Episode 67: Sensory Herbalism with Karen Lawton

This week, I’m speaking to Karen Lawton, co-author of the book ‘The Sensory Herbal Handbook’. The book isn’t just about herbalism, it’s about developing a connection to plants and yes, this can include talking to them! ‘The Sensory Herbal Handbook’ is a manual for learning not just to look at plants but to really see them. If you want to take your appreciation of plants to a deeper level, this episode is a good place to start.

Dr Ian Bedford’s Bug of the Week: Summer Snowflake

About Karen Lawton & Fiona Heckels:

Karen and Fiona are the Seed SistAs, authors of The Sensory Herbal Handbook and founders of herbal education group Sensory Solutions Herbal Evolution. Combining medical training and years of clinical practice with a passion for plants and creativity, their teaching gives people more autonomy in their health by connecting them with their local medicinal plants and the magical nature of the green world.

What We Discuss:

What is sensory herbalism?

The benefits of starting a herbal journal

Some good exercises to do if you would like to start one

Making a connection with a plant and using intentions when making remedies

An easily recognised herb that can be harvested now (July) and what could it can be used for

The importance of communities having medicinal gardens



Facebook – Sensory Solutions Herbal Evolution

Episode Transcription

Roots and All 0:01
I’m Sarah Wilson and you’re listening to the Roots and All podcast. I’m here to help you get growing. Join me as I explore everything plant related both indoors and out and provide the information you need to create your perfect green environment. Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. This week I’m speaking to Karen Lawton, co author of the book The sensory herbal handbook. The book popped up on my radar after I spoke to Nicole rose in Episode 57. And to be honest, I bought it without really knowing what it was about. And I read it was locked down was the eighth most strict at a time when, although I didn’t have a lot of spare time on my hands. I perhaps had a few more hours during weekends when I was at a loose end, I had the time to explore plants in more depth. reading the book and following some of the exercises in it made me realise that although I look a lot at plants every single day, I don’t really see them if you want to take your appreciation of plants to it deeper level. This episode is a good place to start. I started by asking Karen how she and Fiona heckles her business partner and co author of the book got started in herbalism.

Karen Lawton 1:11
So, I have to begin here by explaining that I met Fiona. While I was fighting a fight and therapy degree at Middlesex University, North London. And we we recognise each other as kindred spirits. And we studied together and played making potions together. Because the four year BSc degree course was incredibly scientific. It was very, very left brain and in that entire four years of herbal medicine training, we went outside once on a herb fork. And we kind of counteract that by doing as much outdoor and nature connection together as possible. And sensory herbalism is our style of herbalism. It’s what we’ve co defied over the last 20 odd years working together and following the plants themselves. So through our own observation, we’ve looked at the parts that come out. And we connected them with different elements and different body systems. So we’ve basically been led by the plant, we’ve watched the plant, and for example right now some of and there’s loads of flowers around and we connect to the plant parts of flower with the sun and the fire element, and the cardiovascular system and blood and then we move into autumn. We’re looking at the plant part and the element of air and in winter, the plant part of roots in the elements of And then background springs when the fresh green leaves burst through. And it’s the element of water. And each one of those works for us because we’re following the plant’s journey, where a lot of other systems of herbalism is actually based on our human body and the human response. When you look at kind of theories of medicine, which are, which are all valid and really important that see Anya quite rebellious, and we like making things up for ourselves so that we can understand it, and truly connect with it. And it’s just been a very creative, fun journey. And we’ve had a really good time working with the phone people over the last 10 years as I said in the book that we’ve written, the sensory herbal handbook has that whole system within it, which has been really exciting to release out into the public domain there. There have been lovely feedback from.

