, some with caffeine based on green tea, some without
in the supermarkets. You can get a hold of them. They’re not expensive. They’re easy to access. And I promise they do not taste like the 1990s fruit teas that you felt like they were stripping the enamel off your teeth they were awful. And as you know to one of my roles as a herbalist is not just being clinic, but also is helping product development across several companies. And the key one that I work with is Twinings. And I’m behind their Super Blades range of teas, there are lots of other companies doing really good work too. But obviously, those are my, my baby. So they’re my favourites, if you can just go out and if you’ve got an extra two, three quid, which is not a big ask for most people, to try some of those flavours and go after the names of things that you feel you need, like rest or relax or, you know, digest, if that’s an issue, and start experimenting, your day will not only, you know, be kind of bursting with new flavours. But you’re actually those are legitimately how we have taken herbal medicine for many, many years. And so it’s a great way to support your well being.
Tony Winyard 41:09
That’s a great tip. It’s really useful to, I’m wondering what is there? If I was to guess, and I’m probably going to be completely wrong with this case, if I were to guess why most people would go and see a herbalist. It would be a lot of things along the lines of hay fever and so on. But what what is the actual truth?
Pamela Spence 41:27
Yeah, no, you’re right. And some people just really fed up with her hay fever and just wanting to be on top of it. I would say that as is probably fairly normal with clinical situations, and all my clinics are online now. I get vastly more women than men, but we know that that is a thing. You know, in all healthcare situations that women tend to step forward and ask for help sooner. And quite often men get asked to go and then they, you know, I’ve, there’s a wonderful herbalist in them in Ireland. And he says he has an he says, Now, if you get, you know, a man coming to the clinic and saying, my wife sent me and my partner sent me on my, you know, my boyfriend sent me whatever. He says, Okay, I’m going to ask you to leave now. And I’m going to ask you to come back when you can send yourself which I think is brilliant. And so I do turn that into a bit of a story that I tell when I’m testing, if someone’s booked in with me as I Oh, by so and so sent me. If you don’t want to be there, it’s a waste of your time. And money is a waste of my time. Let’s not do it. Let’s come, let’s do it when you feel like it. So I would say vastly more women. I would say about two thirds of those women, it will be menopausal symptoms. A lot of women very confused about the HRT question and not sure what to do. really struggling with symptoms. Lot of kind of, you know, skin things, a lot of you know, stuff like adult acne and eczema and hay fever and that kind of thing. I mean, really, and I have to say so we’re very limited that I’m a member of the National Institute of Medical herbalist, which is the biggest, I think still, but certainly the oldest representation of herbalists in the UK, we also have international members. And we can’t advertise, you know, we have to conduct ourselves in the same manner as as a doctor would. So all of my practice is about word of mouth. So quite often people will already have heard of someone who’s been to see you, and that just kind of takes time for that to roll through, I think
Tony Winyard 43:45
and what so what you were saying there sounds like a lot of the people that will be seeing you will be in the older age bracket, but what about people with, say, fertility pregnancy issues? And
Pamela Spence 43:55
absolutely, yes, see a lot of that as well. And I, yeah, in fact, at the moment, I’ve just had an intake of several women who are struggling to either get pregnant or remain pregnant. And I think that the treatments that are on offer, from on the NHS or in private clinics are really important, particularly if time is ticking for them. And so sometimes what they’re saying is I don’t want to do that, or I’ve been refused treatment, I want you to try everything you can. And a lot of that’s about managing expectation. But sometimes what we’re doing is they’re maybe on a waiting list for IVF or something like that, or it’s maybe been a while and nothing’s happened. And they’re anxious, and you uncover that they’ve actually had issues with their cycle from when they were stuck on the pill than they were 18 years old and no one’s ever told him there was an issue. No one’s ever dealt with it. So, you know, one of the things I kind of stand on my soapbox about is if you are you know, thinking of starting a family as a as A woman wanting to start a family. If you were popped on the pill, when you were a teenager, because your periods were a problem, you need to sort that out that you can’t just expect to come off the pill. And that will go away, you need to have that extra time. And that’s something that can respond really well. So often, it’s the lead up to the big interventions that we’re doing. And if someone manages to get pregnant along the way, then happy days, that’s just such a special journey to be on with women. But yes, all that all of that kind of thing, as well. And anxiety and stress and all of those I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I just don’t feel right. Or I think a lot of people are finding it a bit difficult to access their GPS at the moment. Yeah. And so I’m certainly finding my books are of you know, I’m having to hold off and and stop new patients for a little while to look after the ones I’ve got and then that’s happened a few times in last two years.
