The herbal world is in mourning for the passing of Christopher Hedley, Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, and tutor to many thousands of ‘baby herbalists’ over the years.
When I first met him (around 1986), there were only a few hundred of us in Britain, so he has truly shaped a generation of workers with herbs.
Back then, the School of Herbal Medicine was desperate to prove its credentials to the orthodox medical world. Alongside anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, we learned long lists of the active ingredients in each plant and their pharmacological indications…but it was possible to qualify as a medical herbalist without ever meeting the plants in their natural habitat, or learning how to make them into remedies for human ills.
Possible, that is, unless you were lucky enough to have Christopher as your teacher. He was a true wizard – well over six foot, with a dandelion clock of white hair (though it used to be fiery red) and a full beard, and an expert practitioner of Headology (in the Terry Pratchett sense).
He could and did teach anatomy and so forth, but his shining grace was the love of plants in all their shapes and sizes, humours and personalities, and an endless compassion for humans and their frailties.
What he taught us was the art and magic of being a herbalist: how to work with the particular qualities of each plant, and the particular state of each patient, and the many ways in which you can bring the two together. Or, in his own words:
‘The virtues of a herb are its strengths and qualities: Its inner potency, expressions of its vital spirit and of the way it is in the world. The way a herb is in the world will inform it of the way to be in your body. We prefer this term to the more modern 'uses'. Herbs do not have uses. They have themselves and their own purposes.’
Or to put it another way: ‘I give limeflowers to people who need cuddles.’