Roots and All 4:04
Yeah, it’s really interesting what you said about your course where you didn’t actually interact with the plants. And that’s really I think, personally, because when I read your book, I’m a gardener. So I spend, you know, hours and hours a day outside with plants. But there still is an element of not actually looking, I’m kind of looking but not seeing the plants. And what I got from your book was to take the connection that I’ve got already with plants and take it to an even deeper level. And it’s incredible what you discover, and how much you actually feel like you get to know the plants personally, through working with them in the way that you described in your book. And I think one of the things that you recommend is that people keep a herbal journal. And so maybe I thought that perhaps you could pick out perhaps one exercise that people could do if they were interested in doing that. Obviously, they need to get the book But you know, just perhaps one thing that you think’s a really good way of starting people connecting with the plants on a deeper level.

Karen Lawton 5:07
Yeah, cool. And so the journal an idea that you put up, that’s your personal book about your relationship with plants. And anyone can do this. It’s a very creative exercise really, about deepening your observation skills. And one of the first things that people often say to us, when we suggest a journal, and doing some kind of artwork around a plant is I can’t draw, I can’t draw and that, that that puts a little block. There’s like a natural block that happens and it might happen from early childhood from school, from not being given enough space to actually create without being told that you’re not good enough for put down in some way. So we like to Begin things withdrawing exercises, and just simply doodling. Just simply doodling is a very good way to improve your artistic and creative literacy like and we really like to suggest to people to choose the column. So for example, the common Daisy that out and about the medical lawn. If you just sit down and have a look at that Daisy and let your pencil get onto a piece of paper and without taking your eyes off the daisy just through so you’re not invested in what you’re drawing looks like you’re more invested in observing the daisy and potentially trying to count the petals and trying to make enough petals around the whole flower. And then you can progress if you want to really taking a step back and making it a meditation, and maybe a chest exercise, where you’re trying to create recreate the font on the page. And it is not about what it looks like on your page. It is about your observation in connection with that Daisy. And that kind of work, then you can just start making notes around the daisy, you know, just simple notes of what you’ve seen or observed in that time. And it’s something that my 12 year olds have been drawing daisies this week, and she has been so delighted watching the daily clothes as the sun goes down. It’s something that might bring some kind of bubbling up of joy in her family. And I’m sure many of us when you watch the flowers have clothes, that it’s something that not everybody knows or notices that Opening and closing the movement of the flowers, or watching the day traffic or leaving the day we’ve had to follow the sun through the day. And they’re the kind of notes you can add around your drawings. In our watch the days we’ve had close now most of the tiny little pink stains at the edges of the customers have not actually texted one of my friends when I first got into Daisy, and the word Daisy and predictive text comes out fairly. You know, that’s the kind of thing I noted in my journal that these, these are very not only in the history of mythology, you know, when people create them because but in our modern technological era, their predictive text changes in the series, you know, your journal name, and that’s the most important thing. It’s not for anyone else. Your personal goals. connection. It’s all formal. Hmm.

Roots and All 9:02
Yeah. And it’s really it’s really powerful, as I said, and it’s it’s almost a, it’s a meditation, it’s a kind of exercise in mindfulness ness as much as it is about documenting any, you know, useful information about the plant. So, I thought it was also interesting you write about making a connection with a plant, and also using intentions when you use those plants. Do you think that makes a remedy more powerful? And if so, why do you think that?