Tony Winyard 45:53
Are there any? I’m wondering for the people listening and maybe have never spoken to a herbalist never seen a herbalist, what might surprise them in how herbalist might be able to help them do any things that people probably wouldn’t think of that actually herb herbalist could probably help them with.
Pamela Spence 46:14
Good question. I think that people often just don’t think about herbal medicine as an option. And I think one of my real kind of driving forces, if you like, is for people to generally think about herbal medicine. seriously consider it as part of the natural steps through their health care. I mean, you would naturally go to a GP, you would naturally speak to your pharmacist. What Why would you not and I just think it goes back to what you said at the beginning about what is the herbalist you know, you had heard of it of herbalist but didn’t didn’t know so much. I think we don’t have a very great presence. Yeah. And that’s something we need to get better at, which is why I’m always very happy to be on, you know, things like podcast to raise awareness. Look, there’s about I don’t know, 600 or 700 of us in the UK, we do exist, we are trained to be very safe. We don’t have pointy hats and cauldrons. It’s not that kind of thing. We can do this in a very modern, safe way. And I think the thing that people are surprised about is that we are trained to work safely alongside medication that they take. What I worry about, is because we have so many over the counter products available. So anything you’re going into a health food shop to buy will have been properly put together, the labelling will be correct. Any concerns or contra indications will be on the bottle, you know, we’re on the package. But there’s so many people go to Amazon. And they like they buy stuff. And it turns up in a package of powder or a pack of dry tarps. And I’m saying how do you know what that actually is? How do you know the only instances we have had in the UK of serious poisoning. With herbal medicine, there has not been a single case to date recorded for someone coming through a medical herbalist. It’s all over the counter. And most of that has been bought over the internet, you have no idea what you’re buying. And that worries me because I think a lot of people don’t they assume that there will be an interaction or it’s just tariffs, it’s really safe, like we were saying before, and there are lots of interactions you need to watch out for. And so they can be prescribing for themselves willy nilly and doing damage and a lot of people won’t tell the doctor what they’re taking because they don’t want to look silly. I think that’s the other worry as well.
Tony Winyard 48:56
You touched upon this earlier that if you are listening to podcasts, reading books on health and so on, there’s all these various supplements and herbs that are, the new wonder drug, this is going to solve all your woes. It’s easy to be influenced by marketing, so people can end up buying lots of different supplements and maybe they’ve taken a whole variety of different supplements and you touched upon that maybe a good point of action would be to see someone like a functional medicine doctor to to have tests. But if someone maybe can’t afford to go to see a functional medicine doctor, but they have got all these the supplements and maybe herbs as well, and they really haven’t got a clue which ones are helping them and which ones aren’t. What might be what would you suggest that they could do?
Pamela Spence 49:48
Well I think that one of the things I would suggest they do and often ends up saving them a whole lot of money is You know, find your local medical herbalist and have an appointment with them. It’s unlikely to cost any more than the supplements are costing. And they will be able to so quite often people come and they’ll come with a bag, like that’s what I’m taking. And I’m like, Oh, wow. Right. Okay. So what often happens is you actually massively simplify what’s going on because the supplements are cheap. So I think if you’re spending lots of money, especially if you’re buying them every month, really think about so functional medicine, doctors tend to cost a lot more than going through medical herbalist, I’m generalising. But if you went to the National Institute of Medical herbalist website, which I think is nem nimh.org.uk, there’s a find a herbalist function, you can look by postcode, lots of other working online as well at the moment. So you could book an appointment. And you could, you could say this is what I want to do is I want to rationalise what’s going on. With the supplements, if you really don’t have the money to do that, I would suggest that you stop everything. And you stick with one thing at a time. So you meticulously go down or you stop everything. And also those things that gives you probably, if you’re in that situation, you’re probably buying stuff, and then you’re not working chucking it in the back of the cupboard, you’ve probably got fortunes in the back of the cupboard. That’s just such a waste. And it’s not a good use of money either. So what I would do is go back to absolute basics, start with something like a multivariate or if you’re taking a vitamin D, or C or whatever, and maybe to take the basic things and take them for at least two weeks, and then decide Do you feel better or no change, and then either stop it or add the next one in. And the really expensive fancy ones, leave them to the end? Because you probably don’t need them. And I also don’t think it’s great for us to be supplementing forever and ever and ever and ever. We need breaks from everything. No. So I would do that I would just do your own Be your own research researcher and look at it one by one.