Karen Lawton 9:35
Yeah, I mean, I, I believe that having the connection with plants, from the very beginning, makes the medicine more powerful. And I guess I’ve been brought up to believe so my grandma was a gardener. And she was she was a green fingered, which really, and she taught me that you speak to your plants. You think to prom and the importance of love in all the relationships and then the plants, the very, very first remedy I ever made as a young child was rose water in from her garden. And each of those roses had their own personal story and history that my grandma told. And then every time we applied the rifle sucker, he sees it as a facial tonic, you know, it had that wealth of glory within it. So I was picking love on my face, too, as an astringent tonic, but when, when I create medicine Now, a lot of the medicine that I create, I know the birth of because I can be seen as a gardener as well as coach list, and I’ve got my own loving seed bank in a shed in the garden and each one of those seeds when I plant the Hold them in my mouth. Because I don’t know. I don’t know where a lot of this comes from. So I can’t fit deeply into the science. But I feel that I put in my survivor on the seed, it begins a relationship that the plant knows me from that moment. I put it in there that a lot of my compost in the garden again comes from our food scraps got wormery. So it’s kind of material fabric of it all. And I love the soil. And as that plant grows, I talk to my mom. When I was to the song, I often think about the remedies that I’m going to be creating from them. And when it comes to the harvest, there’s always a moment so as I heard this song, it’s it’s part of the ritual and I achieved the right time whether it be with the lunar calendar or by dynamic and then an intention is formed. Say for example, today I’m going to be harvesting and has already gone to seed really early and I’m going to be harvesting tonight and they have for a particular remedy that for the nervous call it maximum chills and as I harvest the oats I’m thinking about the nervous system, how they nourish the myelin sheath and the nerve support the victim and I speak to the phone saying thank you for growing and please make some medicine as potent as possible and help people to be calm, relaxed and free from anxiety. And I’ve looked at I’ve looked at you might have heard says a scientist called emoto and he didn’t to work on water, and he did his work, looked at the crystal structures of water of the monks had prayed over the water, or it had been left in a subway station. And he was showing the intelligence of these molecules of water. So, sometimes I like to think of it as the plants are full of water as we are. So by communicating with them, the molecular structure changes and provide some kind of magic, some kind of magic that, you know, I fully believe in the power of intention and magic, and it’s another form of language that goes side by side with scientific and discovery. Because each of these plants I’m also fully aware of their biochemistry each have different compounds that go in the sun in the sea. theological changes in our bodies. I believe it’s part of the whole that the science and the magic is integral to the whole of herbalism and her class. And we’ve kind of gone down a bit of the left brain path in society right now. We’re starting with King and the dominant way of doing things. And it’s a shame because it’s much nicer to balance in life.

Roots and All 14:33
Yes, I think we definitely have gone down that route. I would completely agree. Maybe to the exclusion of conversations, like the one we’re having, which you know, I don’t think is a good thing. So, what if somebody was out and about in their garden at the moment, and I think this episode will go out in around the middle of July. What might be something that people have Go and harvest now and what might they use it for?

Karen Lawton 15:05
So, the height of summertime the Heather is flowering and that beautiful purple and sometimes white flowering shrubby tree really miniature bonsai tree, the Heather is a fabulous remedy that we make an oil from and the Heather the oil that we make combined so if you’ve got Heather in your garden or around in the woodlands or more near you are where you live. And one of the first harvests I ever did the Heather was up to the door, a mountain in the Lake District and it’s such a amazing incredible colour when you’re out and about. You see the kind of hills with purple. Very, very attractive that you can strip off the flowers. As the Heather which are already very, very dry, and so they haven’t got high water content quite easy to dry for teens. And Heather is a urinary anti septal fattiness many times have just started that can come about especially in the height of summer when people are dehydrated, we see lots of cystitis and shouldn’t be drunk as a team. And because it has an action on the kidney, and the kidneys are really nice organ of elimination and extension knocking things out and go and when there’s stagnation or stop the flow there we can see off the receipt conditions come up. So there’s a fabulous plan to help join as well. And as I said, I’m turning my head there into an infused oil so I’m putting those flowers into a jam jar, covering them with some sweet almond oil. Now leave those out for one lunar cycle a month to properly infuse all of their medicine into the oil. And then that’s something that I turned into an AP bomb, which is a fabulous joint to muscle rub without the herds like country and horseradish, rosemary and peppermint. Yeah, there’s the header. That’s what I recommend.

Roots and All 17:29
And that’s a lot of people don’t go Heather now in their garden so much, which is a shame because when it really is in full flow, he’s actually just stunning. But it

Karen Lawton 17:39
is as we grow it with our with our bilberry patch because it’s another education and so on and it bill berries in the hamper, blueberries, love, love growing together. We’ve got them in the custom underneath a pine tree. Nice.

Roots and All 17:58
Yeah, that’ll do it. acid, so,

Karen Lawton 18:01

Roots and All 18:03
And so obviously people have been going through quite a lot emotionally and I don’t see the kind of turbulent times ending anytime soon. So I thought it might be nice to perhaps talk about something that people could create this good for relaxation and calming. Is there anything that you’d recommend for that?

Karen Lawton 18:24
Yeah, I mean, lemon balm, lemon balm for lovely plant, Mr. Berry, grow part of the mint family. So you’ve only got to worry about escaping and threading boundlessly struggle with your garden. And that number makes a lovely calming tea. Really easy to just pick a sprig of fresh bomb. Make a simple herbal infusion by covering it with boiling water. It’s good when you’re making an infusion with aromatic highly sent So that you cover it so night the steam doesn’t escape. So I’ll put a sprig of lemon balm and a cup, cover it with them boiling water, and then put a saucer on top that can breathe for 1015 minutes. And then all of those volatiles or aromatic oils into your drink and simply drinking that brings a sense of calm. It’s an anti anxiety herb. It’s uplifting and very safe. The only place I would say that the contrary indication is if you’ve got an underactive thyroid, it can trigger if I drink lemon balm every day, for a week or so I get a bit of a goitre my thyroid comes up, but it’s totally safe the other in all other ways otherwise. And it’s fine to me to have one or two It’s just if I drink lots and lots of it. Another herb that lovely to grow his birthday to Siena, and being efficient it is medicinal vervain and, again, very calming and relaxing slightly to pay for all of these nice simple infusions. And what I’m doing with the oats that I’m harvesting today and making the tincture and I’ll then mix that with a birthday Vina vervain and a lemon balm, teacher and we call that our macro children and they mix so well together those three herb really nourishing for the nerves.

Cool. Okay, well that’s

Roots and All 20:54
that’s very helpful. I was just thinking about my final question. Am I amend it a little bit because I was gonna ask you about, you talked about the importance of community, Herb gardens. And I was gonna ask you, you know, kind of why they’re important and how we can go towards work towards establishing more. But then I thought about it. And I wanted, why we’d actually lost them in the first place. I interviewed Julian Hoffman, he wrote a book called irreplaceable and he talks about the American Indian Centre in the states where a group of Native Americans have reestablished a medicinal garden using a lot of the prairie plants and the plants that are, you know, common to them to be used additionally, and I just thought, Why Why did we ever lose that connection? Could you even hazard a guess at that?

Karen Lawton 21:54
Well, losing connection I know Cuz I stablished the community orchard in my village and when I was looking into the orchards and looking for funding and grants, I learned that I think it was a huge number like something like over 80% of the UK orchard. It’s been co opted for agricultural land, or building land in the past since the war. And it just made me think about the growth of agriculture and the growth of cities. And actually, this morning I went for a walk to my local nature reserve. It’s a Wildlife Trust nature reserve emergency planning submission to build 160 houses on that greenbelt. So, I guess, land and nature has become looked at as a commodity to be bought and sold. Because we’re living in a capitalistic In a society, and so I’m just having a guess that that’s what’s happening to a lot of our old community and physics bodies and into wild spaces. And what we know, by lots of different research is that by gardening together, we release all kinds of positive hormones and chemicals and we feel good. We release endorphins, like the hard work of gardening. And creating something together brings a real sense of achievement. The owner and I have been very lucky to set up community gardens in various different places. And we always call together a volunteer for the volunteer force that me become a family. There’s people from all over that often don’t know each other. And after two three days of hard graft, Creating gardens and planting together and bringing seedlings from wherever they live.