Tony Winyard 52:21
Before I’m going to change direction, and talk about books, before I do, is there any area of herbes that I haven’t asked you about that you think it would be useful for people to know?
Pamela Spence 52:35
I’m not, I think maybe it’s just useful to think about Herbes, as it’s possible for them to be an alternative treatment. So you can do some things with herbes alone and not need the pharmaceuticals. Sometimes that’s not an appropriate thing to do. And you need the pharmaceuticals as we touched on. So I think people get caught up sometimes in his his his herbal medicine complementary to pharmaceutical or alternative? My answer would be it can be absolutely both. But you need a practitioner to tell you, which is the safe route for you. I get a lot of people in fact, I’ve had four or five emails this week. People who have read their family members or themselves and she’s mostly mostly family members, it’s been this week, diagnosed with cancer, sometimes quite advanced. Someone yesterday said, I’ve heard that dandelion leaf can kill this particular cell line of cancer. Should they do that instead? Massive big red flag and I always take the time to get back to this feels safe for a start as a medical herbalist, I’m not allowed to treat cancer. I’m not I’m absolutely not allowed just two things I can treat, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer are not allowed. So what I can do is I can support a person through that. But even with 16 years of herbal practice under my belt, I have a specialist mentor to help me do that. Because it’s so complicated. And yes, in a petri dish, maybe those dandelion leaves did kill that cancer cell. Is that going to be good for that person on treatment? In if they’re thinking about it as an alternative? It’s an absolute no, it is a massively complex area. Yes, we can support but we wouldn’t be frontline treatment. So those that and so the it can be alternative sometimes can be complimentary, sometimes can be used alongside pharmaceuticals with caution and care. And I think sometimes for my patients I’ll say or write a letter to your doctor about that and they’ll say Can you can you do that? Yes, well, yes, I can. I can have a conversation with your GP. Somebody peas don’t want to hear from me. But a lot are actually interested in they should be interested in what their patients are taking. So I think the thing I’d want to get across is the breadth of how herbal medicine can help you. If you’re aware of it.
Tony Winyard 55:17
And one of the things that popped into my mind, would someone speak to a herbalist, if they wanted to do simple things like change the cleaning products, they use it using a combination of herbs instead, or, or some things along those lines?
Pamela Spence 55:32
You could do so it wouldn’t be a thing that would really come through clinic, I do some online training courses where we’ve touched on those kinds of things. So I recently did with a cohort of women I was working with, we did work which which lessons we do, we did a detox your weekly shopping list. We did a detox your cleansing regime, your skin regime, and we did detox your cleaning cupboard. And so I think you could definitely reach out to a medical herbalist for some ideas. There are some fabulous books out and a lady called PIP Waller has written a book called or I think it’s called the Home apothecary. And if there’s there’s some, I think that’s probably the more something you would find resources and book terms, there’s loads of things out there that you could try. And I quite often get asked to write for the media, to, you know, for articles and things like that’s quite often the kind of thing that would, you know, I did a recent one, about six months ago, I think was for the sun or something they were doing something on, you know, natural cleaners. So the certainly loads of information. It’s not something you would book through a clinic to find out. Unless it was part of something you were being seen for like a skin condition, and it was part of the treatment plan. We could do that for sure. But yeah, reach out. herbalists are happy to talk to people. That’s the thing. I think.
Tony Winyard 56:54
Is there a book that’s really moved you Pamela?
Pamela Spence 57:03
Yes. it well. Coming out of the film and television industry, and having been a literature student before, I mean, there’s a gazillion books. But the one that I think has moved me most recently is called the beekeeper of Aleppo. It’s a beautiful tale about a refugee from Syria, looking at his life there before the war. And, and it details the his journey to get to the UK. And in it, it’s very disturbing really helped me understand what the refugees have been through when by the time that I get here. And he was a beekeeper at home. And he talks about his connection with nature and the bees and the fact that the bees have been in his family forever. And when He comes, it’s this connection with nature that keeps him going through his whole journey. And when he finally makes it to the UK and settles somewhere, he sets up, he starts to talk to other refugees about the bees. And then at the end of the book, I found out that this guy is real. And I was so amazed. And he’s actually set up a charity, I think he’s in Yorkshire. And what he does is he brings in refugees, and he trains them to work with bees. And it’s a way of them healing. But it’s also a way of them connecting to this new land because I suddenly thought, gosh, if you turn up in the UK, and you have no connection to the land, how are you going to do this thing I talk about all the time about connecting with nature to help to heal yourself. You need an avenue you need a gateway to help you because otherwise you’re probably going to be stuck in an inner city not seeing very much of it. And I just I thought it was such an amazing story. And I think his work is phenomenal.
Tony Winyard 58:58
Wow, that sounds very interesting to look into that. If people want to find out more about you where where they look.
Pamela Spence 59:05
So you can go to my website is Pamelaspence.co.uk. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram. And https://www.facebook.com/PamelaSpenceHerbalist, same on Instagram. I’m on LinkedIn as well, where medical herbalist. If people would like to have a free guide to the teas that I was talking about how to think about using herbal teas easily in your day, it’s not going to cost you any more time and very little money. Then go to my website, there’s a pop up if you sign up for my emails, I send an email a week or a blog or a blog post every week. They can sign up there and they’ll get that free guide which
Tony Winyard 59:52
fantastic. And to finish is there a quote you particularly like?
Pamela Spence 59:57
Yeah, there’s one I have above my desk which She’s, uh, I actually don’t know where it came from now, I’ve written on so many different posters every time I’ve changed where I work. But it says, I vow to follow the ancient gardeners, and allow the plants to label me. And that made me laugh when I first saw it. And then actually, I feel that that’s quite profound. We’re so busy in the western modern world and labelling everything, labelling everything. And there is just something about that. It’s like that old story of the fact the plants you need will come into your garden. And I’ve seen that I’ve actually seen that happen. That rather than being so busy labelling the plant, the plants don’t need us. They don’t need us. They’re sharing their own medicine for themselves with us, you know, just just allow them to label me instead of me constantly having to be in touch with them, and look to them for what they want to tell us rather than being the one in charge all the time.
Tony Winyard 1:00:59
Great, profound advice to finish on. So thank you for your time. Pamela really appreciate it.
Pamela Spence 1:01:04
So welcome. Thank you so much for having me.
Tony Winyard 1:01:09
Next week, episode 60 with Dr. Mike Mew who qualified in 93 as a dentist at the Royal London hospital. After several years in general practice, community dentistry and facial surgery, he answered the renowned orthodontic programme at Aarhus University in Denmark. Qualifying as a special specialist dentist in 2004. Dr. Mew has lectured extensively in UK and abroad and continues to study the relationship between orthodontics posture, en t problems, snoring and sleep apnea. With the view of improving ortho topic therapy, we go into a number of different areas about facial structure, how that relates to breathing, how the struggles that Mike has had in trying to move his profession forward and and resistance he’s encountered. That is actually caused him quite a few, quite a bit of stress. And will we be delve into a number of those areas. Next week is episode 60. With Dr. Mike Mew, if you know anyone who would get some real value from the great wisdom that Pamela shared with us about how some great ways of using herbs, then please do share the episode with them. And I hope you have a good day.
Thanks for tuning in to the habits and health podcast where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on your favourite podcast app. Sign up for email updates and learn about coaching and workshop opportunities at Tonywinyard.com See you next time on the habits and health podcast.
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