People eating together, it just becomes like a real family unit. And that’s what we’ve seen with our community gardens projects that when people work together, grow food and medicine together, they take care of one another to a different level and in the sharing that goes on, it’s it’s it’s quite humbling because we’ve got various different WhatsApp groups on our phone for different community gardeners or Sentry, herbalist and especially through the current crisis, to stay in this beautiful generosity of sharing. So many seeds and seedlings are being posted all over the land for people over the last few weeks and Mexico creative and child. Um, just the sense of compassion and kindness is often so lacking in the dominant analysis. You know, I was, I was actually thinking this morning, I think when I was a child, and then this newspaper headline that went, all I knew was on the news that Prince Charles took this loan. And I remember people talking about it around me and ridiculing, Prince Charles, and I had the I think it was the first time I must have been about Ken, it was the first time that I thought it was my match. I’m really excited because my grandma, as I said, she brought me up talking to clients and I thought, Oh, this is nice and quick. Charles told clients and everyone else around me was like, Oh, he’s no better saying negative things about it. And I realised that analysis that the dominant society has has no respect For nature, and it’s very upsetting, upsetting, and it still upsets me now, walking around my nature. This morning, there’s 1000 year old Holly tree. They’re one of the oldest Hollies in the land. And I stood with it and I thought, you know, if they say cut you down to build houses that be more than a travesty that’s different, it’s awful, and passes me know that that is what society demands. That is the way capitalism works. If there is an ancient woodland in the past of the high speed Railway, which there has been an passing cut down very recently. That’s what goes next at the expense. It should be expensive all our health and sanity and then get something that fee and I are intense and passionate about challenging and all our work is focused with the intention of connecting people to their local lawn. And by doing that, we really believe that people will start changing their perceptions and attitudes to nature.

So yeah, yeah,

Roots and All 27:14
yes. I mean, Rob I I hate it does. It was interesting what you said Well, two things really interesting there. The first thing when you said about your your grandmother speaking to plants, the first thing that pops into my head and always does is the story about Prince Charles. You know, that just burned in my brain from childhood. That story, and I don’t think he’s ever kind of, you know, gone. I don’t think anyone’s ever got past it. I don’t know. Like you said what the kind of problem is with it, but it’s definitely something that’s stuck. And it’s something that has he’s been ridiculed for for sure. And the other thing that I thought was interesting was it almost kind of came full circle when you said about community gardens and people sharing plants and that went back to actually your grandmother’s garden because most gardeners who can walk around the garden and the plants that have a special place in the plants that they’ll stop and highlight to you and the plants that somebody else has given them. And they never forget that connection. So it’s about I suppose, having shared plants, which then make the plants significant, which then means you’re more likely to protect them. So but without having that kind of community and the the connection between the people and plants, that’s why I suppose we don’t fight for the spaces that are getting destroyed.

Karen Lawton 28:31
Hmm, yeah. Yeah, that’s it, though. I think we’ve all got a duty to resolve it. Connection, the sharing, that used to be the norm in my grandmother’s times when I moved into my house that I live in now. I had an elderly couple next door, and I was so generous. My garden was devoid of life at that time. It was just brambles. It wasn’t void of life. It was full of life, but it was full of wild And then they helped me clear it. And they gave me so many terms, then, like you say, a walk around my garden, and I look and I know who, who’s given me. He’s gifted me. Each of those plants know, they know who has the new generations of some of my passing from plants and where they are in the land. And what for their roots are in pits. It’s very special, isn’t it? Gordon?

Roots and All 29:28
Yeah, it is. Brilliant. Well, is there anything that you want to say or to mention about your work? As I said, I can put stuff in the show notes, but if you you know, you’re welcome to share anything that you’re up to at the moment.

Karen Lawton 29:42
Thank you. All I’d like to say is if anyone has any question or comment at all about herb in herbal medicine, please do get in touch with us through our website, which is sensory solutions dot code at UK.

Roots and All 29:58
Thanks to Karen for taking part in the interview and thanks to YouTube for listening. I hope you can forgive the noise in the intro and outro but I’ve got all my doors and windows flung open because it’s so hot this week. And I’ve got spares in my porch I think of fledging and they’re really creating a racket. I’m just looking out my garden as I record this and I can probably tell you where most of the plants came from and the people I bought them from, even if I can’t remember the names. Sometimes the nursery people I bought them from or the person who gifted me a cutting linger in the memory a lot longer than the cultivator name, proving just how important the human association is behind plants can be. I have a virus growing up my shed and I’ve no idea of the variety by calling Mrs. Brown’s rose after a customer I had years ago. As this Rose was grown from a cutting from her garden. I spent hours pruning and deadhead in the original plant in Mrs. Brown’s garden and it was her pride and joy. She wasn’t the easiest character to work for. But one day after criticising my pruning for the umpteenth time, I told her a previous shopping question to the best of my ability or I could go home it was her choice from that point on We built a great relationship that lasted until the last time I visited her in a nursing home a few weeks before she died. And although she couldn’t speak, a huge smile spread across her face when I took her hand, so treasured your plants and the people who give them to you because really, the two are inseparable. So this week’s bug of the week with Dr. Bedford is on what he refers to as summer snowflakes. If you don’t know what they are by their name, I’m pretty sure you’ll have seen one.

Dr Ian Bedford 31:27
Sometimes called summer snowflakes. The cabbage white butterflies are a common sight in our gardens throughout the warmer months each year. For many people, these delicate insects are a joy to watch as they chase each other through the sky, like trailing coattails, or featuring summer flowers like lavender without swaying the breeze like that all white flags. But unless the pleasure of these butterflies bring some of us is often offset by the frustration and despair that their cabbage munching caterpillars cause others, the gardeners and the growers who toiled each year to produce their homegrown vegetables. Cabbage one butterflies actually comprise the two species, the large and the small white. However, there’s a few other white butterflies in Britain that could easily be mistaken for them. So catching and killing the adults should never be an option for controlling them. However, if you have to learn that caterpillars, particularly the large ones, as soon destroy not only the cabbages, but most of the other brassicas that have been grown as well, since each Caterpillar, as it grows and matures, will consume leaf material equivalent to around 27,000 times its final body weight. So what are the options for controlling them? Well, despite the availability of chemical pesticides for home use, none of these are specific to cabbage caterpillars, and might therefore harm beneficial wildlife. And besides, many people grow their own food in order for it to be chemical free. So the simplest and most environmentally friendly alternative is to securely enclosed brassicas with an A netting that has large enough holes to allow water and light through, but not the adult butterflies and to ensure that netting is in place before the butterflies first appear, and that it’s at least two inches away from the plants or they’ll easily lay their eggs through the holes and onto the leaves. However, if netting is not feasible, then just keep an eye open for when the butterflies first start to fly around the cabbages since these will be the females who would have already mated and now searching for the plants to lay their eggs on. landing on the underside of suitable leaves. The large whites will quickly lay clusters of around 50 bright yellow eggs versus small ones with a pale yellow eggs singly. Usually alongside a leaf so from this point onwards, turn over and inspect for leaves every two or three days, and remove as many eggs as you can by rubbing them between your fingers. Those are the misto will soon hatch into little caterpillars, which are either yellow or green and speckled with black for the large white, velvety green for the small. But these two can easily be removed by hand or left to a much sought after food for the garden wasps. Finding this just scraped plenty of mustard. Is there a great alternative for cabbage one butterflies to lay their eggs on, or for relocating the caterpillars collected from the vegetables and then perhaps those summer snowflakes will be back in your garden again next year.

Roots and All 34:52
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Karen Lawton 35:13
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Roots and All 35:16
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Unknown Speaker 35:29
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Roots and All 35:32
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